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HomeHealth & BehaviorBullying

Ask the Experts

How do I help my daughter deal with mean girls?

By Debra Collins, Family therapist

Question:

My second-grader does not want to go to school. She tells me there is a group of girls who constantly tease her and keep her away from her best friend. They tell her best friend not to play with her and make her choose sides. My daughter tells me that these two girls tease her so much that her whole class joins in or laughs at her.

Answer:

It is unacceptable that your daughter does not want to go to school because of peer difficulties. The behavior you described is getting much media attention and is now being labeled as "relational aggression."

Relational aggression is usually used to describe bullying and teasing behavior in female adolescents, but it can and often does begin much earlier. There are many sociological and psychological theories about why this occurs. I think these are valid explanations, but much of this behavior is not a new phenomenon.

Children have a difficult time navigating relationships and often resort to inappropriate conduct to either get their needs met or to obtain control. They are learning how to interact with people who are the same and different from them. Adults need to be good models and teachers for acceptable behavior.

Speak with your daughter's teacher to see how she handles these issues in her classroom. Many things occur on the playground that are not evident in a structured classroom, so make sure the teacher is aware of your daughter's difficulties. There is not a one-time fix for these problems and it is difficult for a child to deal with this on her own.

It is important that the school, parents and students make having good relationships a part of their school community. Ask if there is a school counselor who can introduce a program into the school's curriculum. If not, you may want to engage your PTA into making this issue a priority. A good book for young children, that can easily be adapted into lesson plans, is How to be a Friend by Laurie Krasny Brown and Marc Brown. For more information on relational aggression read Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher and Ruth Ross and Queen Bees and Wannabees by Rosalind Wiseman.


Debra Collins is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has worked in both primary and middle schools as a school counselor. She gives workshops to teachers and students and offers parenting classes in the San Francisco Bay Area. To learn more, visit her website.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

