I have had first-hand experience about a child being bullied and teased at school to the point where his health was put in danger by a bully who stuffed pieces of broken mattress in his nose.
I did what I had to do to address the situation in the most civil manner I could manage in the extremely challenging circumstances. After the boys concerned were put in different classes, things got better and my boy loved pre- school again.
This past month I have found myself having to deal with a different form of bullying, but equally destructive nonetheless, if not worse. My children love to play outside and I like it that way. I have however come to appreciate of late that a parent who ignores or doesn’t pay careful attention to what happens in the playground does that to their own child’s detriment .
I was recently faced with having to help my outgoing, friendly child deal with being snubbed and rejected by his friends and play mates in the neighbourhood. To be honest, had I paid better attention from the beginning I would have noticed that the friendship he has with the 2- years older boy from next door was based more on what my boy could do for him and not necessarily on shared interests alone.
Often my son had come home sad that he had been spurned because his new shoes were ugly or something silly like that. I took it as part of growing up and let it slide too many times.
Matters however came to a head when he( the little boy next door) charged my boy 50 thebe for him to be allowed to play with the group.
When he told me that he often paid to join the playing field, I obviously refused to give him the money and when he came back upset because without the 50 thebe he was sent back home, I told him to go back and tell the clique that they did not own the playground and he wasn’t going to go back home as per their instructions because since they were not his parents they had no right to tell him when to play and when to go home.
He followed my instructions, but when he was threatened with being hit with a stone I decided enough was enough of him playing with that bunch of boys, especially because I was already wary of how their parents allow them to visit a distant neighbourhood to ours almost every day of the week including weekends to play until dark.
After agonising on how to cut my kids off from this lot, who always seem to be having so much fun outside throwing stones at passing cars, chasing cars and picking interesting things from rubbish bins, I came to the conclusion that there’s actually very little you can do to shield kids from cliques, but plenty you can do to help them maintain confidence and self-respect while negotiating cliques and understanding what true friendship is all about.
So I anxiously set the ball rolling, worried about what the highly sensitive neighbours would think of me, but guided by the fact that I am a mother first and a neighbour only second. The following day when the leader of the clique called to ask if he had managed to rustle up a 50 thebe, so he could join the playground I instructed him to tell them he wasn’t allowed to play at that particular time.
The friends were angry and the fall out was horrendous. It broke my heart to see him so sad gutted, but I stuck to my guns and we had a talk on why he shouldn’t play with them.
Eventually after going through what seemed like an eternity of serious sadness and a long time of standing inside the fence looking outside, crying and feeling victimized and sorry for himself, my boy has become strong and turned the tables on his friends confidently doing his thing and happily playing with his new friends without giving the other guys a chance in hell to hurt him again.
What to do if your child experiences the mean friends syndrome?
“Parents need to be realistic about childhood friendships,” said Carl Pickhardt, author of “Why Good Kids Act Cruel” These relationships are not committed partnerships, but ebb and flow with change and circumstance, with times of getting along and not getting along, and that is OK.”
1. Empathize with your child’s feelings and make sure that, feeling bad, she is not treating herself badly (“Nobody likes me!”) and making the situation worse.
2. See if your child can identify anything in his own behaviour, the friend’s behaviour or events between them that might have disrupted the relationship.
3. Encourage the child to use the time away from this friend to spend time with other friends as well as to create enjoyable time to be with themselves.
4. If this friendship still matters, if they have had a positive history with each other, encourage your child to keep testing the waters with invitations to get together again. Sometimes parents can arrange for something fun to do. In most cases, disruptions do not have to end established friendships.
5. Help the child understand that no good friends always get along, any more than all good friendships necessarily last forever.