Have you ever been bullied? Have you ever been a bully? Have you ever done something mean without thinking about it? Bullying is a huge issue among school children, and even some adults. It’s a complex layered issue, that often gets boiled down to “don’t be mean to each other,” but that doesn’t really do it justice.
Luckily, there are parents out there who know how to handle bullying properly, parents like Leslie Blanchard. A recent post on Scary Mommy tells her story.
“I will never forget the day my daughter told me that Bethany, a girl in her fourth-grade class, was annoying her”, she said.
Instead of immediately taking her daughter’s side, Blanchard asked an important follow-up question: “What is she doing to you?”
These “annoying” things that Bethany was doing included following her around on the playground, and trying to sit by her during lunch. In other words, she was just trying to make friends. Once, the daughter gave her explanation, Blanchard was shocked!
“I was raising my own worst nightmare. Smack dab in the middle of my brood of five kids, was a charismatic, sassy, leggy, blonde, dance-y, athletic girl oozing confidence—and apparently annoyance, directed toward another little girl who wasn’t lucky enough to be her.”
Blanchard had been in Bethany’s shoes before. As a military kid hopping from school to school, she knew what it was like to seek out friends and get rejected by the popular girls, girls like her daughter. She knew that Bethany wanted nothing more than to be given a chance at friendship, so she concocted a master plan.
First, she called Bethany’s mother and confirmed her suspicions. Blanchard’s daughter and her friends were doing everything they could to exclude poor little Bethany from their group. The group didn’t view this as bullying, because they weren’t saying anything overtly mean or getting physical with Bethany. Blanchard realized that this behavior could lead to bigger issues down the line.
Blanchard then moved to phase 2 of her plan. Blanchard asked her daughter to get to know Bethany, and learn three cool things about her, so she could share them with her mom when she got picked up from school. The daughter didn’t like this plan, but Blanchard knew how to get her to cooperate. If she wanted a ride to school, instead of taking the school bus, she would have to agree. So her daughter begrudgingly accepted.
On the way over, Blanchard explained people’s needs for companionship by comparing it to a bank.
“I walked her through my ATM analogy. I explained to her that she had social bank to spare. She could easily make a withdrawal on behalf of this little girl while risking very little. ‘Let’s invest!’ I enthused and encouraged.”
Her daughter had a good day, although she was annoyed by her mom. She told her mom about her other friends’ mothers saying that they should stay out of their kids’ social lives, and let them pick their own friends. Nevertheless, she told her mom three interesting facts about Bethany that she hadn’t known before.
Two weeks later, Blanchard followed up with Bethany’s mom via phone. Bethany’s mother exclaimed that the once-neglected Bethany had been completely accepted into the friend group!
Years later, Bethany’s family moved away, and Blanchard’s daughter cried at the thought of losing her now close friend. Yet they still keep in touch through social media. Their friendship remains strong!
Blanchard’s daughter is now 20 years old and in college. Today, she’s willing to give anyone a fair chance at friendship, as evidenced by her very diverse friend group. Yet, if it weren’t for her friendship with Bethany all those years ago, she might not be so accepting today.
“I feel like I have experienced demonstrable success with my children by tabling this [bullying] dynamic right out in the open. Parents need to call it by name, speak it out loud, and shine a bright light in its ugly face. We need to admit to our children that we too experience this, even as adults. … we have to constantly remind our children and ourselves that everyone can bring unexpected and unanticipated value to our lives. But we have to let them.”