My 9-year-old daughter is in third grade. She's been coming home troubled by conflicts with one or two other girls in her grade -- girls she refers to as friends. She mentions that they are "mean" and put her down when she talks.
It breaks my heart, and I know it's completely normal, but I'm sometimes at a loss for how to comfort her or help her deal with these moments and with these girls.
She is very reserved and not comfortable confronting these mean girls, but I want her to feel empowered and have some sense of control over the situation.
From: Lady Di, Westford
Hi Lady Di,
Sigh. Yeah, this is typical behavior among girls this age, often referred to as the Mean & Nasties, and it seems to have gotten worse in recent years. I answered another letter not long ago from a mom who was also wondering how to help her daughter go through tricky friendship issues. One of my suggestions to her was to be available to talk to her and willing to talk about anything. There are no magic formulas for keeping communication open between you. I was surprised that there were no comments on the entry and hope maybe mothers of daughters will share their stories this time.
I know your instinct is to want to comfort her, but our idea of comfort often isn't what she needs. We tend to get into trouble because we say things like, "Oh, they're not nice girls anyway;" "Oh, what do you care about hanging with them for?" "You have so many other nicer friends!"
For one thing, these friendships can turn on a dime. The girls who are mean and nasty to her today could be inclusive tomorrow, making them her BFFs and you the mean mom for saying something not nice about them.
More importantly, those kind of comments, which feel supportive to you and which you mean from your heart, only enrage a child who is hurting. Of course, you think she deserves better! Of course you're not going to like someone who is mean to her. She knows that. You're her mom.
What she needs from you is for you to be able to hear her and sit in her misery with her. I don't mean literally sit there. I mean, hold the information. Walk around with it. You do that by echoing what she says and mirroring it back to her. "So she said you are dis-invited to her party...." "Boy, did that make you angry and sad all at the same time...?" You don't need to have an answer, Lady Di; you don't need to solve the problem. You just need to be able to hear her feelings and share them with her. That alone will make her feel empowered, will make her feel better and begin to move past the moment so that she can think about what she could do next time. Twenty minutes later, she might come back to you and say, "Mom, what do you think if I ......"
As parents, we are often soooo annoying because we move too quickly to the brainstorming. Kids need to wallow a bit in the yukky stuff before they can move on.
Here's the other thing that is happening to girls at this age which seems not to always be making it onto our radar: cyberbullying. The girls who were once mean and nasty in person now use texting etc. to be mean, and it can be even more demoralizing. Check out Nancy Gruver's blog where guest blogger Michele Borba offers these "9 signs of cyberbullying." Good stuff to know.
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