Family Friday Q & A: How Do We Deal with Mean Girls?
Every Friday, we'll answer one question sent in from slice.ca readers to Jennifer Kolari, family therapist and author of Connected Parenting. Have a dilemma you want Jennifer to help with? Visit our Family Fridays page to post your question.
Special K asks:
Q: My daughter is in Grade 5 and this is the time when girls start to become quite "cliquey": friends today, enemies tomorrow. How can I help her navigate all of that while still boosting her self esteem? Also, how do I get her ahead of the inevitable "peer pressure" stuff that happens later. I want her to have the confidence to speak out.
Jennifer Kolari answers:
A: The best way to help your little girl navigate her social world is to build her up from the inside out. I coach parents on how to do this by using the closeness of your relationship and the strength of that bond to help parents give kids a “thicker skin”, so they can cope with and thrive in these complex social relationships. These techniques are also described in detail in my new book, Connected Parenting.
The more understood and loved your daughter feels, the better she will handle what happens to her outside the home. Most parents feel they do this well but it can always be improved upon. Staying connected with her, spending time with her playing; tickling and having fun by laughing and being silly can do wonders. (I ate lunch with my five-year-old daughter under the kitchen table last Sunday, simple and silly but she loved it and it was a great bonding moment!)
Create a special book for awhile and write down the good things you have caught her doing or noting qualities that you love about her, her funny laugh or wonderful way she bounces out the door in the morning. Try to catch how many times you say “in a minute, honey” or multi-task when she tries to talk to you. You don’t have to be at her beck and call, that is counterproductive, just make sure it’s balanced with lots of meaningful time with you and other times when she is expected to wait or handle things on her own.
Truly listening when she is upset without rushing to fix the problem is a great way to increase the connection and help your child with social issues. Often, when our child has been left out or picked on, it is incredibly painful for us as parents and we rush to fix the problem without ever truly listening to our kids. Sometimes our own upset is so evident that our children don’t want to tell us anything because they can’t handle being upset themselves and upsetting us as parents. Listen to your daughter and stay with her pain in the conversation for a few minutes before helping her come up with solutions. It will feel counter-intuitive but will be far more helpful. After you have listened and worked on the problem together, remember to give her messages of competence like, “I know you will get through this, you are so loved.”
Making her feel loved will not only build resilience but improve her social skills. The better kids feel about themselves, the less they need to hurt others and the less hurt they will be by others. This does not mean empty praise and making her happy all the time. Balancing limit-setting and nurturing is the way to go. With strong loving bonds we as parents can help our children develop the emotional hardware to deal with whatever life throws at them.