Your browser is not supported. For the best experience, you should upgrade to a modern browser with improved speed and security.

When Little Girls Are Mean

Helping Young Girls Handle Relational Aggression

"The mean-girl thing is happening much sooner than everyone realizes."

Parents often think that relational aggression — including social rejection, manipulation, and exclusionary cliques — starts in middle school. For writer Carol Kaufman's daughter, it started in the fourth grade, these types of bullying often start at even younger ages. "The mean-girl thing is happening much sooner than everyone realizes," her elementary school's counselor told her.

Bullying in childhood can have a lasting impact, says Catherine Bagwell, a professor of psychology at Emory University who studies children’s social development: it is "associated with depression and anxiety and social withdrawal and low self-esteem and academic problems." So it's important to tackle the problem early on, whether your daughter is the one being targeted or excluded, the one leading the pack, or one of the bystanders who's not sure how to handle the situation.

According to one survey of 12,000 children in elementary and middle school, 41 to 48 percent of girls reported experiencing relational aggression in a typical month, with 4 to 6 percent saying it happened daily. From the age of 8 to 12, mocking and teasing are the most common ways girls bully, and it's often based on appearance. "Any way they look ‘different’ is a potential target," says Cosette Taillac, a child and adolescent therapist at Kaiser Permanente.

"This goes beyond weight — it can also be about being taller or shorter, skin color, or even about things like having freckles or pimples." Those who make such comments will often say they're "just joking" as "a way of avoiding responsibility, blaming others and demeaning the reaction if the victim is starting to show she’s upset or if others seem disapproving." Meline Kevorkian, a dean at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, adds that "many of these behaviors, such as spreading rumors, saying mean and nasty things... verbally or online, are discrete and hard to detect."

To find out what's going on in your daughter's social groups, "listening is initially a better strategy than asking many questions since she will probably shut down with the questioning," advises child psychologist Jane Timmons-Mitchell at Case Western Reserve University. However, "If you are concerned about her behavior" — for instance, if she's displaying warning signs of being bullied such as becoming withdrawn, having trouble sleeping, changing her eating habits, or resisting going to school — "you should let her know that."

While you're listening, keep your ears open for signs that your daughter may be contributing to the exclusion of another child; those who have experienced relational aggression can turn those same tactics on another person. Beth Rogowsky, a member of the curriculum advisory board at Kiddie Academy, observes that "self-reflection is key, and our young girls are not often taught to look within themselves," so make sure you gently ask her to consider how her actions and words may have made others feel.

Together, you can act out or plan for different scenarios: "Teach [girls] to be assertive," encourages Bagwell. "Practice not reacting to the bully so the bully doesn’t get the emotional reaction she’s seeking." Encourage them to think about the social interactions they see: "Ask questions such as: Who did you sit with at lunch? Who played together at recess?... Do you think anyone felt left out today?" It's also beneficial to help girls find structured, confidence-building activities they can be involved in. “By participating in activities such as a team sport, music groups or social clubs, your daughter will develop new abilities and social skills, and learn what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior,” says Samira Armin, a pediatrician at Texas Children’s Hospital. Moreover, when girls discover how good it feels to be part of a supportive social group, they will “soon learn to surround themselves with positive influences.”

Most importantly, remind her that she can make a difference, both by refusing to be part of social drama and by standing in support of excluded peers. "Activating bystanders and getting them to intervene in an appropriate way is a key to reducing bullying," says Bagwell. By modeling kindness and healthy relationships, girls can spread empathy throughout their social group, and feel empowered to be a positive influence in their community. While tweens’ social worlds will likely always be complex, with a little parental guidance, Kaufman says that girls can have an easier path through these socially complicated years and that "is worth the effort."

To read the full story, visit The Washington Post.

Bullying Prevention Resources For Mighty Girls

My Secret Bully

My Secret Bully

Written by: Trudy Ludwig
Illustrated by: Abigail Marble
Recommended Age: 5 - 8

Bullying can be so subtle that kids don't understand what's happening. Monica and Katie have been friends for years, but now, Katie embarrasses or excludes Monica in front of their classmates. Monica is hurt and confused — why would her friend do such a thing? Fortunately, with some help from her supportive mother, Monica learns that Katie is deliberately being unkind, and that this behavior isn't appropriate from a friend. With a few strategies to handle Katie, Monica feels confident again. One of the few books for younger children that addresses more subtle relational aggression, this book firmly drives home the message that no one deserves to be the target of this behavior.

Trouble Talk

Trouble Talk

Written by: Trudy Ludwig
Recommended Age: 6 - 9

Anti-bullying expert Trudy Ludwig wrote this book to illustrate how comments that can seem funny can still be hurtful. Maya’s friend Bailey loves to spread rumors about the troubles in other children’s lives, but when Bailey hears Maya’s parents fighting and turns it into a rumor that they’re going to get divorced, Maya realizes how painful this “trouble talk” can be. Both the school counselor’s advice to be friends with “kids who make you feel safe,” and seeing how hard Bailey has to work to heal the hurt feelings she’s caused, are good lessons for school-aged kids.

Weird!

Weird!

