The Best Friend and Worst Enemy Bully

Very commonly, elementary aged girls are bullied by good friends. Surprised? I was, too.

Girl friends bullying girl friends is the premise of Little Girls Can Be Mean (affiliate link). One of the authors, Michelle Anthony, Ph.D., walked me through the book over coffee recently.

Initially, when she told me about her book, I felt shocked. Friends as bullies?

Then I thought about girls. And how they can be.

Are you with me so far?

Except, it’s not what we’ve been teaching our children about bullies. We’ve been teaching kids that the bullies are mean kids. Not our friends. Never our friends.

“It’s very confusing for kids,” says Anthony, “their idea of bullying is very stereotypical, not the best friend / worst enemy.”

With boy’s it’s different, it’s physical. But, with girls it’s relational, explains Anthony.

Anthony says, “Girls in general are trying to find power in the relationships, that is why we find mean behavior – begin in elementary school, in general kids are mean because they’re trying to serve a purpose for themselves.”

This book began when Anthony’s daughter had a friend who turned against her. Together they began a journey of trying to deal with this friend (frenemy.)

Anthony realized that she couldn’t just tell her daughter to play with someone else. Not when her daughter craved a friendship, and wanted to be friends with the girl who was bullying her. So, Anthony and her co-author, Reyna Lindhert, figured out a way to help Anthony’s daughter see the situation for what it was, assert herself and problem solve. The book, Little Girls Can Be Mean, breaks it down into four steps.

The Four Steps

  1. Observe. Watch your child as a social being in a new way and how she responds to conflict
  2. Connect with your child. “I notice that when your friend Katie leaves, you start fighting with your brother a lot. Are you sad that she’s leaving?” Help your daughter begin to notice things. You want to give empathy but NO problem solving. You’re setting yourself up as her partner. You’re becoming a team.
  3. Guide. When you really are connected, together brainstorm and list all the things you can do to deal with the bully. All your ideas are valuable – even sending the bully to the moon. Write up a whole list of possibilities. What this does makes it seem like there are many solutions. That it’s not an insolvable problem.
  4. Support the Act. Help your daughter choose one of two things herself that she’s going to do. Then role play what she’ll do. P.S. SHE chooses – NOT YOU says Anthony because your daughter is building inner strength inside herself. If the idea doesn’t work, go back to the list and choose another.

the BEST book on bullying for elementary-aged girls

Anthony lives in the Denver area, does workshops all over the country, and writes a column for Parent and Child magazine.

This book changed everything for me – and I think it will for you, too. It’s the best resource for elementary-aged girl bullying. You can’t do anything about the other girl’s behavior, but you can empower your own child. I really, really appreciate this empowering approach, what about you?

Attribution Some rights reserved by oksidor

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  • http://www.grannynannynews.com Granny Nanny

    Thanks for highlighting this perspective on bullying and recommending this book. My daughter’s worst bully was her “friend”. I only wish this book was available when she was growing up – it should be a must-read for parents of little girls.

  • http://www.kidlutions.com Wendy Young, LMSW, BCD

    I cannot recommend this book enough. Love, love, LOVE what the authors have created. It is a shining example of how we can support young girls and help them help themselves. We’re all in this together…and what a wonderful testament this book is to the power of building healthy relationships. Imagine how DIFFERENT middle school would be if all elementary schools embraced this model! They have FAB activity-based exercises to do with girls, too!

    Wendy @Kidlutions

    • http://imaginationsoup.net Melissa Taylor

      so true – I really feel that this book and it’s philosophy could revolutionize the way we are handling bullying in elementary schools. We all must read and implement in our schools!

  • http://www.olugbemisola.com Olugbemisola

    Thanks for featuring this, Melissa — sounds like something I can use in our small group right now!

    • http://imaginationsoup.net Melissa Taylor

      Gbemi, What is your small group? Is it moms? Tell me more – want to write a guest post about it??

      • http://www.olugbemisola.com Olugbemisola

        It’s a small group of 2nd grade girls, talking friendship, relationship, power, community-building, etc., and strategies to navigate it all. I’ll email you!

