It can be heartbreaking to see your normally cheerful child get off the school bus with tears streaming down her cheeks. It’s even more worrying when you learn the reason why. If you have a daughter who has to cope with mean girls, then this piece may help.
Gy has always been a rather sensitive child and she reminds me of myself in many ways. She’s happiest when she has a book in her hands, although to be fair, she’s very different from me in other ways.
So on the day she came home, heavy sobs racking her body, I was a bit nonplussed. At first, she refused to tell me what was wrong, just clinging to me and crying her heart out. Once the tears subsided, I asked her what was causing her such distress. In broken tones, she admitted that she was feeling left out, especially when a few ‘close friends’ chose to exclude her from a group.
Earlier that week, they had stood together on the playground, looking at her and whispering something. Once she’d walked up to them, they quickly changed the subject and slowly drifted away in pairs, leaving her alone. Yet another day, a pair of friends got off the school bus and had walked ahead of her, looking back over their shoulder at her, pointing and giggling.
‘Why do they do this, Amma? I don’t understand. It makes me feel very bad.’
My heart sank as I heard this. At the same time, that sleeping tigress in me woke up and raged (albeit silently) at the idea of someone hurting my child. Natural response, I’d say, so I didn’t fight it but let myself feel the emotion for a while. You do know I have a fiery temper, don’t you?
Adolescence is a fragile time. For one thing, there are all those physical changes that come with puberty. For another there’s the emotional workload of navigating choppy waters of tween friendship. Let’s not forget that academics are getting more rigorous and the child also has that to handle.
When I’d had time to pause and reflect on all of this, I looked for ways to help her cope with this situation. Asking her to just ‘deal with it’ didn’t sit well with me. Mind you, each of these tips actually worked, although none of them worked overnight. So a bit of patience and a lot of compassion comes into play for you, the parent.
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1. Gently broach the subject with the friends
This particular tip came to me courtesy a close friend. I’d confided to her that it broke my heart to see Gy cry as pitifully as she had. As a result, she refused to go to play for two days in a row. I knew this was rough on her already. She’s an only child and while she does know how to keep herself busy, there are times when she needs and enjoys the company of other children.
Honesty goes a long way in mending bridges, especially when the parties in concern don’t bring their egos into play. Kids are fragile and malleable and are more keen to keep friends than sever ties. So I told her to quietly and truthfully take one of the girls aside and explain that she felt hurt by the behaviour. I warned her that this may backfire but it’s a risk she would have to take, if she was keen to remain friends.
Putting on a brave face, Gy did exactly that. She came home beaming, saying, ‘Amma, she understood and apologised for the way she acted. We’re friends again.’ I watched with a bit of pride and cautioned her that this may not have solved the issue. Chances are the actions may be repeated. She would need to watch out for that. Gy nodded and agreed.
*Use this tip with care. Not every child has the ability to broach the subject or tell another girl that her mean actions are hurtful. This would depend on the nature of the child.
2. Befriend other kids
If your child is either too diffident and can’t handle the idea of broaching the topic, or is finding herself the repeated target of such behaviour, it makes sense to try this one: make other friends.
Mean behaviour acts as an ego-boost. Some people derive pleasure from watching others feel bad. While adults may do it for the wrong reasons, kids generally do it because it gives them a high and they don’t know any better. So, while it is not your task to change them, you don’t have to sit by and let them walk over you.
I suggested that Gy make other friends. If you show the mean girls that you are dependent on them for friendship, they may take advantage. “Make the choice of finding people who like you for who you are,” I said. If someone wants you to change to fit into their mould of ‘being cool’, they’re probably not the best friends for you.
*This tip requires a bit of maturity and may take time for young kids to learn. Don’t push too hard or expect it to happen right away. Letting go of a friendship or making a new one takes effort. Be supportive.
3. Find something else to do
I thought back to my own teen years, wondering how I’d handled mean girls and bullies. For one thing, I had very few friends. I was hardly what you’d call a social butterfly.
But there was one eternal companion who kept me happy: Books.
Books saved me on more occasions than I could count. I’d lose myself so completely in a book that nothing and nobody could hurt me. Tiffs, quarrels, disagreements, and yes, even mean-girl behaviour, would evaporate in a cloud when I settled down with a book.
Since Gy loved books with the same passion I did, my mom suggested this as a solution. This worked like a charm! She carried a book with her every day to school, to read on the bus back home. Doing this helped two-fold.
For one, she was too engrossed in the book to wonder why people were being mean. For another, when the mean kids noticed that their actions had no effect on her, they slowly tapered off their mean behaviour.
You know that quote:
Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.
~ Eleanor Roosevelt
Strengthen your kids with this belief. Empower them to the point where nothing can take away their right to absolute, unfettered joy. We cannot control other people’s behaviour, but we can manage how we choose to respond to it in a mature, dignified manner and teach our kids the same.
This video on How to handle a bully by Brooks Gibbs is wonderful. Get your kids to watch it too!
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