Written by: Erin Frankel
Illustrated by: Paula Heaphy
Recommended Age: 5 - 8

In this book — one of a unique trilogy that shows bullying from the perspectives of bully, bullied, and bystander — popular girl Sam teases Luisa for everything from answering questions in math class to wearing polka-dot boots. Jayla initially joins in, but eventually refuses to participate any longer and befriends Luisa, helping her rebuild her confidence. In combination with the other two books — Dare!, in which Jayla recounts her fears about becoming Sam's target (as she has been in the past), and Tough!, in which Sam learns empathy and rethinks her treatment of others, this book creates a nuanced look at the emotions around bullying incidents.

Stand Up for Yourself and Your Friends

Dealing with Bullies and Bossiness and Finding a Better Way

Stand Up for Yourself and Your Friends

Dealing with Bullies and Bossiness and Finding a Better Way

Written by: Patti Kelley Criswell
Illustrated by: Angela Martini
Recommended Age: 7 - 12

This book from the American Girl Library is a great starting point for tweens looking for advice on dealing with bullies. Rather than telling girls that there is a “right” way to handle a bully, this book gives a variety of different options, from ignoring taunts to comebacks to involving adults, as well as advice as to how to decide which strategy to use. The book acknowledges that not all mean behavior is necessarily malicious, though, and also provides a guide to knowing how to stand up to a friend who is behaving badly without being mean yourself.

The Confidence Code for Girls

Taking Risks, Messing Up, and Becoming Your Amazingly Imperfect, Totally Powerful Self

The Confidence Code for Girls

Taking Risks, Messing Up, and Becoming Your Amazingly Imperfect, Totally Powerful Self

Recommended Age: 8 - 12

Many girls are consumed by self-doubt on the inside, especially during the tween and teen years, but if they can crack the confidence code, they can learn how to set worries aside to pursue their dreams and embrace their authentic selves — something that helps fortify them against mean girl behavior and sets them up for a lifetime of success! In this book, Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, the authors of the best-selling The Confidence Code for adult women, draw on the latest research to help tweens understand how to short-circuit the thoughts that drain your confidence and hold you back. Illustrations throughout help draw girls into the book, while lists, quizzes, and stories from real-life girls help readers understand how to embrace risk (and failure), overcome anxieties, and be happy in their own skins.

A Smart Girl's Guide: Drama, Rumors & Secrets

A Smart Girl's Guide: Drama, Rumors & Secrets

Written by: Nancy Holyoke
Recommended Age: 8 - 12

The drama that can appear during middle school has a big effect on their social world — and their confidence. In this book, girls will learn how jealousy, gossip, and cyberbullying can creep into the lives of tweens and teens, as well as how to avoid them and stay true to themselves. They'll also learn what separates regular talk from gossip and how to handle difficult interactions over text or online. By learning how drama starts and how it gets worse, girls can find out what they can do to stop it from taking control of them and their friends.

The Bullying Workbook for Teens

Activities to Help You Deal with Social Aggression and Cyberbullying

The Bullying Workbook for Teens

Activities to Help You Deal with Social Aggression and Cyberbullying

Recommended Age: 13 and up

In this excellent title from the Instant Help Solutions series, teens learn to understand and manage the difficult emotions created when you’re the victim of bullying or cyberbullying. Using cognitive behavioral techniques, this workbook helps teens identify and manage their emotions, from anxiety to anger to depression, and provides guides to getting help when bullying is getting out of control. By working through the exercises, teens will develop their confidence in handling their bullies and in communicating their emotions to the supportive people in their lives.

Little Girls Can Be Mean

Four Steps to Bully-Proof Girls in the Early Grades

Little Girls Can Be Mean

Four Steps to Bully-Proof Girls in the Early Grades

Bullying behavior crops up shockingly young — often, kids are already engaging in it by the time they start kindergarten. This book tackles bullying behavior in girls as young as five, and provides interactive tips to help girls deal with difficult social situations. The authors provide a four-step program for parents — observe, connect, guide, and support — to empower their girls to handle these issues in their day to day lives, and even provide guidance for how adults can use the same techniques in their own social interactions. This book is an encouraging reminder that how we address bullying in the early years can change social dynamics for the better.

No More Mean Girls

The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls

No More Mean Girls

The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls

Written by: Katie Hurley

Many parents think big social stressors first hit girls during the middle school years, only to discover that tough issues like low self-esteem, cyberbullying, and peer pressure are cropping up at younger ages. This invaluable book tackles "mean girl culture" and provides practical advice for parents on how to to teach girls to seek out and build strong, positive friendships; express themselves in a healthy way; and stand up for themselves and for others, empowering young girls to be kind, confident, and resilient leaders who work together and build each other up.

Queen Bees and Wannabes

Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and the New Realities of Girl World

Queen Bees and Wannabes

Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and the New Realities of Girl World

Written by: Rosalind Wiseman

This title revolutionized the way adults think of girls and relationship conflict when it was published in 2002. The third edition of Rosalind Wiseman's groundbreaking book addresses the same questions as the original — everything from how girls choose friends to how relationships with friends, boys, and parents influence them — and also explores the increasing influence of technology on girls’ relationships. Equally importantly, Wiseman addresses how a parent’s experiences affect how they handle their daughters’ social conflicts, and encourages parents to find the right balance between being involved and empowering their daughters to find their own solutions.

You May Also Like

Help keep A Mighty Girl growing in the years ahead!

If you discover books or other resources via this post that you would like to purchase, please use the "Buy at Amazon" and other links found on every A Mighty Girl product page. By doing so, at no added cost to you, you help to support the site and allow us to continue providing you with wonderful girl-empowering resources. We appreciate your support!