The friendship seat #1000speak

It still haunts me to know that being bullied was a feature of the last few months of my daughter’s life, that in the beginning it wasn’t handled very well and that I failed her in this.


Early in her second year at school, around the time she turned 6, Zoe told me that some older girls were seeking her out every day at lunchtime to tease her, particularly about the way she spoke. Zoe had some speech issues relating to nerve damage either from her cancer or the radiation treatment. She had undergone surgery to her palette before the school year started and along with speech therapy, this was greatly improving the situation, but it was enough to single her out as a victim in the eyes of these girls (I want to say bullies, but that label seems to make them less human than they really are).

I took her in to school early one morning to catch her teacher before others started arriving and explained to the teacher what had been happening. Her teacher’s first response was “Well, I hate to tell you Zoe, but some people just aren’t very nice.” She went on to say that the next time it happened, Zoe should find the teacher on duty and point out who the girls were. While I was a little shocked at the comment, I felt there was a plan of action. And as a busy working solo mum, I didn’t want to rock the boat and be “one of those” parents. I assumed the school had it’s way of dealing with these things.

Looking back, although I am certain it was not the teacher’s intention, I can see now how the response turned over the responsibility to a 6 year old to take action to stop the bullying, instead of the teachers having an active plan to make sure it was stopped. Perhaps when you work with these little people all day, it’s easy to forget how tiny and vulnerable they really are. I also see in hindsight that the comment, “that some people just aren’t very nice”, simply made Zoe feel that there was nothing to be done, that she was not heard, and that we must just accept the behaviour of those who “aren’t very nice.”

And so, when it kept happening, she didn’t speak up again and I thought it was resolved. The next warning sign was a few months later, when at the end of a school day she sobbed in the car on the way home that she “didn’t want to be in life anymore.” The spectre of Zoe not being in life anymore had hung over us for the 9 months of her cancer treatment and beyond, so the horror this sent through me was painful. I could not get to the bottom of what caused this outburst at the time, she was unable or unwilling to explain it. But a few weeks later, we had our answer.

Zoe and I had a discussion one evening about the difference between tattling about unimportant things and reporting things, prompted by this pin.

Her response wasn’t immediate, but she must have been mulling it over, and one morning a couple of days later out came the story of how three older girls had bailed her up, two had kept watch while the other took her into the toilets, pulled her shirt off and forced her arm down a toilet (full of urine and toilet paper). Yes, it was the same girls who had been teasing her all year.

This time I raised the concern in writing and it was promptly passed on the school principal. Action was immediate. Zoe and I went to the principal’s office and she identified the girls who had done this from class photographs. Although Zoe didn’t really know them, the names and nicknames they used matched the names on the photos. Zoe was in year two, 6 years old, they were in year five, a full three years older. There were immediate consequences for the girls and a plan put in place to protect Zoe.

The physical force used in this incident by children under ten still shocks me. There didn’t seem to be any underlying issues in the girls lives that prompted it. They simply chose a victim and acted, almost grooming her to accept it with the constant teasing.

Relieved the school was dealing with it, we moved on and Zoe became much happier. There had been pants wetting incidents that disappeared once it was resolved.

But then a few short weeks later, Zoe’s cancer relapsed and we knew it was terminal. One of the first things I said in communication to the school was that they should tell the girls involved that their actions in no way had anything to do with Zoe’s cancer returning. I know something about how irrational guilt can be, what you know about cause and effect doesn’t always match your gut feeling.

This could just be the end of a very sad story, and when I started writing this, it was. I wasn’t sure I had anything to say about the “Building from bullying” theme for 1000 voices for compassion – only a personal story about how my daughter was bullied.

But then I realised that what happened six months later was the answer.

In the April following her death, a few days after her birthday, Zoe’s school dedicated a friendship seat to her. The friendship seat is a touchstone for the children. If they are feeling sad or lonely, they can go to the friendship seat. It’s a sign that they are in need of some kindness and other children are encouraged to go and sit with them and reach out to them.

I spoke to a group of children when they had a little dedication ceremony. I can’t really remember what I said, but I did mention that Zoe was sometimes kind and sometimes in need of kindness. I read this quote from Audrey Hepburn.


The plaque too, with it’s quote from AA Milne is I hope an encouragement both to children in need of kindness and those who might offer it.

So this really is a story of how Zoe and the school built something from bullying, something lasting, that I hope continues to help children connect with each other in kindness and compassion.



This post is part of 1000 Voices for Compassion for the month of March. 

15 thoughts on “The friendship seat #1000speak

  1. Hi Kiri,
    We’ve never met but our girls did. When my daughter Anna was in yr 0 she attended the after school care at the rugby club. She was very unhappy there until she met Zoe. One afternoon collecting Anna I found them playing Lego together and had a quick chat with Zoe who I assumed was deaf or partially. In the car it became clear to me that Anna had never noticed, she was just happy to have someone sit with her when she was lonely and called Zoe her friend. I relayed this story many times to Anna who would always keen an eye out for lonely children on the friendship bench. The legacy lives on.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh Marny that’s lovely, thanks for letting me know. It’s lovely these little stories still pop up about the impact Zoe had on others. A reminder too that we all have the opportunity to impact others lives for the better.


  2. So unfair and sad and beautiful. My heart goes out to you. Thank you for sharing these words and feelings. I can only hope that the school, the bullies, and those who didn’t even know Zoe will be changed for the better by the kindness legacy she left behind.


  3. Reblogged this on Everything Indie and commented:
    A very powerful post for #1000Speak for Compassion’s month of March theme on bullying. Have your tissues ready, and don’t forget to read more about Zoe on Kiri’s February blog post for #1000Speak on how Zoe taught her both to give and receive compassion.


      • It was a very moving story, and I included a link to your February blog post as well. I believe that your story can help others. I found the “pin” very interesting. I think many children don’t speak out when being bullied because they fear it’s “tattling.” Zoe was brave to tell you about her experience, and through posts such as this and the friendship seat at her school, she continues to help others. I was particularly touched that you had the school tell the bullies that Zoe’s relapse was not their fault. That’s true compassion. I wouldn’t have even thought of that!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. What a beautiful, touching story. I am so sorry for your loss, but so happy about the lovely lasting tribute to your lovely daughter.
    I also think you yourself were able to make a wonderful contribution in worrying about the bullies’ feelings…you exemplify ‘building from bullying’…thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh my..tears were pouring down my face reading this! – Both..heartbreakingly sad..and heartwarmingly beautiful!

    The friendship bench is a gorgeous idea, what a lovely tribute to your daughter. I was incredibly touched by your compassion for the children who had bullied your daughter.. their actions were cruel, but they were very young children..and your insight into how they might (as such) blame themselves for the return of your daughters Cancer, and your caring enough to put their minds at rest (despite their unkindness to your Littlie) is breathtakingly beautiful! – inspirational.

    I’m so sorry for your loss!

    God bless, kimmie x

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Kimmie. I understand friendship seats are a concept being introduced by many schools around the world, I hope they can make a difference in lots of young lives.


Thanks for reading, you can leave any thoughts here...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s