Third-grade girls and friendship

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  October 19, 2010 06:00 AM

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Barbara,

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.

Any advice?

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.

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

12 comments so far...
  1. I like, and my third grade daughter likes, a lot of the American Girl Library books. Check out "A Smart Girl's Guide to Friendship Troubles" or "Yikes: A Smart Girl's Guide to Sticky Situations: How to Tackle Tricky, Icky Problems and Tough Times." Also "The Feelings Book." They're pretty cheap new, and I often find them in the used book store.

    Posted by Lizzie October 19, 10 07:08 AM
  1. While I agree that there should be a certain amount of time for the child to figure things out for themselves at some point I do think the parents should get involved with the teachers and the children to try to resolve the issue. Just because every issue doesn't start out as classic bullying it is still hurtful and children need to know that that behaviour is not acceptable. If teachers are unaware that it is happening they can not get involved. There can be generalized class discussions or presentations about how we treat one another. If however the behaviour continues I do believe a guidance counselor or someone in that capacity should help to resolve the problem at school.Being cruel just isn't OK, the sooner girls, or anyone learns that the better.

    Posted by Julie Galgay October 19, 10 07:25 AM
  1. Listen to Barbara! My daughter went through something similar in fourth grade; not exactly the same situation but close. I wrote to Barbara and used her advice and I think we got through it pretty well. The thing that helped my daughter most was role playing. We came up with a few responses that she was comfortable with and she practiced them until she really became confident in using them. Her favorite was to just reply with the word "so" to whatever they said. But your daughter, with your help, will find her word(s). Another advantage to role playing was that my daughter was surprised at how well I could play the other girl (after all, we have all experienced these situations in some form along the way). This made her realize that I did understand what was going on and I think it made her feel like what we were doing was real. Good for you for writing and seeking advice, your daughter is lucky to have you! Best of luck,

    Posted by Joanne October 19, 10 07:26 AM
  1. My daughter went through the same type of thing. People she thought were her friends turned on her and things never went back to normal. What I did do is stick up for her. I didn't confront the children naturally, because that could have made it worse. But, when she would express herself through art of (and she learned her lesson about this one) on LiveJournal I stood up to her when the school blamed HER for feeling all this turmoil from the bullying. She knew that I was on her side no matter what, and I would like to think that this helped her through a very hard time for her.

    Posted by Michele October 19, 10 07:52 AM
  1. I think mostly kids need to know that you have empathy for their situation. When I was in 5th grade, my family moved from one school district to another in the same town. I went from a supportive school to one with the principal from hell who paddled little boys (she was eventually fired, this was in the mid 1960s) and a sadistic teacher who kept me and one other girl after school virtually every day for a year. As this never happened elsewhere it was the school staff not the kid.
    At any rate I was very distressed and thought my Mom didn't care as she never mentioned it. I found out later that she was crying every night while trying to get me transferred to a different class. It would have meant the world to me to have known she cared about my situation I thought at the time that she didn't.

    Posted by sarahc October 19, 10 07:59 AM
  1. To add to Barbara's sage advice - I also use these situations (have had them with both my son and daughter, although the characteristics are somewhat different) to talk about being a good friend. "How would you have handled the situation in Suzy's shoes? How would that have made your friend feel?"

    Posted by akmom October 19, 10 09:36 AM
  1. We had similar issues with my oldest girl at around the same age, and we found our rescue in the "Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls" book by Rachel Simmons.

    Please check it out of the public library if you'd rather not buy it, but do read it - it made a huge difference for us as parents in helipng our daughter succesfully deal with bullying issues.

    I cannot recommend the book enough to everybody who has a young girl...

    Posted by H-B-X October 19, 10 10:13 AM
  1. Lady Di, when you say "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," it reminds me of my 7yo daughter. She's been taking karate classes twice a week for a year now. They are great about bringing kids out of their shells, learning how to deal with bullies (not in a physical way), and do help kids to feel empowered. It's been a great confidence boost to my daughter and has even helped her become more respectful at home. I feel for you, this is not the fun part of growing up, or being a parent, but it's a lesson in life and Barbara and others have given great advice.

    Posted by Christine October 19, 10 10:35 AM
  1. I like Barbara's advice, especially the mirroring.