  • http://PragmaticMom.com PragmaticMom

    Thank you for turning me on to this resource! I will blog on it too. May I repost your post with credit and link back to you? Such a timely and useful topic!! Thanks! mia

    • http://imaginationsoup.net Melissa Taylor

      of course, Mia! :)

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  • sally

    I ordered the book Little Girls Can Be Mean thinking of my daughter who is now in 1st grade. The day the book arrived I received a phone call from the school principal saying my SON had gotten into some trouble. The principal then explained that my son had been the bullied that day. When the principal went on to say who the bully was, I was surprised. It was my son’s “best friend”. Although this book is written for bullying with girls, I do believe it can be helpful with boys as well. (I’ve started reading it.) I look forward to learning what I can do to help my all my children navigate through difficult situations. THanks for the help!!1

    • crysdee

      Agreed. My son went through a similar situation for 2 years. Our school was no help whatsoever. My husband and I coached our son in ways to deal with this frenemy in similar ways to the advice given above. Looks like a timely and discerning book!

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  • Sonya Gilley

    As a K-6 school administrator I plan to order this book. It is such a shame that others need to “value” themselves by hurting others. It does happen in schools and other places. We do our best on campus to elimate all bullying by hopefully teaching the children why they are bullied AND why they, themselves are sometimes the bully. Can’t wait to read the book and share it with parents and teachers.

  • http://Teachingitswhatido@blogspot.com Danna Coffey

    I teach preschool and this occurs as early as age 3 or 4. I have a difficult time with it and recognize that I don’t handle it as well as I do with boys. I will be ordering this book ASAP!

  • http://www.anonyvox.com Anonyvox

    Urgh, this really smacks of my own problems in grade school with best friend bullying. The thing is, I both gave it and received it: are there suggestions in the book for how to cope with it when you think your child may be guilty of this type of behavior? We talk about, “How did it make you feel when your friend did (Behavior X)?” and then segue into “So you wouldn’t want to make someone else feel like that, right?” but I don’t know if it gets fully internalized or not.

    Any ideas?

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  • Karen Jamison

    As a person that has worked with kids of all ages for over 30 years (and the mother of 3 daughters)…Not only observe your daughters for indicators that they are being bullied, but look for behaviors that might indicate that your daughter IS the bully. We do not want to think of our own daughters being the “mean girls”, but remember that somebody’s daughters are. If you are alert for this, you can head it off before she becomes a permanent full blown mean girl. It always starts innocent enough, but left unchecked, those little things can and will snowball into bully behavior. It is much harder to stop once she has felt the “power” of being the “mean girl”……

    • http://imaginationsoup.net Melissa Taylor

      wow, such a great point. Thanks, Karen.

    • Heather

      Do you have any tips and suggestions to help me, help my daughter not to be the “mean girl” she is
      3 1/2 and is so mean to me and her siblings I’m afraid to let her play with friends for fear she will be mean to them. She does have play dates with other little girls and there has never been an issue. does this book address this as well? Thanks for this post.

      • http://imaginationsoup.net Melissa Taylor

        from Michelle via email . . . Hi Heather,
        Thanks so much for you comment. It’s actually a really good sign that you recognize the difference in the way your daughter treats her parents and siblings from the way she is (presently) treating her friends, even at this very young age. Kudos to you for taking the time to address this important issue when you still have so much influence over her! What you describe is actually very common among girls who are “trying on” different power roles, and are falling into meanness, often due to a lack of skills. Yes, the book has an entire section on how to respond and manage meanness when you see it in your own child, as well as many activities that will foster the more positive and beneficial relationships you are clearly trying to instill.

        Let me know how it goes!
        Best,
        Michelle

    • Mother Streusel

      This is a great point. I would like to encourage parents who suspect that their daughter or son might be the mean one to take heart. That kind of behavior is definitely correctable and probably indicates that she or he naturally has courage, strength of personality and leadership potential. While allowing your kid to bully is a terrible idea, your kid is not evil. Most people’s strengths have a similar potential weakness.

  • Holly

    This is empowering. I have been taught, as a school teacher, all about bully prevention. However, the fact that bullies can be your friends has never been brought up or addressed. I have seen this in a friend of my 5 year old. I know the girl has been mean, but my daughter just doesn’t understand it. Now, I can help her understand it as well! Thank you!!!

    • http://imaginationsoup.net Melissa Taylor

      It was eye-opening for me, too! Glad you found it helpful.

