We’re all working to create a more peaceful world, where people are respectful of each other and bullying is a thing in the past, but in the meantime, there’s a good chance your daughter will encounter at least one instance of someone talking behind her back or hurting her feelings at school. Hearing that your girl is going through a hard time can be heartbreaking, but instead of immediately stepping in and trying to fix the situation for her, Girl Scouts Developmental Psychologist Andrea Bastiani Archibald says it’s better to arm her with ways to handle the situation herself if possible. “You won’t always be there to help her get through these kinds of situations,” she says, “so giving her the skills to both cope and make a situation better on her own will truly help her in life.”
Your daughter might think she’s dealing with a hater, but the truth is that neither she nor you know what’s actually going on in this other girl’s life, or what her motivations are for her behavior. “Listen to your daughter, and take her emotions seriously,” Dr. Bastiani Archibald says, “but also take a step back to determine how serious the situation really is. Is this a case of a girl your daughter wants to be friends with not wanting to be besties with her? A situation like that can be hurtful, but as long as the other girl is being respectful, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that behavior.” Explain to your daughter that different personalities sometimes just aren’t a natural match—but that this one girl’s lack of interest in friendship doesn’t mean she won’t find other girls who want to be friends in her class or on the playground. Encourage her to stop wasting energy on the one girl who doesn’t want to team up, and to instead focus on all the other potential friends she could be making. Just sitting at a different lunch table or trying out a different game at recess could open her world to a whole new group of kids.
That said, if what’s bothering her goes beyond a personality mismatch, to the point where another child is spreading rumors or purposefully doing things to humiliate your daughter or hurt her feelings, she might need some help on how to handle the situation. “It’s almost always effective to simply act as though the actions of the hater or bully don’t affect you, since usually the person in question wants a reaction and will get bored if nothing happens,” says Dr. Bastiani Archibald, but that’s often easier said than done.”
If your daughter wants to take action, urge her to resist the temptation to throw insults back at her bully or to say nasty things about her to others. That will only escalate the situation and bring your daughter down to the mean girl’s level. Instead, suggest that she ignore the taunts or mean behavior while others are around, and instead wait for a moment alone with the other person to bring up what’s been going on. “She can say something like ‘I’ve heard you’re saying these things about me—is that true?’ or ‘I’ve noticed you doing X, Y, Z’ and then ask the other girl why she’s been behaving that way,” says Dr. Bastiani Archibald, as it’s possible there’s been a misunderstanding between the two girls that could be cleared up in a one-on-one, non-accusatory conversation. If that’s not the case, and it’s clear the other girl simply doesn’t like your daughter, she can follow up by saying, “It’s okay if you don’t want to be friends, but I’d like to think we could at least be respectful of each other.” Help her practice using “I” statements like “When you _______, I feel ______.” Communicating her feelings clearly is a skill that will help your girl in situations throughout her life!
If none of this makes a difference, and your daughter is truly being tormented—or if there is a threat of violence—it’s time for you to step in. Talk to the parents of the girl in question and/or get a hold of school authorities who can help keep your daughter safe and help work out any conflicts that could be putting your daughter at risk.