When I co-wrote The Angry Smile, I did not intend it to be a How-To book. In fact, I know lots of ways to be assertive, direct, and emotionally honest with others. But let's face it, sometimes a situation calls for a little passive aggressive behavior...
My 8-year old daughter has a frenemy. She has known this un-friend--and experienced the girl's on-again, off-again spitefulness--since they were in pre-school together. The girl, in fact, is the subject of a previous article that I posted on Psychology Today back in 2010, entitled Sticks and Stones: A Little Girl's First Experience with Bullying.
Things haven't changed much with this girl over the last four years. At times she is delightful and I must credit her with having an uncanny knack for charming her peers and making them want to please her. Even in her mean girl moments, she is so subtle and innocent-seeming (her extra-small stature seems to play into this) that I understand fully how she gets her covertly cruel jabs in before her targets even realize that they have been mistreated.
Unlucky for her, I study girl bullying, so I'm on to it.
My daughter is too--sort of. On at least a dozen occasions this year, my third grader has come home from school with stories about how the frenemy mocked what she was wearing or teased her about something she had made in art. As a spirited young upstander, my daughter is even more impassioned when she describes how the frenemy relentlessly bullies a classmate with special needs--and covers it up with a sugarcoated "Just kidding!" if an adult should overhear.
Being the therapist that I am, I always try to turn these conversations into opportunities for empathy and teachable moments about coping with mean behavior, reaching out to the bullied, and seeking out kind friendships. So, yes, I am very conscientiously teaching my daughter all of the right things to do. And above-the-radar, I do my best to be a great role model of kindness and assertive behavior.
Anyone who never acts undignified should stop reading at this point. Seriously--if you are compelled to lecture for a bit of misbehavior, it's time to click away. Believe me, I don't need you to tell me that my actions in the following situation were wrong. I know it. I chose it. That's right--like most passive aggressive people, I was aware of what I was doing and yes, I took a little pleasure in it. That's why I am bothering to tell you; it's part soul-cleansing confession, part funny-what-a-Mama-bear (or Papa bear)-will-do-to-avenge-her-young.
So, simply put, I took my daughter and her frenemy to see a movie yesterday. Before the film, I bought them each a box of candy--Skittles for my daughter and Sour Patch Kids for the un-friend. Both thanked me graciously. At the end of the movie, the frenemy approached me and said the roof of her mouth was "all scratched up" from the Sour Patch Kids.
Perhaps it'll be harder for her to use her mouth to say mean things now.
What? At least I didn't send her home with a box of super-sour Sweetarts to wash it all down.
Signe Whitson is the author of Friendship & Other Weapons: Group Activities to Help Young Girls Aged 5-11 to Cope with Bullying, in which she provides engaging activity and discussion ideas to help kids assertively (not passive aggressively!) respond to girl bullying. For more information, please visit www.signewhitson.com, Follow her on Twitter @SigneWhitson, or Like her on Facebook.