My daughter has a friend at school who has been stealing her things and lying to her and their friends. My daughter is in the 5th grade and 11 years old. She attends a small school where there are only 14 girls in her class and 1 class per grade.
This girl has been the “popular” girl since kindergarten and has the ability to control her group of friends. All the girls are afraid to stand up to her because she is pretty and good at sports and is the popular girl. My daughter has started not wanting to go to volleyball to avoid her.
I’m concerned that my daughter is losing her confidence and is giving this girl way too much power over her. How do I help her stand up to her without losing all of her friends? That’s her fear. This little girl tells the other girls who they can talk to and what they can say. The problem is the girls and boys listen to her.
What can we do?
Mother of the Underdog
This is a difficult situation, in part because there are so few other girls in her class. Your daughter is right to fear some degree of isolation if she speaks up. A small number of girls makes it harder to find refuge when a friendship is in conflict, much less with the most powerful girl in the class.
It’s natural to want to protect your daughter. That’s your job. But right now your daughter is engaged in a deep learning process about friendship, one that may deprive you of an opportunity to mama-bear much of anything. Your girl is learning, the hard way, what a true friend is, where her boundaries are and–gradually–how to find her way through a stressful situation.
That’s called resilience. And we only learn it by doing.
So what can you do? First, empathize with her at every turn. When we suffer, we want to know from someone we love and respect that it’s okay to do that. This is how children develop faith in their own feelings and authority — which is the basis for their confidence. So, tell her you might feel helpless or angry or worried, too. Explain that it makes total sense to feel insecure. Validating her feelings — even before you talk about the situation — will give her the comfort and confidence to push ahead.
You may also want to ask one of my favorite questions: do you want my advice or do you just want to vent? (but be prepared to follow through on her preference!) Or: What do you need from me in this moment?
If she’s willing to engage more deeply try these steps:
5 Questions To Ask When Your Daughter’s Friend Is Mean To Her
The question: What do you think you’re learning about friendship from this experience?
The benefit: She reflects on how this experience might make her wiser or stronger, bolstering her optimism, self-worth, and resilience.
The question: How do you define a good friend?
The benefit: Affirming her values and talking about why they matter to her — especially with you, the person who likely helped her develop them — will give her strength as she faces someone who undermines them. When you know why you take a stand, it’s easier to hang tough.
The question: What do your other friends do or say that makes you feel happy to be around them?
The benefit: She’ll remember there are people who love her in the right ways and that — most importantly — she is worthy of that love. She will identify friends she wants to spend more time with. She’ll be reminded of the values of a true friend that may be missing right now, giving her an incentive to go looking for more.
The question: Are there any small ways you can navigate this situation that might make you feel safer?
The benefit: Break up a scary situation into something smaller and easier to manage. Share the quote, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Remind her that change is gradual and courage typically doesn’t happen like it does in the movies — a big moment of slaying the dragon to swelling music. What can she do today or tomorrow? Maybe it’s to share less about herself in conversation with this girl, or to stop letting other girls vent to you about her.
The question: When you look back on this experience, how do you want to remember what you did and the choices you made?
The benefit: Changing the perspective — looking back instead of being in the overwhelming moment — helps her clarify who she wants to be right now, and gives her an incentive (the power of history) to stick with it.
Of course, I wonder if she’s shared what is happening with a trusted adult at school? If she hasn’t, is she willing to, or is she open to having you reach out on her behalf? While I think it’s important for girls to advocate for themselves, if the situation is genuinely harming her, it’s okay for you to step up for her here.
Unfortunately, these situations don’t always have neat resolutions. Sometimes, the best we can hope for is that the tension slowly fizzles out.
Whatever you decide, just remember that this will likely not be the last friendship problem she faces in this lifetime. But the more you’re around now to listen to and validate her experience, the more confidence she’ll gain in her ability to speak up for herself down the line.
My heart goes out to you both. Good luck.
Have a question for Rachel? Click here to submit to “Ask Rachel” for a chance to be featured.