Is Shunning an Act of Bullying?

One of our readers had an excellent question about kids who deliberately avoid or reject another.  We’ve probably all experienced this either for ourselves or watched it happen to someone else.  Shunning for no known reason to the person being ignored can be confusing and hurtful. We asked expert, Amy Burzinski to offer some feedback on this.

Here is the scenario and question:
I have 2 girls ages 10 and 8. We have two college friends with families who live in 2 different cities.   We have been getting together for fun weekends for the last 4 years. The 2 other girls (not sisters, but bff’s) exclude my girls when we all get together. They won’t let them sleep on the floor with them and/or they will walk off and do their own thing. As a result, my girls feelings get hurt (more so the 10 year old).  The other girls are almost 10 and 11.

Another example, one of the girls gets to our house first and will keep asking me and their parent when the other girl is going to get there.

The other 2 girls get together more frequently then us. They definitely have a strong bond. But, I feel their actions are rude and hurtful. And, so do my girls to the point of dreading the get together and then being rude in return once the excluding starts.

It’s an emotional drain on me and I feel like I need to manage the situation more than I want to. Am I being a helicopter mom and getting too involved. Should I sit back and let them work it out ( which they haven’t in 4 years)?  I want to use the right words and actions.

Any suggestions, books, advice? Is this a form of bullying?  I already have read queen bees and wanna bees. Thanks in advance for any ideas.

Amy’s reply:

To answer your question, I begin with a question – Is the behavior that you are observing harmful and/or hurtful  or have the POTENTIAL to be harmful or hurtful to your children? If the answer is yes, then action should be taken.

It is true and important to remember that you can’t force friendships. In life, we all have people that we choose and experience a strong connection with. In kind, we have other people that we may feel less of a connection to or perhaps nothing at all. Regardless, of the nature of the relationship we need to learn to treat others with civility. In a sense, its no different from a workplace. For example, you could have a coworker you really enjoy working with and another that you just don’t like. In order to function in a workplace you need to find a way to work with both.

Behavior can be described as bullying behavior when one or a group chooses to exclude another or tells others to exclude someone. Once that happens then a line is crossed. Situations like what you have described typically do not work themselves out. By doing nothing you run the risk of enabling and justifying the behavior in which a child can be left feeling helpless. Additionally, by doing nothing it can take a toll on the relationship between you and your friends.

When we choose to respond we send a powerful message to both parties in which the behavior is not okay. You don’t have to be a helicopter mom. Set the tone by remaining calm and being simple and to the point. As a result, your kids can feel and experience support from you and feel empowered to deal with the current situation as well as future situations that can and will happen over the course of their lifetime.

Amy Burzinski is a licensed clinical social worker, working at schools and summer camps, where she develops and facilitates groups for students and faculty. She also provides customized bullying prevention seminars, trainings, workshops and interventions across the United States.