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Monday, August 1, 2011

Helping Your Child Deal with Friends Who Get Mean

By Heidi Stevens

RISMEDIA, July 16, 2011—(MCT) —A girl at your daughter’s lunch table is aiming some petty barbs at her. (“Who invited you to the conversation?”) How should you coach her to respond?

Parent Advice
• Coach her to ignore the nasty comments and practice looking through people. In the first place, if she says nothing, she can’t be misquoted. She can’t add fuel to the fire or get in trouble with teachers if she says nothing. Besides, mean girls hate to be ignored. — Marie Grass Amenta

• A talk about what it takes to be a good friend could be in order, but let your child figure this one out. If you always step in, you are communicating that you don’t think that she is capable of dealing with problems. I recently heard of a college freshman who didn’t get her way about something and her mother stepped in and placed a call to the university. If you don’t teach your kids to cope they never grow up and you can never let go! — Dawn Lantero

Expert Advice
Before you start crafting responses, help your daughter pinpoint what she truly is upset about, says Michelle Anthony, co-author of “Little Girls Can Be Mean: Four Steps to Bully-Proof Girls in the Early Grades” (St. Martin’s Griffin).

Is it the biting comment? Does she feel teamed up on? Is she hurt that another girl she considers a friend didn’t come to her defense?

“How you help guide her should be 100 percent dictated by what she’s most upset about,” says Anthony. By asking the right questions, you can help her defuse the situation and learn to analyze the complicated world of female friendships.

“What defines a friendship for you?” Anthony suggests. “What are some qualities that matter? Let’s go through some of these girls and see if they have these qualities. Is one of your friends different when you’re alone together than when you’re all in a group? And is that OK because you really like the fun alone time, or is that not OK because a friendship should be a friendship no matter where you are and who’s around?”

Next you can ask her what she wants to accomplish. “Fix the friendship? Find a way to move away from the friendship? Find a way to confront the mean girl? What she decides to do dictates what you try to help her do,” Anthony says.

Coaching her to stick up for herself in the moment is great, Anthony says, but assure her that she’s not a failure if she decides to remain mum.

“We always want our kids to be assertive, but we’re never surprised when they can’t be,” says Anthony. “We tell them, ‘If this isn’t the right situation, you can choose one that’s better for you. You don’t have to respond on the spot if that’s awkward or embarrassing for you.’ You don’t want her to feel like a double failure because she decided she was going to say something and then didn’t say it.”

Help your daughter determine a time and place to confront the situation on her terms—before or after school, for example.

And as good as it may feel to help her craft a biting zinger, resist the temptation.

“That never helps,” says Anthony. “It just elevates the tension and rivalry and causes kids to choose factions, which never helps your own daughter. You want to help her make kind and respectful choices.”

(c) 2011, Chicago Tribune.

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