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What to do about the mean girls

Relational aggression in schools

by Shannon Hutton, M.Ed., M.P.A.  |  6659 views  |  10 comments  |        Rate this now! 

If you have a daughter, take the time to read this. It could save her a lot of heartache. Not to mention stomach aches, headaches, missed days of school, lower grades, eating issues and depressed feelings.

The sad truth is that every school, whether public, private or parochial, has mean girls. I bet you can still remember who they are from your school. I’m sure you also know that girls bully differently than boys. While boys usually bully through intimidation, girls often bully through exclusion, also called relational aggression. The old adage “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” couldn’t be further from the truth.

Once girl bullies choose a target, they do whatever they can to make her life miserable. This includes spreading rumors about her, whispering as she walks by, talking loudly about a party she wasn’t invited to, giving her the silent treatment, and telling others not to be friends with her. All of this is usually done surreptitiously, so unlike the boys, it’s tougher to catch girls bullying.

Does that mean there’s nothing that can be done? Absolutely not. This is what you can do if your daughter is being bullied:
  • Ask your daughter for specifics. Who? Where? How?
  • Call the principal, classroom teacher, and school counselor and provide the specifics of how your daughter is being bullied. Have them tell the specials teachers (i.e., gym, art, music), recess aides, hallway monitors and cafeteria staff so that everyone who comes in contact with your daughter can be on the lookout and poised to intervene.
  • Explain to your daughter that reporting an incident is not the same as tattle-taling, and have her tell an adult at school when she is being bullied.
  • Encourage your daughter to stick with a friend at recess, lunch, in the hallways, on the bus or walking home because she is more likely to be targeted when she is alone.
  • Tell your daughter to avoid the bully.
  • Teach your daughter to walk confidently, with her head up, to convey self-confidence because bullies target those they think are weaker.
  • Pay attention to how your daughter is sleeping, eating, feeling and doing in school. If you notice changes in any of these areas, have her see the school counselor.
  • Arrange opportunities for your daughter to socialize with her friends to help her maintain a strong social support system.

If you have any questions about this article, leave a comment and I'll get back to you.

If you would like to read more about relational aggression, I recommend the following books:

About the Author

Shannon Hutton is a certified School Counselor who counsels students on anger management, social skills, anxiety, divorce, self-esteem, study skills, impulsivity and bullying. She also shares fun kids crafts, coloring pages, easy recipes and simple project ideas at Seasonal Kids Activities and does cool giveaways at Momsational.

Read more by Shannon Hutton, M.Ed., M.P.A.

10 comments so far...

  • I'm finding that girls act differently according to the mix. One on one, my daughter gets along with most everyone and they with her. When a certain two of her besties are together, they are mean and exclusive. When the larger group of 5 besties are together, it's anyone's guess which twosome or threesome will have secrets or agendas. I'm just happy that when telling me about the ongoing drama, she is more baffled and amused than angry or sad. I tell her she's figured out what takes some of us decades to understand: that sort of behavior has much more to do with and says more about the bullies than is does the bullied. I'm so grateful she's learned to stand her ground and disassociate her worth from their treatment.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Mindy Roberts on 20th January 2013

  • What do you do when the parents and school staff believe the kids should "work it out" for themselves? I don't get this! My daughter is 8 and in 3rd grade.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Tracey on 21st May 2009

  • Hi Dancinmama, Don't blame yourself for not teaching your 3 year old to be "tougher!" You're doing the right thing by talking to your daughter and her teachers and giving your daughter coping skills. Good luck!

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Shannon Hutton, M.Ed., M.P.A. on 6th November 2007

  • This was interesting for me because we were dealing with it at my daughters preschool! We spent alot of time talking to our 3 yr old (who expected it to start that soon) about walking away from girls who weren't being nice and how to choose friends who treat you well ALL the time and that she wasn't a witch or a baby or whatever was happening that day. We did speak with the teachers and they have been wonderful at not only separating the girls but watching for 'circling' behavior and encouraging her to speak up when she's being bullied. It's a shame because sometimes I fell at fault for not teaching her to be 'tougher' but then that's how we end up in this kind of situation anyway. If its happening with 3 yr olds, its being reinforced somewhere consistently.. so its back to us as parents and how we teach our kids to treat each other....

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by dancinmama on 30th October 2007

  • Hi Deb! You are very welcome. What's also amazing is how young this type of bullying starts. I'm glad your girls go to a different school. Unfortunately most girls will experience this relational aggression at some point. What we can do is give them the skills on how to handle it when it happens. And then give them a big hug!

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Shannon Hutton, M.Ed., M.P.A. on 8th October 2007

  • We've actually run into this already at daycare - it's amazing how young girls are when they first realize just how much power they have by choosing who they play with or exclude... And it's especially hard to avoid the 'mean girls' in a small family daycare setting. Thankfully they go to a different school than my girls do so it's better now that they're not thrown together all day every day. I worry that we'll run into it again, so thank you for the tips!

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Deb - Mom of 3 Girls on 8th October 2007

  • Thank you Shaynas98 for sharing that you know firsthand how "bad" mean girls can be. We can all change though! I'm glad you did and you now get to "surprise" people with how nice and down to earth you are!

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Shannon Hutton, M.Ed., M.P.A. on 5th October 2007

  • I think your article is great. As a former "mean girl" I know just how bad they are. I still feel bad about how I used to be but have had a lot of chances to prove that I'm a new person. I like when people are pleasantly surprised at how nice and down to earth I am now.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by shaynas98 on 2nd October 2007

  • I deliberately didn't put an age range in this article because unfortunately relational aggression can affect girls as young as four years old. When my second daughter was four, she was in a tight clique at preschool and each week there was always issues with the head girl excluding one of the other three girls, including my daughter. I was stunned I had to deal with "mean girl" issues in preschool!

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Shannon Hutton, M.Ed., M.P.A. on 21st August 2007

  • This is really helpful, thank you. I have a 3 year-old daughter and I am already thinking about these types of issues since she has started daycare.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Nataly on 19th August 2007