Mean Girls: How to Help Your Daughter Cope

As your daughter grows and finds herself in a social setting with other females, she might come across her first mean girl. Why certain girls turn out to be “mean” may be the result of anything from stress to cockiness to bad influences or lack of self-control. What kind of advice will you give your daughter?

How to spot a cruel child?

Mean kids come in all sizes and shapes, and knowing if you’re dealing with a truly horrid child is the first step.

First, ask your daughter to be aware of girls who show any of these behaviors:

  • Cattiness – spreading rumors, leaving others out of playtime, or picking on other children whenever they get a chance
  • Taunting – making fun of others with a malicious intent (making insulting jokes and teasing others excessively to make them feel bad)
  • Physical cruelty – tough physical behavior without concern for pushing and hurting others

Note: Interestingly enough, you may think that backstabbing and gossip are for girls-only, but studies have shown that boys are just as guilty of these behaviors.

Is it possible to prevent nasty behavior from others?

With your guidance, your child can take steps to discourage further nastiness. Here are some suggestions:

  • If your child is with a preschool playgroup, advise her to tell a trusted adult at the playground if she sees any taunting or harrying behaviors.
  • Advise your child to have a positive attitude and behavior. “Where attention goes, energy flows,” according to Michael Beckwith, a leading author and spiritual leader. He says that when people concentrate on positive behaviors, these will be reinforced and will expand further.
  • Encourage your child to look for and hang out with children who are more kindhearted and considerate.
  • Practice kindness – Be sure you model consideration and thoughtfulness for others, and then your daughter can take the lead from you.

If your daughter is in a school setting and experiences nasty behavior, she can contact the school’s counselor or principal about it. According to the American Psychological Association, most schools have strategies, such as specific discipline policies and programs, to deal with such rancorous behavior.

Schools also use skill-building (developing pro-social behaviors) or they may punish bad behavior (e.g., have the student spend time after school in an “opportunity room” or enforce “zero-tolerance” rules).

If “nasty” or "mean" turns into bullying, then problematic behavior has reached another realm of meanness. It’s extremely important to prevent and stop any form of bullying, especially in preschool years, says Susan Swearer, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist in the Child and Adolescent Therapy Clinic at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and a consultant to the National School Violence Prevention Initiative. Dr. Swearer says that if left untreated, children who learn that bullying is an effective way to get what they want, they are likely to continue bullying behavior into adulthood. Therefore, it is critical for adults in authority to intervene and stop the bullying during the school-age years.

How can your child protect herself against mean girls?

It’s important to help your child defend and protect herself. Although it’s not possible to shield your daughter from all the mean people she’ll encounter throughout life, you can offer her sage advice on how she might look after herself.

First and foremost, your daughter needs to be watchful of what’s going on around her. Advise her to always pay attention to the behavior of others and anticipate any behaviors that may be problematic. That way she can choose which people to avoid in future. Your daughter can learn to use her peripheral vision in subtle ways to see what’s happening on all sides of her as she moves through crowds at school. This will help her navigate safely and avoid trouble.

Here are some other tips for you and your daughter to consider:

  • You might sign your daughter up for karate or another martial art, so that she can gain confidence in herself and her abilities to defend herself should the need arise.
  • Teach your daughter not to be too quick to judge others, but to trust and follow her own intuition. Whether a so-called “mean girl” is in a bad mood one day, but generally is nice, can be taken into consideration.
  • Try not to get into battles with others. Deflect aggressive or negative behavior with humor and a speedy exit, whenever possible, to avoid engaging in an argument.
  • Limit exposure to kids that are consistently nasty, as this kind of behavior creates a negative atmosphere for everyone.
  • If someone pushes her, your daughter can make a hasty retreat and move to a safe place. She should be encouraged to ask for help if she needs it.
  • Be sure your daughter has trustworthy friends that can be a good support system. She should feel safe discussing her problems with her friends.

Reframe a negative situation – Sometimes, instead of focusing on what is bad about another girl’s behavior, you might point out how bad influences may have led to the other girl’s behavior. Always remember that as a parent, you will be among the important guides in your child’s life—she trusts you to gently guide her and show her the difference between good behavior and bad, in herself and others. She relies on you to teach her the coping mechanisms she will need when faced with difficult people and situations.