“Mom a girl told me I suck at dancing today.” My daughters face was crestfallen as she said this slumping into the seat of our car.
I kept the car in park for a moment staring at the door of the studio. I counted to four in my head to prevent my protective mama bear from marching back into the dance studio and giving them a piece of my mind. This was the third time in the last few months that she had come back from her class upset because of one of the supposedly “more talented” girls had given her a not-so-nice critique. Taking a breath, I decided to take a different angle instead of telling her to ignore them or let the teacher know they are bothering you.
“Luci, you like dancing right?”
She looked up at me with glassy eyes “Yeah… but…”
“And these girls are in the same class as you are right?”
“Yeah but some of them are on the team, and I’m not…”
“Exactly. Some of these girls are all doing this class and up to four additional days a week. Is this the only activity you like to do?”
She looked at me puzzled “No I also do piano and wrestling, and I like to cook.”
“So you have other interests as well and do you have fun doing them?”
“Remember Mean girls are just like animals- They bite when they are hurt or scared. Those girls have lost the whole point of what dance is- they have taken the fun out of learning and becoming better and are taking are throwing their insecurities at others. Are they on tour? Are they dancing on Broadway? No. They are learning just like you are. They are in the same class you are taking. As long as you are only trying to make yourself better, you won’t have the energy or attention for anyone else.”
“But Mom it still hurts when they say that.”
I put my arm around her and squeezed her. “Of course it does. But the good thing is that you don’t have to be them. If anything you need to have a little compassion for these girls. Something brought them to this point in their life to put others down. And for some reason, they feel they have to spread their hurt to you. But don’t let the ugliness of their words take the fun out of what you enjoy. You just be you. So the next time a student in your class critiques you tell them “I’m here because I want to learn and have fun. You should focus on yourself, not on me.”
“But what if she doesn’t stop?”
“Then that’s when I will step in, but if you look her in the eye, say it firmly and don’t stoop to her level she will get the point.”
Her mood still seemed stormy, so I took a different approach. “Do you know people have done that to me too?”
She looked up “Yeah?”
“When I used to dance for cheerleading I was often in the back. I knew I wasn’t the best, but I didn’t let that stop me. I had a few harsh critiques, but I didn’t dance for the other girls. I cheered because I liked to do it. It made me happy. And isn’t that the point? To find something you like to do that makes you happy? Doesn’t dancing make you happy?”
“Yeah, I love it.”
“Well then Rock it, sister. Be the best you can be. Ignore the haters and just dance. Oh and by the way- I think you’re a fabulous dancer.”
With a roll of the eyes, I got a “Thanks mom.”
Mean girls or “haters” will always be a part of our lives. Heck even as adults we deal with them on a regular basis. The pressure we put on ourselves and our children can come back with some pretty ugly consequences. But as parents, it is our job to guide them through the rough waters that sometimes arise when competition and unpleasant words come their way.
Here are 5 Ways to Help your Child Manage Unkind Words:
Let Them Find Their Voice
Now I understand that not every child is as outgoing as others. Speaking up can be difficult in certain situations. Have them practice at home with words to say and if you can act it out with them so they can feel comfortable. Even if their voice is heard in the privacy of a teachers office or parent instead of the other child, let them know that their feelings are important. Emphasize that you have a right to feel safe and enjoy your classes and school time. Noone has a right to take that from them.
Have Their Back
When fighting emotionally charged battles with peers, they need to know they are not alone. Sometimes it’s hard for girls to share their emotions, but let them know that you are there for them. Love can be a powerful thing- you know you’re not alone. The best way I have been able to open up a dialogue with my daughter is to give them an example of my past. Giving them a point of reference gives them not only the idea that they are not alone, but you also had to go through similar trials during childhood. You survived it and with help from you will help them move past it too.
Keep The Dialogue Open
Check in with them to see how their day is. Be willing to listen with and not just offer solutions. Letting them talk without judgment keeps them from shutting down. Make sure to ask sensitive questions when you are alone with them so that they can feel comfortable and not have the pressure of their siblings or other opinions which can cause them to shut down. Be their safe zone. My favorite way to approach this laying on the floor staring at the ceiling or doing an activity such as cooking or sorting so that they don’t feel like the attention is all on them while they talk.
Teach Your Child to Disengage
Sometimes the quieter ones can be “targeted” because they don’t think they will react or say anything. Not saying anything can be worse because the girls bullying believe they won’t have repercussions. If they can’t find their voice right away, it’s better just to walk away. No reaction can sometimes be the best reaction.
Overreacting can be particularly tricky for protective parents- myself included. Seeing your child hurt brings out all sorts of emotions for parents, but the worst thing you can do is fight all their battles. Coaching them through it instead of using your adult status to manipulate the situation will let them build confidence and also let them know its something that they can handle themselves- within reason. These small battles will turn larger and uglier the older they get if they have to rely on you the entire time. Of course, if it becomes physical or if you see a change in your child’s behavior, by all means, step in.
Comments can hurt. It’s hard for children to realize that peers can be mean and target for no reason. But with a little help and love, we can guide them through the rough waters. And those mean girls… with a plan, open communication and confidence they won’t stand a chance.