05/29/2012:
"My daughters gone through the same thing, I told her to ignore the mean people and they get offended by the ignorance of the victim. Hope this helps . "
04/26/2012:
"My 5th grade daughter doesn't want to go to school because these group of girls are talking about her and are making fun of her and her sister and friends my daughter can't take it no more she has been in a lot of stress I'm worried about her "
02/22/2012:
"My daughter is a beautiful 10 year old 5th grader. She isn't as "skinny" as her friends are, but she is healthy. She has been called "fugly" at school by her "friends". I am very sad by this because she is. I want to SCREAM at the parents of this child, but I know it will NOT resolve anything...I try to teach my daughter right from wrong and sometimes, people must feel the need to be mean because they are jealous of you or something you have...(not in narcissistic way)....I'm sad for my baby, and I hope that EVEN IF you think YOUR child is NOT the bully, you at a minimum, ask them if they are. Sincerely, Rachel....heartbroken mom... "
08/23/2010:
"My family and I joined a church in 2005 and I never felt that my daughter or son quite fit in with the group of youths that were alread there. However, over the years my kids seem to have made friends. It's really hard for me to watch because my daughter is the type of child who has to have friends or has to have people like her. I see this as a lack of confidence and don't know how to help her. I recently took her and a church friend on a trip and they had some type of argument. Now the friend (used lightly) has servered the relationship and my daughter feels uncomfortable attending youth functions in the church. She gets upset when I try to talk to her and she's always crying or upset after returning from church. Now I know that church is no place for this type of nonsense, but obviously these other children do not. What should I do?"
03/25/2010:
"It's not okay for your child to be like that because of those girls.Tell her think of ways of how to defend yourself.Or you could just ignore them.I just ignore them that's what I do."
03/22/2010:
"your daughter needs more playdates with the other girls in her classroom. she needs to be taught self respect and walk away from the 3 girls that are not treating her right including the so call best friend. any best friend that doesnt believe your daughter over the other 2 girls is no friend."
03/15/2010:
"I know what you mean my daughter is going through the same thing at catholic school. I thought with the teaching of god that this wouldn't happen but it has and nothing is being done to stop the behavior."
01/11/2010:
"hi i my 5 year old daughter which is now ten was bullied by a mean girl pinching her back telling her mean and hurtfull things and now she can stand up to anything!!! i am happy for her! "
11/2/2009:
"I am sixteen and my daughter is 3. In her pre-school a group of mean girls are making fun of her for having a teen mom. Remind you their only 3-4 years old. How should they know how old a regular parent should be. I might of gotten pregnant when I was 13 but that dosn't mean I love my beautiful daughter, Isabella Grace, anymore than a 30 yearl old mom loves her 3 year old. I love my child with all my heart and soul. Becoming pregnant with her at age 13 might have been a mistake, but my beautiful, wonderful daughter is NOT a mistake. I just love her so much, and all I want to do is help. But I'm sixteen, I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO!!!!!!"
05/19/2009:
"the same things happen to me but they hit pinch and say mean things to me in fact they are my COSINS well 3rd. I NEED HELP PLEASE IT WOULD MEAN A LOT TO ME"
11/19/2008:
"I am a teacher and I pulled my daughter out of her 7th grade class due to being the victim of relational aggression. She was picked on by one MEAN girl for 2 years, then her best friend joined her and turned a huge group of people against her. They even got away with wearing 'HATE MORGAN' necklaces to school. I would like to say that her new school was the solution, but it is happening all over again. She is a leader and is not afraid to stand up for herself. But that threatens the other girls' leader positions. The exact same thing is happening again. My school didn't do a thing about it. I begged, I cried, and I lost a lot of sleep. I talked to parents, and it got worse. I even had a parent file a complaint against ME at my school even though her daughter was the bully. We are now in counseling this time around. I hope it helps."
10/28/2008:
"My daughter goes to a private school and is in 3rd grade. The abuse has gotten so bad that a mother actually has been saying nasty things to my daughter in the lunchroom. The woman accused my daughter of something and told my daughters teacher. Her teacher knows what is going on and wanted to know if my daughter was alright. At least the teacher is protecting her, but the gossip with the mothers is out of control. I really am questioning whether this is a good 'Christian Environment'."
10/23/2008:
"my daughter who is 12 is having problems with so call friends, she wants to be part of a group of 5 girls, and no matter how hard we try she is always left out. We have them over, we take them out, but when they make their plans they do not includde my daughter, she is never invited over or out with them, this is going on for about 5 years now, and whenever she meets a new girl and becomes close the others take her to be part of their group. I t is hard because they went to primary school together and they dance after school, they go to the same church and confirmation classes and same parties. A couple of years ago when they were younger i tried to speak to their parents, but nothing came out of that, i think it made it worst. I often tell her to be extra nice, because it is hard to be mean with someone who is alway nice, but she says she tried and it is not good. How can I help her?"
10/1/2008:
"The article about'relational aggression' was great for older children but what about preschool children? My grandaughter who is 4 is experiencing the same. My son and his wife has talked to the teacher but it is not improving. Do you have any other suggestions? "
09/25/2008:
"Wow this is such a sensitive topic, because girls are in fact sensitive! My 11 year old is having issue with trying to fit in and overcome the strong prsonalities that dominate. I've found that building confidence in her is HUGE and also standing up to these girls. 25 years ago I had the same issue and took it until I decided it was time to stand up for myself and fight back WITH WORDS. Letting the mean girl know that you aren't going to put up with her ignorance and that she must be a lost soul herself if she finds hurting others makes her feel big. Tell that girl that they are wasting there time because you refuse to be bullied by an insecure, self absorbed,lost soul with a crappy personality....worked for me, they never bothered me again! "
08/25/2008:
