When you think of bullies, what image comes to mind?
If you immediately think big and tough boys picking on kids so much smaller than them, think again. Mean girls are just as common as boys in schools and other settings where groups of kids gather. In fact, mean girl behavior can be observed in kids as young as 6 or 7. This usually ranges from teasing, ostracizing, backbiting, rumor spreading, name-calling, and playing pranks. Although some people may dismiss it as harmless typical behavior of little girls, this is clearly bullying and should not be tolerated.
Often, the mean girl behavior is often only evident when groups of girls are together and there is no adult around. Some parents do not become aware that their daughter is part of a group of mean girls because they have little chance to observe it. The best strategy is to be intentional in making sure that your daughter doesn’t become one. Here are some ways to do that:
1. Develop her empathy. Grab all opportunities that will help you develop your daughter’s empathy. Ask your daughter, “What if you’re in (friend’s name) situation, how would you feel?” or “Would you like it if anyone is rude to your sister?” The ability to be in someone else’s shoes often seems like a fleeting skill in the younger generation, so make sure to help your daughter learn and understand the feelings of other people. Firmly uphold the golden rule of “treat others as you would want them to treat you.”
2. Build her self-esteem. A lot of mean girl behavior stems from insecurity and low self-esteem, so make sure you build up your daughter's sense of worth so that she feels secure about herself. Keep yourself in check with criticisms which may pass unnoticed but could be giving huge blows to your daughter’s self-esteem. A child who feels good about herself won’t feel the need to put others down. Make sure you spend ample time talking to your daughter about school, about friends or anything she may want to discuss. Be that safe place where she could comfortably communicate how she feels and share her stories. Always re-affirm that she is loved and accepted.
3. Give her opportunities to help others. This is a great way to empower your daughter and make her feel good about herself. Providing her opportunities to give of herself to others will help in eliminating her need to exert her power over others. Give her responsibilities at home and show your appreciation for any help she gives.
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4. Limit her social media exposure. A lot of kids are subjected to online bullying through social media. Unfortunately, it is easy to feel insecure and inadequate or to make someone feel that way with just a few posts on social media. A lot of communication on social media can lead to misunderstandings and wrong contextual meanings. Encourage her to have real conversations with her friends instead of socializing online.
Did you know that social media sites often have age limits? Most sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat have a minimum age of 13 years old, but social media-savvy kids (and their parents?) sometimes ignore this rule just to be able to create their own account. If your daughter or any of her friends are on these social media channels, then they’ve worked their way around the rule and should not be tolerated. Having minimal exposure to social media will protect your daughter not only from being exposed to social media bullying, but also from online predators.
5. Call out mean behavior. It is important not to tolerate any mean behavior from your daughter. Whether it be as simple as excluding someone deliberately from an activity, making fun of someone, or talking to someone rudely, make sure to call her out to make it clear to her that these are not okay. However, whenever there is a need to call out any mean behavior, make sure that it is done discreetly and in a way that will not embarrass her in front of other people. Being polite, respectful, compassionate, and kind should be a habit that is practiced all the time.
6. Teach by example. Kids soak up everything around them. Whether we are aware of it or not, they tend to imitate us, the grown-ups, around them. Make sure you are not exhibiting any mean girl behavior yourself that you might unknowingly passing on to your daughter. If she sees you often gossiping about your neighbor or talking down to others, she will eventually pick it up and do the same. Instead, talk to her about good relationships you’ve built over the years: your goofy childhood friends, your fun high school classmates, your reliable yaya when you were growing up, and your helpful neighbor. The goal is to let her know that being nice and kind should be the default when interacting with other people, and that it pays off in good relationships she will value for life.