Mean girls. It’s a title that has become common conversation in parenting circles. But the mean girl syndrome is not reserved for Junior High – in fact, it’s happening in Kindergarten.
Relational bullying or the “mean girl syndrome” is affecting girls at a younger age. The mean girl phenomenon used to start around 5th or 6th grade but now we are seeing it as early as first grade. I have seen children excluded from the group for how they dress, their religion and sadly even for their weight. The behavior usually begins as a “secret club” or best friends.
Here are tips to prevent bully traits from developing in our daughters.
Monitor the type and amount of media your child is exposed to. The average child spends four hours a day using electronics and a recent study showed over 90% of children’s television shows contain relational aggression. Many children I work with imitate these behaviors to be “popular.” Recently a student described feeling hurt by her “frenemy” meaning a friend who is also an enemy because she never knows how she is going to treat her. “Frenemys” are glorified on TV and it teaches children that it’s ok to be cruel one day and then nice the next.
Don’t Be a “Drama Mama”
Don’t be a drama mama. Model appropriate relationship skills. Show that close friendships with other women are important and supportive. Mean girls can grow up to be mean moms. Don’t compete with them, gossip or spread rumors. Some moms are more worried about their child’s popularity than the child is. They dictate who their child will play with and gossip about other children and their parents. “Dance Moms” the TV show is a classic example of this behavior.
Teach Solid Problem Solving Skills
Teach your child problem solving skills and let them work out their own problems (for the most part)- Many parents rob their children of opportunities to learn by solving the problem. Children need to learn through experience and gain confidence. Through play, children learn about negotiation, compromise, and conflict resolution. When we structure too much of their activities they lose that opportunity. A fifth grader complained about students being mean. After a few mediations with friends, I realized that they were normal misunderstandings and she was running to adults to solve her conflicts. So, prior to getting involved we asked her how she tried resolve the problem and then helped her come up with suggestions. Her conflicts greatly decreased and it improved her self-esteem.
Teach your child to be accountable. Many parents see their child as the victim when they may be contributing to the problem. It’s important to recognize how they treat others and teach them friendship skills. When I do groups on relational aggression, it’s rare that there is one person who is the instigator. Usually, the girls have all been mean to each other at one point but they only complain about it when they are the one who is on the outs.
Teach your child assertiveness skills. It’s important for your daughter know how to stand up for herself and leave hurtful situations. I worked with a third grader was being bullied every day. We talked how it wasn’t ok, and she didn’t deserve to be treated that way. We worked on assertiveness skills and she was able to stand up to the bully. She made new friends and didn’t feel threatened by her anymore. Relational bullying is harder to see than physical bullying and most victims feel like it’s their fault because they internalize it.
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