Do you remember having a best friend in school but that same best friend often made you feel like you weren’t quite good enough? Maybe you didn’t realise it at the time but as you got older you started to recognise what she was doing was wrong. Or maybe you did or said things to your best friend that you are not proud of. Things that made them feel insecure or less than.
Did you try to speak to your mum about it but she told you “that’s what girls are like”, or “why don’t you find some new friends then?”
I can still remember how it felt when I found out my best friend slept over someone else’s house the week after she told me she didn’t like that person and not to trust her; the person I made friends with first. I can still remember when in our 20’s she would cancel our plans last minute because something better come up. As a teenager I always thought she was more beautiful, smarter and funnier than me because my boyfriends always ditched me for her. I found out later in life that she went out of her way to steal them!
I now recognise how my best friend used to manipulate and intimidate me, made me feel ugly and stupid. I now recognise that my best friend was also my secret bully.
As a mother of two daughters I didn’t think I would have to worry about this until they were in high school. Then when we decided to home school I thought that we may not have to worry about it at all. We had put a lot of time and effort into bringing Rayne’s self esteem and confidence back up and we were not prepared to have it taken away again. So it was a shock when I started to recognise the signs of my 7 year old daughter being bullied by her “best friend”, Gracie.
My natural instinct was to tell Rayne her friend was a bully and she was not to play with her anymore, however I knew this was not fair to my daughter or to her friend and this approach was not going to help Rayne recognise what “true friendship” really is and more importantly, what it isn’t.
Telltale symptoms of a bullied child
- stomach aches
- school avoidance
Rather than try and end the relationship I decided to be there for my daughter. I helped her to navigate her feelings, understand her instincts and realise that she was not at fault. I wanted her to know that how her friend was treating her was not right and friendships do not need to be that way. I wanted to take this approach rather than the ever popular “kids will be kids” approach as I wanted Rayne to recognise the signs of a secret bully and learn how to call them out and it was also important to me that my child would not become a bully herself.
I started by ensuring the majority of their play was in our home or where I could see and hear them. I did not interrupt their play or even their arguments (unless Rayne became distressed) and in that case I would help her to explain to her friend/bully what was upsetting her and why.
If I heard or witnessed any bullying I would make a note then at bedtime or while driving in the car I would bring up the incident and talk about it with Rayne.
Sign of a secret bully
- Silent treatment
The above list are some examples of emotional bullying, also know as “relational aggression”. Some of the above are quite big concepts for a seven year old to understand so having a real life scenario to use to explain them was really helpful. For example I would say “you know when Gracie said she would go home if you didn’t play the game she wanted? that was manipulation, she was trying to manipulate you into doing what she wanted”. We would then talk about how that made her feel at the time, how it was not her fault and it was not right and what she could do and say in the future. The time Gracie had a friend over to play and left Rayne out, we talked about exclusion, how that made her feel and what she could do in the future.
How to help your child recognise they are being bullied
- choose a safe space and time to discuss it
- name the type of bullying eg. Manipulation
- use a real life scenario to explain it
- Give your child an opportunity to think and talk about how it felt (if they want to)
- Remind them they are not at fault
- Come up with a solution for next time
I would always tell my daughter a fictitious story at lights out to help reinforce the discussion. In the story the child would have experienced something similar but this time they recognised what what happening and knew what to do about it.
I also bought a book called My Secret Bully by Trudy Ludwig and we read this together, comparing the scenarios with my daughters own experiences.
After a while I started to notice a difference in my daughter’s interactions with Gracie. It was really interesting to watch. Rather than cry or give in and play what Gracie wanted, when Gracie threatened to go home, my daughter starting saying “go home then”. The dynamics of the friendship where changing and interestingly, after a while Gracie stopped trying to manipulate Rayne. Rayne was recognising what Gracie was doing and started to call her out.
I am not entirely sure why Gracie targeted Rayne, it may have been because she looked different or because she had a different personality to her or because Rayne happened to be in her line of vision. Whatever the reason, with the above support Rayne was able to hold Gracie accountable for her behaviour and understand she was not less than or at fault and as a result Gracie stopped trying to manipulate Rayne.
Does your child have a secret bully or do you have any further questions? I would love to hear from you.