Cultivating versus Protecting the Friendships of Girls:   How Can I Keep My Daughter Away from the Mean Girls?

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We were recently at a conference where one mom, from the audience, asked about her daughter and sleepovers. Because of a situation with another child, they didn’t allow their kids to have playdates with more than one child at once.  It had nothing to do with her daughter, but she was under the same rule because she lived under the same roof.  I was immediately saddened for this little girl.  

Relationships are foundational for girls.  They define themselves by this backdrop of relationship.  It begins with you, as their parents, and shifts, at some point along their school journey, to the world of peers.  Sometimes, out of genuine concern that the kids we love will be hurt, we can block their exposure to those important worlds.  “I don’t want my daughter to have to deal with mean girls.”  “I don’t want her to be bullied.”  “She doesn’t know how to use her own voice.”  And, while any of those statements may be true, she will only learn to use her confidence and skills in relationship within the context of relationship.  

Obviously, you want to make sure your daughter is in spaces where she has friends who encourage her.  In her younger years, you can do a lot of facilitating relationships with friends who are safe.  But we can’t protect them at all times.  We can grow their confidence and their voices at home.  We can teach them the all-important mixture of strength and kindness, where they can learn to make statements like, “I want to play with you, but not when you treat me like that.”  But we can’t prevent them from being hurt by other children, as much as we wish we could.  They will learn and grow in the context of relationship.  It is in relationship that they learn about relationship—and is the fertile ground that will help them be better friends, co-workers, spouses, and even potentially parents themselves at some point.  

How do I protect my son from being bullied?

Let’s get the bad news out of the way, and then move on to the good news.  

You can’t protect your son from being hurt by others.  You can prepare him to navigate hard relationships, and arm him with a plan if he encounters a bully.  You can coach him, role-play with him, and remind him of how capable, competent and courageous he is.   

Naming:  One of the first gifts we give the boys we love is to avoid over-using the word “bullied.”  As convinced as I am that bullying is happening in our schools, I’m equally convinced some of what we call “bullying” is simply conflict between kids.  We want to coach our sons to know the difference between conflict and bullying.  Conflict is a healthy part of every child’s social development, despite our attempts to eliminate it.

Previously printed in ParentLife