We all remember middle school friendships and how fickle they are. Loyalties and alliances changed as often as *NSYNC’s outfits. These relationships seem to be getting trickier at an even younger age, as parents around the country report an increase in bullying (and cyberbullying) as young as 2nd and 3rd grade. So how do we raise confident (& kind!) girls in a culture that celebrates slick mean girl “coolness?”
- YOU set the character expectations–not the playground mafia
- We talk often in our home about identity. WHO we are, our character, our integrity and our name. Our daughter is a Clark and we talk to her about what that means. With that emphasis on belonging, she is grounded within herself and her heritage, which means she is more likely to make character choices that show pride in that name. This accomplishes two things: she needs less validation from peers to feel worthwhile and she is less likely to make choices that run contrary to her upbringing (such as joining in on the mean girl behavior that hurts or leaves out a classmate).
- Surround your family with a strong tribe
- A good group of family friends means that your kiddos have ready-made besties no matter what is happening at school. Almost like non-biological cousins, these are the friendships that become the melody of their childhood. And bonus–you already have vetted the parents so you know you can trust your kids in their homes. So as girls are invited in and then kicked back out of social circles at school, your child is not left wondering about her self worth when it’s her turn to be on the outside. Because she knows she is accepted in a more permanent place.
- Praise her abilities and gifts often
- You know what kills false condemnation? High praise! The clique at school won’t make note that your daughter is good at math, tells funny jokes, has beautiful eyes or did awesome at soccer last weekend. A bully is only going to exaggerate flaws (as if we don’t all have things we’re working on–bully included). It is our job as parents to build into our girls and make sure they hear ten positives for every negative. All we’re doing is telling them the truth about the good things about them; something the critical world won’t be as quick to do!
- Be a safe place for her to cry and vent
- Relationships are hard and people are not always reasonable! There isn’t a way to 100% shield our kids from that truth. Even the most confident and self assured girl will have days where she has been knocked down too many times and needs a good cry with a side of Mom hug. They need the safety of home where they can let it all out and be held. They don’t need to be told that it’s no big deal or it’s nothing to cry about–they need to honestly name those feelings, process through it, be reminded that there is a place they always belong. They may never get the apology or kind treatment they are due, but they can get that warmth and compassion where the roots grow deepest–at home!
- Be willing to be her fall guy
- Is your confident girl not so confident that she’ll get treated nicely if she hangs with that certain group or goes to that certain event? But, she’s not yet ready to confront the situation? That’s where “Mean Mom” can step in and covertly be the bad guy for her. Let her use you as the reason she can’t go to save her from the social suicide of a confrontation that may not be recieved well. Growing up, I always knew that if there was something I was not comfortable doing, I could claim my Mom had said no and she had no problem being my fall guy! It was so nice to know she had my back when I didn’t feel so strong.
- Model maturity–give her something to aim for
- It doesn’t make much sense to preach to our daughters about inclusiveness if we are just grown up mean girls ourselves! Are we friends with emotionally healthy women who are marked by generosity, kindness and love? Or are we just as cliquey and judgemental as the middle school crowd? More is caught than taught, so if we want our daughters to be able to confidently stand up to bullies and also not be bullies themselves, we have to give them something good to follow.
- Cast a vision for her life
- We see, with our parent eyes, that grade school popularity does not ultimately matter. Because we all one day become tired Moms with messy buns, dirty pants and not enough caffeine. Time is the ultimate equalizer and it comes for all of us. But that is not the way it feels for our girls when they are in the thick of it. To them the cool kid cafeteria table is their current existence and it very much matters where they sit. Which is why our daughters every so often need to see beyond the present and they need our help to do that. We can lead them to dream big dreams for their life. We can talk with them about what they may want to be when they grow up, where they may travel, who they may spend their life with and all that they may experience. We can help them to remember that there are a million happy days in front of them and that even if they don’t wear pink on Wednesdays–they have a joyful future ahead of them if they stay true to who they are.
Let’s show up for our girls in the ways that really matter.