When I was young, in school, I remember feeling lonely, rejected by my “friends” as they secretly planned a party and didn't invite me or when the teased me or criticized me behind my back. Now, as a mom, I regularly talk to my children about the importance of caring about others. I tell them to look around and be aware of any friend that might be eating by him or herself during lunch, or being left out of the game during recess.
Last year, my daughter was a victim of bullying. She was friendly with all her classmates, but for nearly two straight years, she hung out almost exclusively with her "bestest friend", until this girl turned her back on her. Because she knew my daughter's weaknesses, she took advantage of them, making her feel terrible and lonely. I thought: "My cute and good mannered daughter is being a victim of bullying by her (now former) best friend - how can this be possible?"
My first impulse was to talk directly to the bully, but I was not her mother. Then I thought about talking to the bully's parents,who have been very good friends of our family for years, but I decided against it, as it could make things worse for my daughter if the bully found out that I was trying to fix her problems.
After a lot of thinking and crying, I thought long and hard about taking this bad situation and turning it into a good one. I talked to my daughter about the feeling of being betrayed, about hate and revenge. I made a point of telling her that if she did not set aside these negative feelings, even if they were perfectly natural, they could lead her to become as bad as her ex-friend. We decided to open her circle of friends: inviting a different girl friend home to play each week so she could see that there were plenty of great people out there; not to confine her relationships to a person or a small group in order to avoid her from getting caught in the same situation or even worse: a "click". We even talked about something that would happen later in life: not getting exclusively attached to her eventual boyfriend and nurturing the relationships she had already with her girl friends even when she eventually starts going out with boys.
After all the pain and stress she went through, I think that my daughter came out of all this more mature and with a great perspective on the whole situation. She understood that maybe her friend (the bully) could be going through a difficult time and her behavior was a reflection of her own problems. She realized that it was not her fault, that she did nothing wrong to deserve the terrible treatment she got, but time would go by, and maybe if it was a good friendship in the beginning they would become friends again.
This afternoon, a year later, my daughter is playing at her old friend's house. It turns out that yesterday's bully is now a victim of another bully, and my daughter is giving her advice of how to handle it… "Don’t worry it will all pass".
Bullying might be a "fact of life", but it does not mean that it has to be tolerated and accepted - there are ways to make the best of a bad situation.
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