    Please don't say: you are so beautiful and smart, and everyone is just jealous of you. :) That doesn't help, and makes us distrust compliments because reality does not match up with what the mom is saying to try to help.

    Posted by Beth October 19, 10 01:07 PM
  1. Great post as always, Barbara! I tweeted and FBed it. I particularly agree with what you say here, "What she needs from you is for you to be able to hear her and sit in her misery with her." Just letting them talk about their troubles was agony for me but it is what they needed the most - particularly at first. Later they would be ready to move on to how to solve the problem. But only if I listened patiently first.

    Posted by Nancy Gruver October 19, 10 01:20 PM
  1. hi. my daughter is having a similar situation. She had a BFF for 3 years and is 9. Now , the BFF is mean at school. She hisses when my daughter approaches her and says they were never BFF's. The ex-BFF will even ignore my daughter if she says anything at all at school. Now my daughter is having a birthday party and is torn about inviting her "friend". She worries that she will be mean to her at her party. However, if she doesn't invite her then they may not ever be friends again. WHat should I say?

    Posted by Stevie April 9, 13 10:39 PM
  1. I am having a problem with my 3rd grade daughter and her responses to a few bullies in her class. When I brought it to the attention of the teachers, they blamed my daughter for her reactions to the problem...not the problem. They also advised me not to ask my daughter how her day went regarding the girl drama and that she might be thriving on my attention on the "drama." My daughter has been acting out at home and having stomach issues at night. I know I need to stand up to these teachers, but we have 2 more years in the school and these 2 teachers that team teach have a lot of clout. Most of the problems happen at recess when the teachers are chatting with each other. Help!

    Posted by Jane April 10, 13 02:11 AM
 
12 comments so far...
  1. I like, and my third grade daughter likes, a lot of the American Girl Library books. Check out "A Smart Girl's Guide to Friendship Troubles" or "Yikes: A Smart Girl's Guide to Sticky Situations: How to Tackle Tricky, Icky Problems and Tough Times." Also "The Feelings Book." They're pretty cheap new, and I often find them in the used book store.

    Posted by Lizzie October 19, 10 07:08 AM
  1. While I agree that there should be a certain amount of time for the child to figure things out for themselves at some point I do think the parents should get involved with the teachers and the children to try to resolve the issue. Just because every issue doesn't start out as classic bullying it is still hurtful and children need to know that that behaviour is not acceptable. If teachers are unaware that it is happening they can not get involved. There can be generalized class discussions or presentations about how we treat one another. If however the behaviour continues I do believe a guidance counselor or someone in that capacity should help to resolve the problem at school.Being cruel just isn't OK, the sooner girls, or anyone learns that the better.

    Posted by Julie Galgay October 19, 10 07:25 AM
  1. Listen to Barbara! My daughter went through something similar in fourth grade; not exactly the same situation but close. I wrote to Barbara and used her advice and I think we got through it pretty well. The thing that helped my daughter most was role playing. We came up with a few responses that she was comfortable with and she practiced them until she really became confident in using them. Her favorite was to just reply with the word "so" to whatever they said. But your daughter, with your help, will find her word(s). Another advantage to role playing was that my daughter was surprised at how well I could play the other girl (after all, we have all experienced these situations in some form along the way). This made her realize that I did understand what was going on and I think it made her feel like what we were doing was real. Good for you for writing and seeking advice, your daughter is lucky to have you! Best of luck,

    Posted by Joanne October 19, 10 07:26 AM
  1. My daughter went through the same type of thing. People she thought were her friends turned on her and things never went back to normal. What I did do is stick up for her. I didn't confront the children naturally, because that could have made it worse. But, when she would express herself through art of (and she learned her lesson about this one) on LiveJournal I stood up to her when the school blamed HER for feeling all this turmoil from the bullying. She knew that I was on her side no matter what, and I would like to think that this helped her through a very hard time for her.