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  • http://thelifeofmunchkins.wordpress.com Anita

    I had no idea this book existed till I read it here. Looking forward to reading it and hopefully I will gain some valuable insight from it. :-)

  • Katie

    There is a great storybook addressing this called My Secret Bully by Trudy Ludwig. I suspected my daughter was being bullied by a “friend” and read this to her. She asked for me to read it several nights that week and then one evening after finishing it said, “Mom, I think is my secret bully” and we were able to take it from there.

    • http://imaginationsoup.net Melissa Taylor

      oh, wow!

  • photomama88

    When my daughter was in 1st grade, she had a little girl friend who she had loads of fun with in the beginning. Then this little girl became really possessive of my daughter. She began to drive away her other friends by having temper tantrums when my daughter would play with someone besides her. It went on to her pinching, kicking and scratching my daughter whenever she played with somebody else. I had to go to her teacher and request that she not pair them up for activities and field trips because of this little girls behavior. The teacher was really good to help out with it, but was very hard to deal with. My daughter did not know what to do and felt very helpless. It was a hard time. Girls behavior can be very challenging.

  • Polly :)

    Just put this on hold at the library. Thanks!

  • Amanda

    I had the very same problem in elementary school (I am currently in high school) I only had a couple of friends and one of them was a ‘bully’ I didn’t realize it at the time and I honastly thought that was how friends were. I was very confusing for me because she went from laughing and joking with me to telling me my drawings sucked. I actually stayed friends with her though elementary school and middle school until I realized found a friend that wasn’t mean and I realized that friendship was never mean. I can personally tell you how important it is to teach children what a real friend is and how to deal with those bullies.

  • Becky K

    I was chronically bullied by other girls from day one. A big part of the problem was my parents (who had rigid religious beliefs regarding clothing, skirts only-no pants except for skorts in gym class) making me a target by forcing me to appear “different”. As a result I don’t trust other women very easily. I can count the number of past female friends and current friends on one hand for each. I never learned how to play the games other girls play socially or even how to have a close meaningful friendship with another woman……I still struggle with it today. I had to learn social behavior milestones the hard way because I didn’t have friends to tell me any different. I wish there had been a book like this when I was growing up!! Not that I would have had the benefit of it, my parents certainly would never had bought it, but maybe a teacher would have been able to help me using this book. I plan to provide any future daughter of mine with the tools I never had, so that she will hopefully have a better foundation and not have to learn so much the hard way.

    • http://imaginationsoup.net/ Melissa Taylor

      I’m so sorry! It sounds like a painful childhood. You’re going to be a great parent because of your consciousness and awareness. HUGS!

  • Allison Ross

    When I was in Elementarty school I was bullied a lot by my best friend. It was a click one day that she did not want to be friends anymore. I was outcasted by her and she eventually got all of my friends to hate me, too. I would sit alone at lunch, at recess, and didn’t really have any friends for my intermediate years. I cried every day when I got home from school. I wish there were resources around for my mom to help me through. She tried her hardest but I truly was hurt for life. Because of my experience I have placed a stereotype on many people. I am in highschool now and often judge people before meeting them. I have made up with my bully and we are friends now. I am so glad that there are books like this out there to educate people on the true bully stage, the elementary years.

  • MeganCorinne

    I remember always pinching my best friend when I was in 1st grade. I knew it was wrong… in retrospect I think it was jealousy. Poor Patty… my closest friend always probably went home with bruises. Lucky for her, the phase ended, and we remained close friends through high school.

    • Lewlew

      Um, really, I think it’s lucky for you that she tolerated you until you grew out of it, not lucky for her…

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  • Jane Thorne

    We need more children books on how to get along , tolerance for pre school .I don’t think its bulling . it’s more conflict resolution that has not been address .We have all kinds of book on how not to act like “No David” etc. .but very few on what makes a good friend .We all laugh at these silly misbehavior and don’t have any or very few books like “Yes David” I wish I could write children books .

    • http://imaginationsoup.net Melissa Taylor

      very true, thanks.

