How to cope with mean girls: A gentle approach

How to cope with mean girls: A gentle approach

It can be heartbreaking to see your normally cheerful child get off the school bus with tears streaming down her cheeks. It’s even more worrying when you learn the reason why. If you have a daughter who has to cope with mean girls, then this piece may help.

Gy has always been a rather sensitive child and she reminds me of myself in many ways. She’s happiest when she has a book in her hands, although to be fair, she’s very different from me in other ways.

So on the day she came home, heavy sobs racking her body, I was a bit nonplussed. At first, she refused to tell me what was wrong, just clinging to me and crying her heart out. Once the tears subsided, I asked her what was causing her such distress. In broken tones, she admitted that she was feeling left out, especially when a few ‘close friends’ chose to exclude her from a group.

Earlier that week, they had stood together on the playground, looking at her and whispering something. Once she’d walked up to them, they quickly changed the subject and slowly drifted away in pairs, leaving her alone. Yet another day, a pair of friends got off the school bus and had walked ahead of her, looking back over their shoulder at her, pointing and giggling.

‘Why do they do this, Amma? I don’t understand. It makes me feel very bad.’

My heart sank as I heard this. At the same time, that sleeping tigress in me woke up and raged (albeit silently) at the idea of someone hurting my child. Natural response, I’d say, so I didn’t fight it but let myself feel the emotion for a while. You do know I have a fiery temper, don’t you?

Adolescence is a fragile time. For one thing, there are all those physical changes that come with puberty. For another there’s the emotional workload of navigating choppy waters of tween friendship. Let’s not forget that academics are getting more rigorous and the child also has that to handle.

When I’d had time to pause and reflect on all of this, I looked for ways to help her cope with this situation. Asking her to just ‘deal with it’ didn’t sit well with me. Mind you, each of these tips actually worked, although none of them worked overnight. So a bit of patience and a lot of compassion comes into play for you, the parent.

3 Positive ways to help your daughter cope with mean girls. #Parenting #Tips Click to Tweet

Does your daughter have to cope with mean girls at school? This can be troubling for a child. Here are 3 simple ways to help her cope.

1. Gently broach the subject with the friends

This particular tip came to me courtesy a close friend. I’d confided to her that it broke my heart to see Gy cry as pitifully as she had. As a result, she refused to go to play for two days in a row. I knew this was rough on her already. She’s an only child and while she does know how to keep herself busy, there are times when she needs and enjoys the company of other children.

Honesty goes a long way in mending bridges, especially when the parties in concern don’t bring their egos into play. Kids are fragile and malleable and are more keen to keep friends than sever ties. So I told her to quietly and truthfully take one of the girls aside and explain that she felt hurt by the behaviour. I warned her that this may backfire but it’s a risk she would have to take, if she was keen to remain friends.

Putting on a brave face, Gy did exactly that. She came home beaming, saying, ‘Amma, she understood and apologised for the way she acted. We’re friends again.’ I watched with a bit of pride and cautioned her that this may not have solved the issue. Chances are the actions may be repeated. She would need to watch out for that. Gy nodded and agreed.

*Use this tip with care. Not every child has the ability to broach the subject or tell another girl that her mean actions are hurtful. This would depend on the nature of the child.

2. Befriend other kids

If your child is either too diffident and can’t handle the idea of broaching the topic, or is finding herself the repeated target of such behaviour, it makes sense to try this one: make other friends.

Mean behaviour acts as an ego-boost. Some people derive pleasure from watching others feel bad. While adults may do it for the wrong reasons, kids generally do it because it gives them a high and they don’t know any better. So, while it is not your task to change them, you don’t have to sit by and let them walk over you.

I suggested that Gy make other friends.Ā  If you show the mean girls that you are dependent on them for friendship, they may take advantage. “Make the choice of finding people who like you for who you are,” I said. If someone wants you to change to fit into their mould of ‘being cool’, they’re probably not the best friends for you.

*This tip requires a bit of maturity and may take time for young kids to learn. Don’t push too hard or expect it to happen right away. Letting go of a friendship or making a new one takes effort. Be supportive.

3. Find something else to do

I thought back to my own teen years, wondering how I’d handled mean girls and bullies. For one thing, I had very few friends. I was hardly what you’d call a social butterfly.

But there was one eternal companion who kept me happy: Books.

