by Cheryl Dellasega
Moms always hope and pray that their daughters will never be bullied in school, and maybe someday that will be the case for all our daughters. Until we reach that happy and peaceful time, however, there are steps that you can take today to help do your part in ending the “Girl Wars” epidemic. The best approach is prevention, so teaching your daughter to be proactive is an important first step in dealing with female bullying (or Relational Aggression (RA) as it is known).
Here’s what you can do before problems occur:
• Talk to your daughter about what makes relationships healthy. What makes her a friend to others? What does she look for in a friend? How does she know when friends are not good for her?
• Teach problem solving/conflict resolution skills. Talk about resolving differences without aggression or violence. Read about conflict resolution. Have your daughter share stories of RA she’s seen or experienced and then explore how problem-solving could have been used early-on to deal with the situation.
• Teach her to be a good media consumer. What pressures are placed on girls to look or act in certain ways, and how does this contribute to popularity? What makes a “fad?” How does these things influence a girl’s choice of whom to befriend or not?
• Be involved in your daughter’s life. Know what television shows she likes, who her “real” friends are, and what she likes to do most on a free afternoon.
• Prepare your daughter for the changes in her life that occur when middle school: friendships become all-important: RA behaviors like gossip, cliques, exclusion, teasing, cyberslamming, etc. peak, interest in boys leads to relationship problems with girls, and appearance is everything.
• Give her strategies to use when RA occurs. Challenge her to think of what she would do if someone gossiped about her best friend, refused to let her sit at the lunch table with them, or made fun of an outfit she was wearing.
• Practice problem solving and conflict resolution skills in safe situations, perhaps at home with siblings or parents. Once she’s been taught the essentials, ask her how these ideas might be applied in real situations, and give her an opportunity to actually do it.
• Have your daughter identify a safe place and a safe person where she can go for help when RA occurs
• Tell her the facts about RA (use these words and equate them with bullying, aggression, meanness, etc.). Spell out what it is, how it hurts girls, who is often involved (everyone in some way, whether as aggressor, target, or bystander), why it happens (because girls don’t learn other ways of building healthy relationships during a time of life when friendships are critical), and assure her it can be changed.
• Talk to school officials, teachers, guidance counselors, Sunday school or religious education teachers, coaches, and anyone else who works with girls.
• Start a book club or issues group to encourage mothers and fathers to learn more about RA and take action to alleviate it.
How about if problems do occur? What can you do that will help your daughter grow and learn new skills to cope with relationship issues?
4. Unite with others
• Find other fathers, mothers, religious leaders, coaches, etc. who work with girls and identify fellow champions who will help you start programs to combat RA. Knowing that RA has an impact on everyone and can create a toxic environment if left unchecked will help eliminate the shame element of female bullying.
5. Don’t blame
• Remember, most girls, like most adult women, have been in all three roles of RA: victim, bystander, and aggressor. Be non-judgmental. For example, which approach would YOU prefer?
Other Mom: Your daughter is being mean to my daughter! You won’t believe all the things she’s been doing, etc., etc.
Other Mom: Is your daughter finding middle school as difficult as mine? How are you helping her with the things that concern her? Are there ways we as moms can form a group to look at some of the struggles our daughters are experiencing right now?
6. Go to the school
• Offer to start a program for girls that will provide a “safe place” where girls can work on building healthy rather than hurtful relationships (see information on Club Ophelia at www.cheryldellasega.com).
• Don’t expect teachers to solve the problem of RA—girls don’t want them to, and it’s not realistic to give them sole responsibility. However, it is realistic to offer to work with them on classroom strategies that can be used as part of the curriculum to teach healthy relationship skills.
• Lobby for a safe place for kids during the school day, a place where kids can go to feel secure. Example: school nurse’s office
7. Adopt a “Don’t Hesitate to Get Help” Philosophy
• Don’t hesitate to ask other moms and dads how they’ve dealt with this situation.
• Don’t hesitate to ask the school how they suggest the issue of Relational Aggression be handled.
• Don’t hesitate to get professional advice if a girl seems depressed and isolated.
8. Change the norms for girls
• Sensitize girls to how it feels to be a victim, bystander, and aggressor. Use role-plays, story telling/reading, or videos.
• Offer alternatives to aggressive behaviors. Examples: Positive Gossip, Inner Beauty, Affirmations.
• Develop a school or team slogan such as “Help, Don’t Hurt.”
• Make it cool to be kind. Have girls (and boys) identify ways to be kind. Hold a Kind Contest.
• Use rituals of respect that girls develop themselves.
• Encourage girls to use their creativity to problem solve and resolve conflicts. (You’ll be amazed at the results.)
• Have older girls talk about their experiences, what they have leaned, what they would do differently.
• Mentor girls with each other and younger girls.
• Intentional redundancy: repeat, repeat, repeat.
• Praise the positive. Catch girls being kind and supportive of each other and compliment them on it.
• Involve girls in meaningful volunteer work.
9. Emotional Support
• Build self-confidence
• Help your daughter develop a skill.
• Become a “coach” and cheer her on.
• Expand her world. Expose her to new experiences and people.
• Focus on her strengths.
• Offer unconditional positive acceptance.
The last step, which seems to be on everyone’s radar these days, is changing the larger culture.
10. Develop your own action plan to make a difference in the world we live in
• Be a positive role model for others. Don’t gossip, and don’t aggress!
• Be aware of how your own experiences with RA influence your responses to girls and your interactions with others.
• Don’t assume that you are a miracle worker. Expect dads, extended family, and other concerned adults to play a role in changing the culture of aggression for all of our daughters.
• Realize that all kids are our kids. Don’t just help your daughter; reach out to her friends and other young women.
Cheryl Dellasega is an internationally-recognized expert on Relational Aggression among girls and women in schools and workplaces. She founded Club and Camp Ophelia to provide girls at several grade levels with a positive and safe place in which to learn healthy relationship skills. Dr. Dellasega is a professor at the Penn State University College of Medicine and has written several books on Relational Aggression and other topics of particular interest to females. Ordering information for her book “Girl Wars” and other useful resources is available at www.cheryldellasega.com.