  • blubegonia

    actually, all this can be prevented if mothers were more friendlier (and stop acting like snobby “pretty little liar” girls from high school) – being a SAHM, i see the same horrible cliques at this phase, as i did in my high school years. also, i noticed girls plan their pregnancy around their girl friends pregnancies just so their kids all become friends: it’s one cult to another, from each generation. it’s a disgusting ritual that must be stopped!

  • Karena Gonzalez

    I’m dealing with this with my almost-8-year-old son right now. His “best friend” is a bully, plain and simple. My advice of course has been to tell him to play with other friends, but I never realized that was the wrong advice. This friend is mean, makes up mean names for my son (his name is Tyler and the friend calls him Cryler or Ty-Dumb). While my son recognizes his mean behavior, he craves his friendship. I talk with my son about bullying ALL the time (I refuse to ever have my kid be the bully) but it breaks my heart to see him on the receiving end of it. Any thoughts?

    • http://imaginationsoup.net Melissa Taylor

      Oh, I’m sorry! This book would be helpful to you even though you have a boy. It really shows us how to facilitate our kids figuring it out for themselves. I highly recommend it. HUGS!!

    • crysdee

      We coached our son, and taught him to crave healthy friendships and defined that for him. We did some role-playing with him as well. That helped in the short term, but the only thing that actually ended the behavior was to go to the boy’s parents. They didn’t believe us, but we made it clear that we had tried to work through the situation for two years (our son’s K and 1st) with no resolution. We told them we just simply weren’t willing to bear the responsibility for the solution any longer, and said that our boys would have to take a break. We left the door open for a future friendship, but we were firm that our son would be left alone and free to play with other kids without control or pressure. When the boy began to try to manipulate and control our son again, we called the parents and continued to do this each time. Each time their son pestered our son, we pestered them….that did the trick. Our son is re-learning how to have healthy friendships. This book looks like it’s perfectly applicable to our situation with boys as well. Good advice. Good luck!

    • http://imaginationsoup.net Melissa Taylor

      you might talk about how you and he would define a friend . . . Maybe it will help if you look at the opposite angle.

  • Clair

    Great subject! Is this suitable for older, say 4-6th grade children?

    • http://imaginationsoup.net Melissa Taylor

      yes, very much so!

    • http://imaginationsoup.net Melissa Taylor

      yes!

    • Mimi

      This sounds like a great book for most any age. As a child grow and has different experiences it will have a different meaning or connection to the child. I would think even a pre -teen could draw inference and apply the information herself. Great way to empower her.

  • dee

    Can this book be read to age 11? Or parts of it to be discussed? My daughter is not bullied, but left alone because she is different.

    • http://imaginationsoup.net Melissa Taylor

      I really think it would be helpful because it shows kids how to make choices for what they can control.

  • Mother Streusel

    Such a great resource!!!! Thank you so much for posting this.

  • http://www.homeschool180.blogspot.com Christen

    This is excellent. Thank you so much for posting it.

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  • Cheri

    I really love your blog. I remember going through this when I was in 8th grade which was a decade ago now. Of course at that time no one thought it was bullying and I was told to suck it up and that my “friends” were just teasing me. I never understood why my “friends” would turn on me. I didn’t do anything wrong they just quit eating lunch and talking to me and it made me very upset and going into my freshman year I was a loner because I didn’t think I could ever have friends and it finally dawned on my parents that I had been bullied and the way I was being treated wasn’t right, because no one would believe me or listen to me I suffered from depression for two years because of these hurtful tactics which only got worse over time. Things finally got a little better my sophomore year when I met a group of new people I could connect, but even with that I still felt and sometimes do that I can’t trust people because of this. Fast forward ten years later my sister is in 8th grade and going through the same thing only the school and my parents took it much more seriously this time and recognized what was going on was actual bullying. I’m glad it got resolved in a much more timely manner than my situation did. My sister is such a bright happy kid and it made me miserable to see her so sad and to see her go through what I did. I hope your blog inspires more people to recognize the signs of bullying and realize that it is a serious issue and it should be stopped before it gets worse. Thank you again!

    • http://imaginationsoup.net Melissa Taylor

      wow, Cheri, I’m so sorry this happened to you and to your sister!! It does mess with your head, doesn’t it? I have found that talking to a therapist helped me figure out how to build trusting relationships. It’s hard to do on your own, at least has been for me. BIG hugs to you!! xx

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