Books saved me on more occasions than I could count. I’d lose myself so completely in a book that nothing and nobody could hurt me. Tiffs, quarrels, disagreements, and yes, even mean-girl behaviour, would evaporate in a cloud when I settled down with a book.

Since Gy loved books with the same passion I did, my mom suggested this as a solution. This worked like a charm! She carried a book with her every day to school, to read on the bus back home. Doing this helped two-fold.

For one, she was too engrossed in the book to wonder why people were being mean. For another, when the mean kids noticed that their actions had no effect on her, they slowly tapered off their mean behaviour.

You know that quote:

Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.

~ Eleanor Roosevelt

Strengthen your kids with this belief. Empower them to the point where nothing can take away their right to absolute, unfettered joy. We cannot control other people’s behaviour, but we can manage how we choose to respond to it in a mature, dignified manner and teach our kids the same.

***

Recommended Watch:

This video on How to handle a bully by Brooks Gibbs is wonderful. Get your kids to watch it too!

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Comments

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21 thoughts on “How to cope with mean girls: A gentle approach

  1. My blood boiled when I read what Gy had to go through because of those girls!! Can’t help it, I too am sensitive! šŸ™‚ But, I should have known – Gy has a super mom who knows how to tackle everything under the sun! That was some great solution Shailaja….I know I might need it someday – I have two nephews who will have to experience these bitter realities of life someday!
    And, yes, books are definitely our saviours, not just from mean people who can take away our peace but also the absence of people we would really love to have around!
    Shilpa Gupte recently posted 30 Minutes timer to just write.My Profile

    1. Aww I know, Shilpa. I kind of guessed you would react this way when you read the post, knowing how sweet you are. Life can be really hard and I hope that in this way, we equip the kids to handle things the best possible way. Here’s hoping.

      So true, your comment about books!

  2. Ohhh kids… They truly can be very mean without even realizing it. You took me back to the time when I went a new school in class XI and I had never in my life felt so alienated. Thankfully I only spent a year there. Books were my company then and I am so glad Gy loves them. They will be her source of inspiration and happiness for a very long time. I also liked the fact that Gy spoke to her friend about her behaviour. Takes a lot of courage to confront a friend and talk about it. Something I still can’t do
    Rajlakshmi recently posted Zentangle Inspired Art ā€“ MetanoiaMy Profile

    1. Sigh, new schools are a whole new ball game, Raj. Books have saved me for a long time. I didn’t think Gy would actually try tip 1, so I was glad she did and it worked šŸ™‚

  3. Give Gy a big hug from me. I know how hard this can be. I can totally understand your blood boiling because mine did too. It is extremely frustrating to not be able to help your child, isn’t it? That last point is the one that works for N. I find if she busies herself in something else the girls get over their ‘ignoring’ phase. Also, I take the opportunity to make sure she realises how terrible it feels and doesn’t do it to someone else.
    Obsessivemom recently posted In search of an exercise routineMy Profile

    1. You’re right about the last bit. I don’t want her to think that this is okay behaviour and she can be the perpetrator. I tell her to remember how she felt being on the receiving end. They’re kids, so they are still finding their way around, to be honest. But it’s important to keep the channels of communication open. Thanks, Tulika šŸ™‚

  4. Oh, those wonderful school days come rushing back to me as I read this post. I have had my share of mean girls in my life, and now that I think about it, I did ignore them and make new friends. I also used the distraction of books (and still do).

    All I can add to this wonderful solution is, it would be helpful to think of it like this: ‘Am I going to remember the fact that the mean girls bullied me, five/ten years down the line?’ If no, then completely forget about it. Because, I can totally assure Gy that I don’t even remember the names of those mean girls anymore. šŸ™‚

    Wishing her all the luck and good wishes and happy vibes ā¤

    1. That’s a lovely tip, Mithila šŸ™‚ It takes a while to get the kid to think that way though , so I hope she will get to that stage soon. Thanks for the lovely wishes!