    Posted by Michele October 19, 10 07:52 AM
  1. I think mostly kids need to know that you have empathy for their situation. When I was in 5th grade, my family moved from one school district to another in the same town. I went from a supportive school to one with the principal from hell who paddled little boys (she was eventually fired, this was in the mid 1960s) and a sadistic teacher who kept me and one other girl after school virtually every day for a year. As this never happened elsewhere it was the school staff not the kid.
    At any rate I was very distressed and thought my Mom didn't care as she never mentioned it. I found out later that she was crying every night while trying to get me transferred to a different class. It would have meant the world to me to have known she cared about my situation I thought at the time that she didn't.

    Posted by sarahc October 19, 10 07:59 AM
  1. To add to Barbara's sage advice - I also use these situations (have had them with both my son and daughter, although the characteristics are somewhat different) to talk about being a good friend. "How would you have handled the situation in Suzy's shoes? How would that have made your friend feel?"

    Posted by akmom October 19, 10 09:36 AM
  1. We had similar issues with my oldest girl at around the same age, and we found our rescue in the "Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls" book by Rachel Simmons.

    Please check it out of the public library if you'd rather not buy it, but do read it - it made a huge difference for us as parents in helipng our daughter succesfully deal with bullying issues.

    I cannot recommend the book enough to everybody who has a young girl...

    Posted by H-B-X October 19, 10 10:13 AM
  1. Lady Di, when you say "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," it reminds me of my 7yo daughter. She's been taking karate classes twice a week for a year now. They are great about bringing kids out of their shells, learning how to deal with bullies (not in a physical way), and do help kids to feel empowered. It's been a great confidence boost to my daughter and has even helped her become more respectful at home. I feel for you, this is not the fun part of growing up, or being a parent, but it's a lesson in life and Barbara and others have given great advice.

    Posted by Christine October 19, 10 10:35 AM
  1. I like Barbara's advice, especially the mirroring.

    Please don't say: you are so beautiful and smart, and everyone is just jealous of you. :) That doesn't help, and makes us distrust compliments because reality does not match up with what the mom is saying to try to help.

    Posted by Beth October 19, 10 01:07 PM
  1. Great post as always, Barbara! I tweeted and FBed it. I particularly agree with what you say here, "What she needs from you is for you to be able to hear her and sit in her misery with her." Just letting them talk about their troubles was agony for me but it is what they needed the most - particularly at first. Later they would be ready to move on to how to solve the problem. But only if I listened patiently first.

    Posted by Nancy Gruver October 19, 10 01:20 PM
  1. hi. my daughter is having a similar situation. She had a BFF for 3 years and is 9. Now , the BFF is mean at school. She hisses when my daughter approaches her and says they were never BFF's. The ex-BFF will even ignore my daughter if she says anything at all at school. Now my daughter is having a birthday party and is torn about inviting her "friend". She worries that she will be mean to her at her party. However, if she doesn't invite her then they may not ever be friends again. WHat should I say?

    Posted by Stevie April 9, 13 10:39 PM
  1. I am having a problem with my 3rd grade daughter and her responses to a few bullies in her class. When I brought it to the attention of the teachers, they blamed my daughter for her reactions to the problem...not the problem. They also advised me not to ask my daughter how her day went regarding the girl drama and that she might be thriving on my attention on the "drama." My daughter has been acting out at home and having stomach issues at night. I know I need to stand up to these teachers, but we have 2 more years in the school and these 2 teachers that team teach have a lot of clout. Most of the problems happen at recess when the teachers are chatting with each other. Help!

    Posted by Jane April 10, 13 02:11 AM
add your comment
Required
Required (will not be published)

This blogger might want to review your comment before posting it.

About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

Submit a question for Barbara's Mailbag


Ask Barbara a question

Barbara answers questions on a wide range of topics, including autism, breastfeeding, bullying, discipline, divorce, kindergarten, potty training, sleep, tantrums, and much, much more.

Send your questions to her at:
meltzbarbara (at) gmail.com.
Please include your name and hometown.
Moms
All parenting discussions
Discussions

High needs/fussy baby

memes98 writes "My 10.5 month old DS has been fussy ever since he was born, but I am getting very frustrated because I thought he would be much better by now...has anyone else been through this?"

More community voices

Corner Kicks

Dirty Old Boston

Mortal Matters

On Deck

TEDx Beacon Street

RSS feed


click here to subscribe to
Child Caring

archives