Some time ago, Leslie Blanchard shared an article (My Worst Nightmare -- What If I Accidentally Raise The Bully?) about her 4th grade daughter's lack of inclusiveness toward a new girl who had made the fatal mistake of trying too hard to become her friend. Her daughter was complaining about how Bethany had been annoying her, prompting Leslie to ask for more details.
"What is she doing to you?" I questioned, instinctively protective.
"She's following me around on the playground and sitting by me at lunch!" she quipped, as if that would sum things right up and get me squarely on her side of the matter.
"You mean she's trying to be friends with you?" I asked incredulously.
Leslie quickly figures out that her daughter and friends have circled the wagons, making sure Bethany can't invade their cool kids posse. After being raised an Army brat who was perpetually "the new kid" Blanchard is horrified by her daughter's behavior.
I firmly believe we've got to start to address our country's bullying epidemic right at the heart; by re-defining bullying at its very core. To me, the rejection and complete lack of interest my daughter and her "clique" displayed toward Bethany was the beginning of a subtle type of bullying.
This comment piqued my interest. Many would argue that school is a petri dish in which kids learn socialization without parental interference and that her daughter's behavior was typical kid stuff. But if you're Bethany, those daily doses of rejection can be excruciating; I can't count the number of kids I've worked with who suffer quietly every day because they simply don't know where to sit at lunchtime.
Blanchard gets involved. (To parents suggesting she shouldn't she says, ("'...Seriously? You micro-manage the literal crap out of every thing your child does from his gluten intake to his soccer cleats, but THIS you stay out of?" No wonder there's zero accountability and a bullying culture!") She tells her daughter that she wants her to make a concerted effort to get to know Bethany, assigning her the task of reporting three cool things about her at the end of the next school day.
...She learned that, while I may not be overly-interested in what she gets on her Science Fair project, couldn't care less if she's Lactose Intolerant or whether her long blonde hair is snarled, she's going to damn well treat people right.
Despite resistance, her daughter agrees. She returns home ready to share what she's learned about Bethany. Fast forward a few years: Blanchard's daughter cries when Bethany moves to another town. They remain in close contact to this day through social media.
It is easy to rely on superficial clues to decide whether to let someone in or out. Bravo, Leslie Blanchard for reminding us that when we view others with a superficial eye we often miss the gems. Helping our kids learn this lesson could make life different for all the Bethany's in the world and for the lucky friends who discover--on second glance-- how cool they really are.
Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected and Parenting with Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids (An Eckhart Tolle Edition). She is a family therapist, parent coach and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.