  5. Oh shailaja I want to give you and Gy a BIG HUG…the way you handled the situation and the way she implemented your suggestions is something that I can definitely learn from…in today’s time I am seeing more and more children (and many adults too) are becoming mean in the name of standing up themselves, solving their own problems or being themselves…I find this trend very disturbing…there seems to be no space for introverts or mild people…my daughter is also very sensitive and often faces situations where people ignore her or walk over her…these tips will help a lot in helping her…thank you once again and please let Gy know that she is a total rockstar

  6. Hugs to Gy. It is difficult for kids when friends suddenly become mean to them. I too have encountered mean children and got hurt by their mean ways. I was new to the school. I learned to ignore such kids and make friends with others. I guess we all have to go through these phases which in turn will make us strong and be compassionate to others. Iā€™m glad that Gy confided in you and that you were able to help her, Shailaja.
    Vinitha recently posted Goodbye #writebravely #WritetribeprobloggerMy Profile

  7. I would say this is not just for girls, but boys too. Some children are mean and it helps to make our child adjust and adapt to situations. At this age, everything is magnified and being part of a peer group is high for the tweens/teens. Good way to handle it.
    Lata Sunil recently posted Shakespeare in BollywoodMy Profile

  8. I felt so bad when I read about what Gy went through. Needless to say, I have been in this situation many times, first with the older son and now with the tween. I don’t know why kids are so mean to each other. When it comes to boys, they are even violent, scratching you and pushing and shoving. It really drives me up the wall. I try my best to help the kids to handle these situations. Very sensible tips there though as you mentioned again it will depend from child to child. The younger son being very shy sometimes finds it very difficult to confront a hurtful behaviour of someone else. And we all know how long it takes to make new friends. I find him clinging to elder brother more and yes, he has started taking a book to school as well. I really hope that he finds kinder more respectful friends sooner. Good luck to Gy as well. The angsts of adolescence.
    Rachna Parmar recently posted Tween Tantrums: How to Handle Them?My Profile

  9. Very well written, Shailaja! I could relate to it because I was a sensitive child myself and so is my daughter. Kids can be real mean. I was once appalled to see one of the girls in our apartment. She was the leader of the gang and she would tell others that they wanted to isolate one particular child, so noone should talk to him/her. Though kids make up fast, but it can be tough on sensitive kids.
    Very good pointers. I have suggested similar things to A as well and she is learning to cope with mean kids.
    Priya Sachan recently posted #YESMom vs MomMy Profile

    1. Thanks Priya šŸ™‚ Yes, kids can be really mean! And if they get appreciated for that behaviour by peers, it encourages them further. You’re right. Kids make up fast but they also use that as a ploy to hurt the weaker ones again and again. Good to empower our kids against this.

  10. These growing up years are the toughest, aren’t they? Since I don’t have a child, I’ll talk about my experience here. Growing up, I was pretty much the same rebel that I am now. Girls used to like to be around me and I usually was the center of the group. I have had my share of tiffs too but I have never been mean to anyone. I was more than happy to befriend loners and accept them as a part of my circle.

    When I grew up things changed. I remained the same, but the others changed. Hypocrisy and Sycophancy took center stage for others but I remained the same blunt person. I said things as it was and people started distancing themselves from me. Honestly, the best thing to have happened to me. I realized who my actual friends were then.

    Tell Gy to be strong, this is just the beginning and she has to see so much more. Having you for a parent is the best thing she can ask for and I’m sure you’ll guide her the right way.

    Love to you and her!
    Soumya recently posted Action Replay: October 2017My Profile

  11. Wonder why some children are so mean and hurtful to others. They could be hurting too and acting out unthinkingly. You gave some excellent tips to Gy, she is a brave little girl. Reading was my favourite thing to do and books my best friends. The first reaction of any mother on seeing her child come home crying is to go yell at all those responsible, you didn’t. It reminded me of a scene from the movie, Stepmom, starring Julia Roberts and Susan Sarandon šŸ™‚

    1. You’re right, Sulekha. I actually wondered if I should include that bit that some kids act out because they’re hurting. But in this case I knew the reason the kids were being mean and it had nothing to do with being hurt sadly. It was their way of exacting revenge on her for not acting by their rules. Sigh, anyway. Hope these help her.

  12. How I wish I had read such a thing when I was a teenager, Shailaja. Bullying and being mean are most common traits in teenagers and unknowingly or not. they make life miserable to the one on the receiving end. I could never confront anyone, so in school and even junior college, I went through a whole lot of it. Like you, I got into reading books and writing poems/in a diary. Lovely post.

  13. Sorry that Gy had to go through it, but also kudos to you (and her) for rising above it and making sure the message was delivered loud and clear, without having to resort to the same thing the bullying girls had to.
    I know you’ve mentioned ‘mean girls’, but a lof of them are applicable to mean people in general. Even some grown up adults.

    In hindsight though, Gy will be a stronger person because of the way you’re bringing her up.
    Sid recently posted I Fear . . .My Profile

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