How to help your daughter deal with mean girls…

Children can be cruel and it can be so hard watching when your own child is the recipient of the cruelty.  Here are some strategies that should help.

Build up other, positive support systems.  If there are no friendly girls in the neighborhood, then make a commitment to help keep her in contact with other friends one way or another.  This could mean signing her up for Girl Scouts, clubs, church groups or other social networks.  It could mean inviting friends from farther away over regularly or bringing her to their houses.

Help her find her voice — and practice it.  Typically, once kids have started treating another child badly it will continue unless something makes it change.  It can be scary standing up to someone, especially when you perceive that person as more powerful, but it’s really the only long-term answer.  Help her choose her words and then role play scenarios so she can practice.

Teach her to speak firmly and matter-of-fact, and then move on.  She doesn’t need zingy comebacks or long speeches.  She just needs to assert herself and let it be known how she expects to be treated.  For instance, next time Selena sees the girl who called her a liar and hung up on her she could say, “I want you to know that it hurt my feelings when you called me a liar the other day.  I was sick, and I’m not the type of person to make up lies.  It was rude to hang up the phone on me too.  Don’t do it any more, okay?”.  The other child can say okay and both girls can move on, or she can storm off, but it will still have a bearing on how the girl treats her next time.

Try role playing other possible scenarios too.  Just make sure it’s words she’s comfortable saying or she won’t use them when she needs them.

Get her involved in activities to boost her confidence.  Martial arts classes are excellent for kids who are being treated badly — not because they can respond physically but because the kids are taught so much self confidence.  These types of classes help kids feel strong and assertive, which carries over into other areas of their lives. Also, having your daughter get plugged into volunteer service at the local animal shelter or humane society or working for a cause that might be important to her.

Avoid threes.  It’s a sad fact that young girls often gang up against one of the group when they’re in groups of three.  Many parents complain about the phenomenon, where even when all the girls get along well individually they tend to couple up with two against one when they’re together.  Encourage your daughter to get together with the girls one-on-one or in larger groups, especially when there’s already a history of them ganging up on her when they’re together.

Be the fun house.  Some parents choose to make their houses especially fun for neighborhood kids so they’ll hang out there where parents can keep an eye on them.  If yours is the house with the fun art projects going on in the driveway and the sprinkler games in the back yard, kids are likely to gravitate to it.  Be firm about rules and expectations for how all children will treat each other when they’re at your house and see if that helps reprogram them to act in better ways.

Parents sometimes take this idea too far and buy expensive toys, provide endless snacks and otherwise try to buy friendship for their children.  Note that there’s a big difference between creating a fun environment where children will happily gather and bribing kids to be your child’s friend, though.

Write them off.  It can be hard on kids when the only other kids their age aren’t nice to them. That said, there are many neighborhoods where there are no other children.  Families who live out in the country get by with no children across the street to hang out with.  Other neighborhoods are often filled with mostly elderly couples or single people.  Just because these kids are there does not mean they have to be a significant part of your child’s life.  It may be helpful to imagine there are no kids in the neighborhood and brainstorm about what she’d do then.

Report it if it escalates.  It’s best to let kids deal with things themselves if they are small scale (such as being snippy or leaving children out).  However, if the behavior gets physical, causes fear or otherwise gets out of hand then report it.  In a school setting, let the teacher or principal know (and go higher up if it’s not dealt with to your satisfaction).  In neighborhoods, go to the parents and tell them.  Online, threats and harassment can be reported to the sender’s internet service provider.  In all cases, if the behavior is physical, threatening or extreme and it does not stop after you report it then go to the police.  It is a crime to assault or threaten people, including children.

Cultivate your own relationship with her.  Children need good friends their own ages, of course, but it also helps to have strong connections with parents.  On those times when it feels like the world is against her, it can be so important to feel liked and supported at home.  Take some extra time to do things she loves with her, from baking to doing art projects to going on walks.  Also talk about times when you were young and went through similar things.

Provide fun in other forms.  For right now, it may be that these girls are not going to be the types of friends your child needs.  Accept that and make some plans for other ways for her to have fun.  Keep lots of wonderful library books around, provide neat art supplies, play games and otherwise give her outlets for some happy times.  Books, art, hobbies, pets, nature and other things can help make the difference between a lonely day and a fabulous one.

It also may be helpful to remind her of that mantra that gets us through so many hard times in life:

This too shall pass.

Even if it doesn’t seem like it at the moment, things do change.  New kids move into neighborhoods, other kids move out, relationships change, new friends are made and better things come along.

Good luck!