Girls can be mean. To anyone with a daughter in middle school, this is probably not a surprise. But when my 6 year old daughter came home recently and told me another girl “hated her” and was saying mean things to her, I was shocked and upset. It has since blown over and wasn’t a big deal, but I was still floored that girl drama started this young.
Sarah’s teacher was great and dealt with it like the pro that she is. But she also warned me to get used to it.
“It will happen again,” she said knowingly.
So what do you do when your daughter comes home and tells you a girl or group of girls is being mean? The experts all seem to agree that we need to let our kids learn how to deal with painful situations like this and that we need to give them the tools to do so.
But what are the tools?
For answers, I went to my friend, Dunwoody parenting coach Sherry Boles-Rogers, for advice.
“The first line of defense is to listen to their... feelings...This is quite hard to do. It’s heartbreaking for us as parents... We just want to fix it ...and make sure it never happens again. But if we can just be with our child and let the tears fall (without trying to fix it), this is great medicine in and of itself,” Boles-Rogers told me. “Feeling... understood will help your child develop inner strength and resiliency.”
This advice is seconded by a friend’s 12-year-old daughter who was hounded by a very mean girl her entire third grade year.
“Sometimes kids have to deal with it...and rough it out,” she said. “But you have to tell or it keeps bugging you... Parents should reassure their kids that it’s going to be okay.”
But what do we do after we listen?
“Brainstorm ways that they can ‘respond’ to mean words or actions, rather than ‘react’ emotionally,” Boles-Rogers advised. “Help your child come up with some key phrases that will help to protect her from the impact of a ‘mean’ comment. Some phrases may be, “That’s not nice and I’m not going to listen any more” (and she turns or moves away). Or “I don’t let people talk to me that way” (and she turns or moves away).”
And if that doesn’t work, she said, “Then it’s time to get a teacher or adult involved.”
My friend’s now 12-year old daughter offered the last word: “Do not go to the teacher without your child’s permission...If you’re called up by the teacher or by a school counselor in class, everyone’s going to know that something’s going on,” she said.
That, she says, makes it even worse.
Let me note here that I’m not talking about hardcore bullying. I’m talking about what one expert calls “an alarming pattern of social struggle among girls as young as five.”
Letting our kids feel pain has got to be one of the hardest lessons to learn in parenting. But since wrapping them in cotton balls and keeping them safe inside the house is not an option, and since the older they get the less we can fight their battles, I suppose it’s a valuable lesson to learn.
Lauren Menis is a Dunwoody mother whose column appears in The Crier each month. You can reach Lauren at Lauren.Menis@gmail.com.