Help Your Daughter Deal With Mean Girls
Experts offer simple strategies for getting female bullies to back off
The stares. The snubs. The snickers. It seems like every school has a mean girl — or three. If your daughter tells you she’s the victim of this particular type of bullying, first be grateful: Many kids don’t own up to being bullied, so tell your child you’re proud of her for spilling. Then make sure she isn’t being threatened or physically harmed.
If the bullying is nothing more serious than taunting, teasing or being left out, arm her with these strategies from child behavior experts. They’ll help to boost her confidence while deflating her tormentor’s.
- Walk on by. If other girls giggle or sneer when your child passes by, tell her to put on a poker face and keep moving, advises Kirsten Cullen Sharma, PsyD, co-director of the Early Childhood Clinic at the New York University Child Study Center. “At first the bullies may try even harder to upset your daughter,” adds Cullen Sharma, “but if she simply doesn’t react, eventually they’ll stop since that’s no fun.”
- Laugh it off. “Humor changes the dynamic and shows that your daughter can stick up for herself when she needs to,” says Cullen Sharma. For example, if a queen bee-type says, “This seat’s taken!” at lunch, your daughter can reply, “Oh, I forgot! The fun table is over there! See ya!”
- Understand what drives them. “Explain that when someone makes fun of somebody else, it’s often because she isn’t happy about herself. She’s trying to boost her ego by bringing the other person down,” says Kate Roberts, PhD, a clinical psychologist in the Boston area and a contributor to empoweringparents.com.
- Turn the tables. The next time another girl whispers or points at her, suggest that your kid put on a concerned face and ask, “Is everything okay? You seem upset, because the way you’re acting right now is really weird. I hope you’re all right,” Roberts suggests. Putting them on the spot with sympathy may confuse them enough to focus on someone else next time.
- Join the nice team. Bullies and other meanies love easy targets — people who seem vulnerable and alone, Roberts explains. If your daughter spends lots of time by herself, encourage her to seek out other kids who are inclusive and kind. Joining an after-school club or trying out for a sport are good ways to find like-minded friends. There’s safety in numbers: Once your daughter is part of an identifiable group, she’s less likely to be picked on.
- Hold your head high. Slumped shoulders, mumbled speech and other signs of uncertainty are magnets for meanies. Teach your daughter to walk with her head up and shoulders back, smiling. The more positivity she puts out there, the less likely it is that someone will get the idea she’s a pushover.
Finally, make sure that you aren’t part of the problem, says Roberts. Are you still picking out all of your daughter’s clothes (which may not be what the other kids are wearing)? Pushing her to do activities she really isn’t interested in (and aren’t very conducive to making friends)? Give her a chance to blend in a bit and she’ll be more comfortable in her own skin — a trait that will help those mean girls mean nothing to her at all.