The Hardest Kid for Me to Love



She was pale.


That was the first thing I noticed about her. Honestly, she was so thin and pale and drawn that she always looked just on the edge of being ill to me, but she wasn’t. It was just her natural build and coloring. That gaunt face was surrounded by pale brown curls and it felt like her emotions never really reached her eyes.


She was the only child in the second grade class I struggled to connect with.




I spent lots of time volunteering in my middle child’s classroom last year. Lots. I would go there at least two mornings a week to do book check-in with the kids and, honestly, I loved it. It was a wonderful chance to get to know all these little people and I found them endlessly amusing.


There was the little girl with a keen mind and an obsession with Greek mythology.


The boy who had just gotten a cocker spaniel puppy and loved to tell me stories about her.


The girl who was so bossy and so talkative and so rudely interuptive that she could drive you crazy, but, at the core, she had a kind heart and just needed affirmation.


There was the boy who was nearly silent, but, when I could crack him, had an ice-sharp wit that delighted me.


There was the boy who had a heartbreaking homelife and was so desperate for attention that he managed to annoy all his classmates but, though he never had his work done, I couldn’t help but want to stand up for him every chance I got.


Those kids? I just loved them. I loved their sweet seven-year-old innocence paired with a growing awareness about the world. I loved that they were incredibly competent, yet still cared what I thought.


All those little ones, with all their many facets, enchanted me. I can honestly say that, by the end of the year, I truly enjoyed them all…


Except one.


The pale little girl I described above didn’t talk to me– not because she was shy, not because she had special needs, not even because she just had a quiet personality. No, she didn’t talk to me because she didn’t feel I was worth talking to. I would greet her, talk to her, ask her a question, and she would stare, vacant-eyed, over my left shoulder and blatantly ignore me.


It was maddening.


I went through a week or two of not talking to her much either, though that probably sounds petty. I just didn’t have the energy, really. But I got over myself and resumed my usual conversation, even if it was one-sided.


I could have tolerated her rudeness toward me, if that were the only unpleasant thing about her. But, you see, it wasnt.


This little girl liked to play games like this–


She would tell three or four other little girls in the class to all wear a certain article of clothing, say, a purple skirt. They would. Then, the next day, she’d toss her hair and eye the other (non-purple-skirt-wearing) girls with disdain and pick on them for not fitting in. The other girls who WERE wearing the “right thing” would all look uncomfortable and unsure what to do, but she would encourage them, too, to look down on their peers.


It infuriated me.


I’m coming to realize that I truly do enjoy a whole wide array of children–


I love the chatterbox, the genius, the dingbat, the lost cause. I love the flighty, the silly, the stoic, and even the naughty. I enjoy their antics, their jokes, their laughs, their stories, their struggles.


But I really, really struggled to love the bully.


There’s got to be more to her backstory, I’m sure. If I were able to really dig deep, I’d probably be able to untangle some of the dark roots that led to her mean-girl behavior.


But I couldn’t do it in two and a half hours a week.


And the bully is the hardest kid for me to love.



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5 comments to The Hardest Kid for Me to Love

  • Jennie

    Wow, where does a 7 year-old learn that behavior? Definitely a back story there.

    JL- your kind heart shows in everything you do. You didn’t stop reaching out, you kept on and you never know what impact you had on a little girl who clearly has some serious issues going on.

    Thanks for sharing, I think we all have these kids in our lives.

  • Laraba

    This whole issue of bullying is fascinating (and unnerving) to me because I’ll be honest, one of our kids has the makings of a bully! We have 9 kids, all from the same genetic pool, and one of our boys goes out of his way to annoy people, say things that upset them, etc. (He doesn’t deliberately physically hurt anyone, thankfully.) He has this driving need to control others through his words. He also is wonderful with his baby sister and is very affectionate to us, his parents, and talks often about how “kids need discipline”. In some ways he is a great person but in some ways he drives us insane. I have another child who is incredibly sweet and compliant. Kids really are born with personalities. So when you see a bully, it may be that the kid just has a difficult personality…it may not be parenting. We are working daily, hourly, with our son trying to teach him self control, and we have seen some improvement. Since we homeschool, we can stay on top of his behavior. But the reality is, he is an annoying kid sometimes and while that is frustrating, it is reality. He is also, according to my husband, a lot like my husband was as a child — so I cling to that and know there is hope that our son will grow up to be a godly, kind member of society like his daddy is :-).

    • Hmmm… this is interesting. While I definitely see that all children are born with different personalities, I still struggle with this. Sure, kids vary a lot– and different people find different personalities more annoying than others. Some are irritated by chatterboxes, some don’t enjoy wallflowers. Some love take-charge personalities, others prefer the quiet, compliant ones. All of that is natural and normal, in my opinion. But to believe a child is simply born malicious? I can’t quite wrap my brain around that one. Now, I will readily acknowledge that this little girl may one day be a kind, capable, contributing member of society. But– right now? I’m sorry, but she’s mean. And I can’t really believe she was just born that way…

  • Laraba

    Well, that’s why I brought up my boy. I adore him to the ends of the earth and I wouldn’t necessarily call him malicious, but the combination of a driving need for control plus enough intelligence to understand what makes others tick makes him manipulative at times. I definitely see him deliberately saying and doing things to annoy his sibs. I was at the receiving end of bullying when I was a child so this behavior drives me CRAZY and I promise you, our boy does get discipline and instruction. And like I said, he is improving. But the reality is that “foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child.” I don’t think he was born malicious, exactly, but he does have a “lion” personality and he wants to run things, and he doesn’t have the natural internal controls to limit HOW he runs things. He gets a genuine high from upsetting his siblings closest in age (and he is fabulous with the little ones, for some reason — maybe because they aren’t rivals for control.). I know I’m painting him blackly; I guess what I’m saying is, I accept that he has personality flaws and that we need to work on them. I’m not sugercoating his issues (or indeed, the issues of our other kids.) Children usually aren’t born like Pollyanna and Heidi — they are sinners, and need to be saved by grace like everyone else. More later maybe — kids need me :-).

  • Laraba

    I think EMPATHY is lacking in some kids, like our son. This little girl…does she really empathize with the children she picks on? I’m guessing not at all. She is just focused on wanting to put herself at the top of the pack and she’ll use manipulation to get there. (That is one interesting and sad thing about her, that she’ll obviously plot to make other people feel badly, whereas I don’t see our son doing that.) I have read that young children have immature ways of looking at the world and maybe some of them just aren’t capable of empathy. I guess my point in all this, if I have one, is that it is easy to think bullying is “bad parenting” or the kid has a terrible home life and I don’t think that is always true. I also think sometimes parents don’t face reality about their children’s character flaws. I know I have character flaws and I’m 44 and have spent decades asking God to help me. It makes sense to ME that kids are all going to have some character issues and if we deny that, if we assume our little darlings would “never do that” then we are in danger of sticking our heads in the sand, ostrich like. Maybe a mom like me, with 9 kids, needs to be especially careful because with so many kids, we’re bound to get a range of personality types. I feel sorry for this little girl and I feel sorry for the kids around her, trying to cope with her mean girl behavior. I pray that she’ll get good teaching and instruction from parents and teachers and that she will learn to empathize and be kind to others.

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