My 9-year-old daughter has been having some trouble with her friends at school. The girls have gotten into this thing where they tell secrets and whisper in front of each other and exclude other girls from the circle. My daughter has been on the giving and receiving end of this and it hurts her feelings. I’m not sure what to tell her and it’s breaking my heart.
Dear Secret Keeper’s Mother,
You’re a woman, you know how this goes down. No matter how old you get, this kind of rude behavior still happens. I was at a dinner party just a few months ago, where 10 ladies were gathered around a table enjoying the evening. But two of them whispered into each other’s ears and giggled several times throughout the night. Call me paranoid, but I wondered what the heck they were whispering about. Was it me? Did I forget deodorant that day? Was there broccoli stuck in my teeth?
The difference between me and your daughter is that I know a true friend would come out and say “Hey Sassy, you’ve got broccoli stuck in your teeth.” She wouldn’t whisper into another woman’s ear and then laugh about it. I can blow off those secretive women as people I don’t want to hang out with again, or if they are good friends behaving badly, I have no problem calling them out on it. (In this case, I chose the former. My real friends don’t act like that.)
But that wisdom has been hard-won over decades (at least two) of social conflict trial and error. And that, my friend, is what you have to step back and allow your daughter to experience.
You cannot fix this for her.
Believe me, I’d be the first in line if it was okay to march down to the school to give those kids a piece of my mind for treating my kid badly. One of the hardest things about parenthood is letting your kids go through pain, and with the advent of snotty little girls’ social circles around your daughter’s age, you’re dealing with a most exquisite and tricky form of it. There’s not much you can do about it besides modeling the behavior you want to see in her, and reinforcing your love.
Without lecturing, here are some key topics you can work into your conversations when she comes home from school or social activities, sad because the other girls are keeping secrets from her, or feeling superior because she’s made it to the inner circle:
-Empathy. When she sees her friends being mean or hurtful to another child, how does it make her feel? What would she want someone to do if she was the one being picked on or whispered about? Remember, it’s not appropriate to counsel her to bitchslap the bully, but you can encourage her to take a stand.
-Standing up for herself. Instead of having your daughter report the incidents to you so you can get to the bottom of the story – “And then what happened? And who did what?” – remind her that the only person she is in charge of is herself. If a friend hurts her feelings, it’s up to her to say “It hurts my feelings when you whisper in front of me.” That can be hard, especially for a girl who feels shy, but your job, Mom, is to at least inform your daughter of the most important tool she has: her voice.
-Respect for others. She doesn’t have to be friends with everyone, but she should at least be respectful. Having been on both ends of hurtful behavior, she now knows what it’s like to be the excluded kid. You can make your own observations about what you see go down with the girls, like “That girl looked sad when nobody was playing with her,” versus telling your daughter how to behave, to stimulate conversations about treating others nicely.
–Choosing friends wisely. Alas, while parents have influence over a child’s friends, we cannot force them to pick the ones we like. You can, however, point out that “mean girl” behavior is not the kind of thing a real friend would do. Encourage your daughter to hang out with the kids whose treatment and activities seem to make her happy and less involved in drama. And then stand back and let her make her own choices.
I know that advice seems so vague that now you want to bitchslap me, but you’ve got to face it here, lady. This is a personality-forming issue and a teaching moment. (Aren’t those the worst?) It’s not something that can be fixed with a secret-dissolving spell. As exhausting as it is to model positive, character-building behavior for your daughter, this is what you signed up for. She will get through this snotty-girl storm, and the best you can do is be the steady one she can hold onto while it’s happening.
Submit your question for Ask Sassy here! (Or just email me, darling. We can keep it between us. AskSassy@savvysassymoms.com) You can also follow me on Twitter or like my Facebook page, where I share pro tips on life every week.
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