"you still did not really give a solution to this problem. I am having the same problem but with 6th grade girls and I am a teacher and volleyball coach and it is really becoming a huge problem. We had a new girl leave our school after two days because of these particular girl. I would love a solution or ideas on how to handle this. I afraid a book only tells them what adults do and they know how to be a good friend. They know right from wrong. Once girls has a family arrangement that I am sure is the root to this problem and she is the ring leader. Mom gets angry and it is the other girls not her daughter. Typical behavior from most parents. All I know to do is group activities in our volleyball practices but I still need more ideas for short term too. Thanks"
08/13/2008:
"I'm in 7th grade and the a similar problem. This huge group of girls constantly harass me. My friends they don't care about it's me their after. "
06/18/2008:
"You have to make a realistic assessment whether anything is going to change at the current school. If not, then go! I changed my daughters school at mid-2nd grade. We moved from a small private school with concerned teachers and involved administration who were clueless and ineffective in dealing with this issue. In fact, we hear (3 years later) that the situation has exacerbated due to on-going clueless decisions. She moved to a large public school that is TERRIFIC. The teaching staff works together. They have zero tolerance for bullying, effective supervision, and teach the kids social and conflict management skills. My daughter's self esteem and confidence recovered. She is looking forward to middle school with a ton of friends and a big bag of social skills. If you can't go anywhere else, schools that choose to ignore problems don't seem to ignore lawsuits."
06/4/2008:
"Obviously the writer of this article has not been in a classroom or school playground recently. Children are very clever at manipulating teachers; they are seldom caught, and it is always the victim who has to prove that they are being harassed. Reading books to children, watching movies with them, etc does not in any way help. Teachers and principals do not want to get involved. The best thing to do is keep a record, write letters, phone the school, etc. When things get out of hand you have a record, and you bring your lawyer."
06/3/2008:
"Hello! I'm having the same problem this year with my daughter. it is not so much as bullying but trying to make my daughter look bad in front of others. I have addressed this to the teacher who has done nothing all year and to the school counselor, who, believe it or not told my daughter, she was tired of parent's complaints. What do you think it's the next step to take. My daughter is a high honor roll student and now does not even want to go to this school. Do you think it is right to let her change schools??"
05/8/2008:
"How does the response correlate to helping this woman? I've heard the same answer from countless 'counselors' and this proverbial bandaid does not cure the tumor of aggression. I'm highly disappointed that I took the time to read this article, and I felt the need to respond because the writer missed the mark. Peddling easy answers...that's what psychology has become; Freud is rolling in his grave."
03/5/2008:
"If this problem is so prevelant, is the school district working an a program for the children to be part of? It would be great if we could have Debra Collins come out to our school and work with the children, especially the girls!"
02/8/2008:
"My daughter attends a very small school. She is in the 7th grade. She wants to change schools because she feels so isolated. I love the scholl and I know they are doing the best they can, but I don't know what else to do to help her! In the last year she has gained weight(never a problem before), and become very reclusive--all she wants to do is stay home, watch television and play computer games. She is just sad. I know od at least one girl she says is 'mean' to her. I have tried talking to the parent, to no avail. An d, of course I have only heard one side of the story, but it seems like my daughter is not the only one being treated badly. How can I rebuild her self-esteem? "
02/6/2008:
"My daughter is begging for me to change schools she is so miserable. I have resisted but now I'm wondering if she loosing trust in me to take her complaints seriously. We have worked with the school and they have responded to my concerns, but it still doesn't seem better. It seems the more she stands up for herself the worse it gets. The other chidlrens parents actually make the situation worse because they feed the problem. The students who attend this school, have money and money buys anything. Help"
01/23/2008:
"My daughter is begging for me to change schools she is so miserable. I have resisted but now I'm wondering if she loosing trust in me to take her complaints seriously. We have worked with the school and they have responded to my concerns, but it still doesn't seem better. It seems the more she stands up for herself the more she is shunned. Any suggestions, is moving schools and option?"
11/6/2007:
"We are having very similar problems. I don't want to be the 'blinded mother' who thinks her child does no wrong, but I have actually witnessed the cruel looks and attitudes dealt out to her in situations where she is reaching out for someone to play with. It's not so easy as to say to her to find other people to play with. We are in a small neighborhood which happens to have 10 girls, all her age, and there is a good deal of ganging up. Moving is not an option, and it feels as if I spend two or three evenings a wekk coaching her on how to handle these daily jr. high type scenarios she reluctantly tells me about after school. I need something more than to be told to make the school aware - they are aware of my concern but look completely lost and surprised having no idea of any of these happenings. The counselor is well-known as someone who should have retired years ago and teases us each year saying this is her last year. :)"
10/2/2007:
"To the mom with the 2nd grader, I can say this: start NOW teaching your daughter self esteem and respect for herself. My daughter is now 11 and the 'mean girl' stuff gets much worse than what she's experiencing now! And as they reach 5th and 6th grade, they are more embarrassed to tell a teacher for fear they child will ridicule them more. Start now & work with your school teachers & counselors!!!!"
06/8/2007:
"Hi there, I am desperately trying to find a program to bring to my children's elementary that is a girl specific program geared towards girls being mean and spreading gossip. A couple of years ago, I talked with a gal from Salt Lake City that had a program like this at her school and said that it was fantastic, but I can't find anything online like it. I am in San Diego (San Diego Unified) and would appreciate ANY help finding a program like this. Thank you so much."
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