Frenemy: The Garden-Variety Bully

Many parents envision bullies as kids who lurk around corners and grab children’s lunch money, jeer them in the cafeteria or embarrass them online. We’ve heard the tragic story of Phoebe Prince, and others like her, who took their own lives in the face of extreme harassment. Parents, teachers, and administrators need to get involved in these blantant incidents immediately.

The more common bully in a child’s life is best identified as a frenemy. Frenemies quietly practice exclusion, whisper embarrassing tidbits, mock clothes or abilities, flaunt other friendships, and give the silent treatment. The frenemy may be a frequent play date, a classmate, or a neighbor. Your son or daughter may openly complain about this child, but to the adult ear nothing is really amiss, just a bit of kid stuff. Parental replies (sometimes offered with dismissive tone)to these complaints often include; “don’t hang around with him” or “that’s because she’s jealous of you”, and your child is left with no empathy and no guidance, only the drip, drip, drip of rejection eroding their confidence.

Surviving Frenemies:

• Empower your child by practicing skills and giving choices. Share your own experiences or the experiences of siblings or friends (if you don’t have any real life experiences of your own to share, make them up!).

• Don’t see or treat your child as a victim.

• Listen attentively, mirroring your child’s emotion

• Ask your child what they have done to try to stop the behavior.

• Let your child know that he/she has a choice in maintaining this relationship.

• Suggest things your child might say (consider the personalities involved and circumstances): Direct – “I don’t like the way you treat me”; Defiant – “Then find someone else to hang out with”; Dismissive – “Whatever”…

• Practice and role play.

• Address body language. (Messages given with head-up and shoulders back are taken more seriously).

• Support a change of classrooms, schools, activities, etc. if your child’s actions are unsuccessful and your child so desires. The power of choice aids in confident action.

• Don’t immediately address the other child, the child’s parents, teachers, or coaches with your complaints, especially with tweens and teens. Exhaust other options first and weigh the social cost to your child should you chose this path.

What a Parent Should Consider:

• Are you helping your child identify his/her own gifts and talents?

• Are you accepting and supportive of your child’s personality?

• Is your home a safe haven, free of mean-spirited criticism and constant nagging?

• Gain insight into your child’s needs by observing the type of children he/she is drawn to socially.

Most of us share the goal of raising healthy, well-adjusted children and know we cannot spare our kids the pain of early friendships, but with support and guidance there can be more learning and skill building and less heartache.

What have you experienced in your own life? Please share your questions and tips to help others.

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