Mean Girl Advice: What to Say When Your Daughter Asks, “Why Are Some Girls Mean?”
This week, MommyZen™ welcomes Michelle Kelley as our guest blogger. Michelle is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) specializing in coaching and counseling middle school and high school girls to successfully navigate the social dynamics of “girl world” as they transition from childhood to adulthood. Michelle’s counseling practice, Girls Stand Strong, is based in Warrenton, Virginia.
My daughter recently asked me why some girls are mean. She said that someone at school is nice to her sometimes and mean to her at other times. I was not sure how to her answer her question. Can you offer some advice?
This is a very common question — and an important one. Your daughter is not alone; nearly every school girl has a “mean girl” experience at some point during their middle school years.
Help Your Daughter Feel Safe Talking With You
First, it is very important to let your daughter know that you are glad she has come to talk with you about this situation. Girls often times seek advice from their peers instead of their parents because they are hesitant to tell their parents about uncomfortable or confusing situations which cause them to feel embarrassed, insecure or bad about themselves.
Some girls believe they are somehow at fault or responsible when others treat them badly. They may wonder what they did to trigger the mean behavior. It’s important to let your daughter know that we are all responsible for our own behavior. She is not responsible for how this girl behaves towards her — or for anyone else’s behavior.
Ask Questions to Clarify the Issues and Possible Solutions
Start by asking your daughter if she would like to talk about the other girl’s behavior and her feelings about the mean behavior. You can reassure her that, whatever she may be feeling, she is entitled to her feelings. When you encourage her to talk and listen sincerely, empathetically and nonjudgmentally, she will be more likely to open up and share her experiences and feelings with you.
Once your daughter is done talking, you can begin to ask her some questions that can help her clarify her feelings and the situation. For example, you could ask: “Has this ever happened to you before or have you seen this girl act this way toward anyone else?” “Is this girl mean all the time? Is she habitually and persistently mean to everyone? Is she only mean to some people? Is she mean only occasionally? Is she really being mean — or is she simply sending confusing messages to your daughter? Help your daughter see the difference between a girl who is being deliberately mean to others, and a girl whose behavior is hurtful because she is simply being thoughtless or insensitive without being intentionally mean.
Your questions could help your daughter to think about the situation on a deeper level and arrive at her own solution. The real work in life and in our relationships is when we can see beneath the surface and access the deeper level of what is really going on. This is a learned skill and an empowering one too.
Help Your Daughter Figure Out Her Own Answers
You may not have all the answers — and that is OK. In fact, an important parenting skill at this stage is to back off from providing answers. Instead, focus on guiding your daughter towards finding her own answers. You can suggest that the two of you look for the answer together. You can search the internet together, research books or seek counseling.
It is very important to let your daughter know that it is NEVER okay for someone to act in a rude, hurtful or mean way, no matter how they are feeling. We can’t control our feelings, but we can — and must — learn to control how, where and when we communicate our feelings. See if you can help your daughter figure out if this is a situation where she needs to learn how to stand up for herself or a situation where she needs to figure out how to establish boundaries. If you are not sure, you might want to consider seeking professional help for guidance.
Girls’ Number One Concerns
The number one concerns for girls are being ridiculed, being humiliated and being teased. These behaviors can be devastating to girls. Girls need to know that they have a right to stand up for themselves when they are being mistreated.
Many girls lack self-confidence and self-assurance. They need to learn how to build up their confidence and develop the skill sets that will help them deal effectively with difficult social encounters and situations and respond appropriately when they are the target of mean comments by mean girls.
Practice Makes Perfect
You can help your daughter prepare for future encounters with mean girls by practicing a variety of responses next time she finds herself in this kind of situation. Together you can practice:
- What to say to someone who is acting in a mean or hurtful way.
- Acting confident (even when you don’t feel this way). This includes holding your head up high and maintaining eye contact.
- Knowing when to ask an adult for additional support.
Not all situations involving mean girls and mean comments constitute a bullying situation, but mean behaviors can certainly lead to unacceptable bullying. Any type of bullying situation is all about power. If your daughter is feeling confused or hurt by a particular girl or situation, you can help her develop and access her personal power so she can deal with similar situations confidently if they occur again.
There are some great books on the subject of mean girls. Some of my favorites are:
Odd Girl Out, by Rachel Simmons. This book deals with the hidden culture of aggression in girls.
Stand Up for Yourself and Your Friends, by Patti Crisswell
Little Girls Can Be Mean, by Michelle Anthony
Learning how to deal with and understand mean girls, mean comments, bullies and difficult personalities is a journey. By encouraging your daughter to talk with you, listening empathetically, asking thoughtful questions, and helping your daughter prepare and practice appropriate and effective responses, you will help her navigate her journey to adulthood with confidence and greater ease.
Michelle Kelley, LCSW
Girls Stand Strong