I was recently asked for my opinion by Darling Magazine about the impact of bullying on children. You can read the article in full here.
Sadly, many children come to coaching because they have lost themselves to the mercy of a bully. Tragically, some children go through years of being bullied by the same child and others move schools or opt for home schooling.
What is bullying?
I don’t think for one moment that we are over indulging our children when we class name calling bullying. I know some people think this is ‘banter’ and acceptable. Jokingly calling somebody ‘fat’ and then ‘over sensitive’ because they feel insulted is not banter. Although, I also believe the importance we give something in our lives means it has the power to affect us or not. We attach meanings to events, people, places and smells which trigger intense emotions inside us. For me:
‘Bullying is abuse whereby one person exerts control (verbally, physically or emotionally) over another person. In a classic cycle of abuse, the person being bullied is too scared to speak up in case they get into trouble or nobody will believe them. This maltreatment continues over a period of time wearing down the victim until they self doubt or lose their self worth. When the abuse is emotional and verbal, they start to believe the hurtful words they are repeatedly told. The bully becomes the voice in their head.’ ~SmileyCoach Lisa Parkes
I have seen many different bullying scenarios in my work (sometimes sadly between parent and child), but the one which fascinates me the most is the Frenemy Scenario.
A frenemy is where the victim is friends with the bully and they do a love/hate dance in the school playground which is exhausting and yet, meeting needs within them. Until the victim learns not to engage or changes the way he or she is, then they will be forever plagued or locked into a crazy dance with this ‘frenemy.’
Who gets bullied?
Bullies go for soft targets; so children that don’t speak up or are unsure of themselves. Children who don’t hold themselves in a way that says ‘I’m proud to me.’ We read each other’s body language by subconsciously registering posture, facial expressions and tone of voice. I coach children to:
- recognise that all friendships teach us something about ourselves
- make new friends
- pick the right friend for them – one who values the same things as them and treats them as they wish to be treated
- not be afraid from standing out from the crowd (this is the new definition of lonely)
- handle conflict and ask for what they want
- use their body language to stand strong even if they are scared inside
- walk and talk like they mean it
- spot the red flags of a Frenemy
- pick a good friend and understand that friendship is exactly that: a choice*.
(*Whilst I feel that as a society we are encouraging children to ‘all play nicely together’, I don’t believe we should ever have to play with or be friends with somebody we don’t like. In adult life, we have more choices when it comes to friends. However, in a school environment this doesn’t appear to be a choice.)
The Frenemy Scenario
My client, let’s call her Charlotte was locked into a Frenemy Frenzy. At 9 years old, Charlotte is a what you would call a ‘nice’ girl. She plays with her teddies and dolls. She plays with everybody and doesn’t say no. She is kind and thoughtful. She worries about hurting other children’s feelings. She is sensitive to their needs and wants. Charlotte finds it hard to say no and so there it is, her soft spot laying wide open for her Frenemy. Frenemies are very good at spotting a way in; something you don’t like about yourself. They can smell fear at 10 paces. Charlotte’s Frenemy knows that when she wants something, she is guaranteed to get it from Charlotte. This particular Frenemy was also dishonest to the teachers. She would twist and turn stories around to paint herself in a good light. She was emotionally manipulative pulling on Charlotte’s heart strings to get her way. Charlotte was afraid of her to the point she was having nightmares about hurting this particular child and then thought she was a bad person for doing so. Backed into a corner and dis-empowered, she felt like nobody understood or believed her (the teachers didn’t take it seriously). You can see how it wore her down.
After coaching her Mum said:
“I think for our daughter, she needed to feel like someone believed her and that she didn’t need to change who she was. She needed to take the fear out of the bully and offer a coping mechanism when it was happening. I loved the beautiful poster that you both did, called, It’s Good to Be Me. She still has it on her bedroom wall and when she’s feeling a bit sad we go and remind ourselves. Lisa you did a wonderful job with our daughter, what can I say you made her smile again and embrace who she is. She said that the best thing about you was that you understood her and believed in her”. Mrs L, Surrey
Bruises on the inside
Being invalidated is what causes people to lose their self belief. They doubt if they are in the right or wrong. Victims find themselves asking the question ‘Did it happen like that?’ or ‘Perhaps I was mistaken? ‘Perhaps they didn’t mean it?’ They doubt if they are as kind as they know themselves to be or if they are mean and selfish like the bully says. They are fearful when the Frenemy is nice because this doesn’t feel safe and wonder when they are going to turn again. The victim is kept in a state of turmoil so they feel unable to trust their own judgement.
It’s a hard lesson to learn in life that not everybody is kind, but relationships are our biggest teachers and show us how we can grow. I have been in relationships that have taught me what I value in a friendship: equal power, give and take, kindness, compassion, hugs, laughter.
What about you?
I’ve also learnt that if people cannot respect your boundaries, then they are not friends. Some of the most forceful people I have worked for, have taught me to assert myself.
We cannot control other people but we can choose how we react to them
Unfortunately, I cannot take the bully away, but I can help children transform from a victim to survivor mentality. When we are victims we are giving our power away and allowing other people to define us. When we care too much about what other people think of us, we are not standing in our full power. However, when we have hope, dig deep and believe we can overcome a situation, there is a shift in how we feel.
Help your child get their gift
When your child goes through hard times, they learn and grow.They are resilient and resourceful. The more faith you have in their ability to be that way, the more they are able to work it out for themselves. You can still love them through it until they get their gift.
My new Be Your Best Friend Online Coaching Programme is a great way to help your child to creatively explore what their friendship values are and how to set boundaries with people who do not treat them respectfully.
Your child will learn to step into their own power and feel confident to say no when it matters most! This is also a great way for children who attract false friends or who struggle in social situations to pump up their socials skills and feel good from the inside out.
Other Smiley Resources You Might Like
Click each image below to listen in to helpful episodes of the Truly Madly Smiley podcast about all things friendships – fall outs, break ups, covert bullies, fake friends, gossip and more.