Dear Ilana and Jess: My daughter, Mikaela, is about 11 years old. Unfortunately, she’s on the receiving end of some bullying. It’s the social kind that girls are especially guilty of: backhanded comments and passive aggression. Even worse, Mikaela doesn’t see the connection between what these girls are doing and how her self-esteem is plummeting. How do I give her a clue without making her feel worse? – Lizzie
Dear Lizzie: Relational aggression – using manipulation to harm others’ relationships or social status – is a particularly tricky form of bullying. Relational aggression is often covert: it shows up in subtle behaviors. These behaviors can be anything from withdrawing attention to outright exclusion, among a ton of other things. Many times, bullies will use flattery or sparse kindness to keep someone on the hook. Anytime Mikaela gets a morsel of attention, she’s probably scrambling for the crumbs. This gives her bullies all of the control and probably leaves Mikaela feeling very confused.
First, educate Mikaela and help Mikaela educate herself. We’re sure you’ve heard the term “gaslighting,” but Mikaela probably hasn’t. The terminology isn’t important, but the concept is. Mikaela needs to understand that most manipulations aren’t obvious, or even visible on the surface. But, if you look at what people are doing (or aren’t doing), their intentions become clearer.
Use examples from Mikaela’s own experiences to illustrate social nuances, like backhanded compliments, and why both content and tone matter in communication. For example, let’s say that one of the bullies told Mikaela, “It’s awesome that you made the swim team, but they take pretty much everyone.” You can ask Mikaela: Is this a real compliment? If she isn’t sure, explain that the compliment was followed by an insult, to make sure that the compliment didn’t count.
Help Mikaela start to identify how others make her feel. While this isn’t a foolproof tactic, our gut often lets us know that we’re being manipulated before our logical mind catches up. A good rule of thumb: If Mikaela feels worse after spending time with someone than she did before, something is probably off in that friendship.
Help Mikaela boost her own self-esteem. Start by showing Mikaela how to separate others’ opinions from her own self-perception. You can even make a game of it: Have Mikaela think of at least one popular opinion she disagrees with. For example, maybe there’s TV show that everyone seems to love that Mikaela doesn’t like. Remind Mikaela of her worth and make sure that she knows what kind of behavior she can (and should) expect from true friends. Finally, Mikaela should repeat a list of a few of her best attributes to herself twice a day, every day. For example, while looking in a mirror, Mikaela might say, “I am smart, caring funny, and beautiful.” This self-praise should become a daily mantra!
Say This: “Mikaela, I know you’re having a hard time and I’m really sorry about that. We’re going to talk about what’s going on and what to do about it. To start, let’s sort through the details, so we can get a better sense of the full picture. Do you know what a backhanded compliment is? If not, I’ll explain.”
Not That: “They’re not your real friends. Don’t listen to them!”
Say This, Not That is based on the work of Cognition Builders: a global, educational company headed by Ilana Kukoff (Founder & CEO) and Jessica Yuppa Huddy (Chief Learning Officer). Everywhere from New York City to California to Shanghai to Zurich, the Cognition Builders team is called upon by A-list entertainers, politicians, CEOs, and CFOs to resolve the conflicts that upend everyday life. When their work is done, the families they serve are stronger than ever. With their new book, Say This, Not That To Your Teenage Daughter Kukoff and Yuppa Huddy have selected the most common conversational mistakes parents make, and fixed them. For more information, please visit: https://cognitionbuilders.com. To purchase Say This, Not That To Your Teenage Daughter visit: http://publishing.andrewsmcmeel.com/books/detail?sku=9781449488055.
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