Girl drama. Ugh. The bane of my existence. I love little girls, really I do. I love to listen to them playing elaborate games of imagination, I love the profuse drawing of unicorns and hearts and rainbows, I love the giggling when a whole gang of them are having fun together. But the drama? I can do without that.
Now, before you start complaining about my discriminatory remarks about girls and insist that boys and girls are the same, hear me out. I’ve worked with kids for 30 years. I raised two boys and my best friend raised two girls. I may not be an expert on everything, but I have enough years under my belt to make some broad statements here. I’m not talking about every girl. There are plenty of girls who steer clear of dramatics but there are some who seem to gravitate toward it. And in general, if boys have a disagreement, there is some yelling and maybe some stomping and occasionally a scuffle. But it usually blows over quickly and they move on because they want to play and ain’t nobody got time for a crisis.
What I’m talking about is when two girls like the same boy or when a threesome of friends suddenly become a pair. Emotions run high. Friends take sides. Snide glances are cast and it begins.
How do you help your daughter navigate this? Some mothers are quick to jump in and try to sort things out themselves. Some mothers listen and give advice from the sidelines. Some mothers call the teacher and get other adults involved. My years of experience working with elementary students have taught me a few things about what to do and what not to do.
1. Don’t feed the monster. If you can stay out of it, stay out of it. Try not to interview her at the end of every day to see how things are going. If she needs to talk, let her talk, but don’t dig for information.
2. If you need to give advice, keep it positive. Don’t encourage your daughter to jump into the fray and say the next mean thing. Talk about ways to show kindness even when her feelings are hurt. When girls get hurt and then, in turn, try to hurt the other person back, the whole situation escalates in a hurry. Instead, ask her questions like, “What have you tried to make this better?” or “What could you try next?”
3. Encourage one good friendship. Let your daughter make play dates with girls that you think are a good match in temperament and a positive influence on her. Can you choose her friends? No, but you can steer her toward positive relationships and see what develops. In elementary school, you still have a lot of influence over who she develops close relationships with because you are in charge of the schedule.
4. If bullying is involved, you may need to talk to the teacher or the school counselor. But if it is just hurt feelings over a slight, listen without passing judgement on the other girl. Remember that there really are two sides to every story and there may be more to it than your daughter tells you.
5. Be open and honest about friendship. As adults we know that we are not going to be best friends with everyone. However, whether we click with someone or not, we need to treat others with respect. Talk specifically about what that looks like.
6. Don’t get overinvested in your daughter’s relationships. The things that hurt you as a child may not be the same things that hurt her. The more you commiserate the more real it becomes, so try not to get overly involved.
My final thought on this is that our children watch what we do and say. If we want them to behave appropriately in social situations, then we should model the kind of behavior we expect. Moms who gossip and make snide comments about others raise daughters who do the same. Treat others respectfully. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Demonstrate kindness. It won’t solve everything, but it is a place to start.