Contributed by Melanie Miller, M.Ed.
As a school counselor, when a girl walks into my office nine times of ten it is to talk about a friendship issue. I hear reports of glares, rumors, hurtful put downs, friends one day and exclusion the next. Nearly every girl is affected by girl bullying also known as relational aggression either by providing the hurt, receiving the hurt or watching it happen to others. Relational aggression has been a part of our girls’ world for a long time. It often happens between friends and can result in long-term, devastating hurt for those involved. As parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and caregivers, we can support the girls we love through these heartbreaking times. Here are a few ideas to help you support the girl that you love.
Find out all you can about relational aggression. Read books and articles. Share them with the other parents and caregivers in your community. A few books to consider: Odd Girl Out, Simmons; Girl Wars, Dellasaga & Nixon; Queen Bees and Wannabes, Wise. A great website: www.opheliaproject.org.
Open communication channels. Start by listening. Our goal should be for her to want to talk to us again, not for us to make our point. Ask open-ended questions that show a sense of curiosity. Use questions that invite: ”What happened next?, Who said that?, What did you do?” Avoid giving advice or asking “Why” questions. (“Why” questions invite your daughter to feel defensive or blamed.)
Listen to the whole story. Sometimes venting is all that needed.
Focus on your girl fully, without the distraction of a computer, phone etc.
Give her a hug and validate her feelings. ”This is tough, and it isn’t any fun – and I have faith that we can work it out.” “Wow, I can tell how hurtful that was.” Remind her that you love her – no matter what.
Be a fact finder. Focus on the objective details rather than emotions. When she can give words to her problem, she gains power over it.
Take care of your self. It is hard when your loved one is hurting (or hurting others.) Watch your body language and your tone of voice. Keep listening even when it hurts.
Your goal should be to help her see alternatives and to promote growth through the situation, rather than to assign blame. Ask if there is something that she could say to the other students. Practice it with a role-play. Be accepting if all she can say is “I hate your guts.” She doesn’t need to say it to the others but she can voice it to you.
Help her reconnect with the knowledge that she does have other friends. After you’ve done a lot of listening and validation, gently remind your daughter of the positive relationships she has in other areas of her life; ie: soccer, girl scouts, church groups etc.
And when it gets to be too much for you and your daughter, seek help. Contact your school counselor or other professionals familiar with relational aggression.
Adapted from: Girl Wars; 12 Strategies That Will End Female Bullying, Dellasega & Nixon, 2001
If you would like to learn more about relational aggression, please contact Sound Discipline or Melanie Miller (206.579.2172). Melanie does classes for parents and daughters on this topic and trainings for school staff. You can also listen to a teleconference that Melanie gave on the subject (the link will be up in a few days).
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