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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.