I’m Not Raising Nice Girls

My daughter doesn’t want to go to after-school childcare. There’s a girl there that keeps telling her she can’t play with other kids, who makes her feel badly for having other friends, and who threatens to take away “privileges” like birthday invitations if she doesn’t follow orders. When my daughter told the childcare workers that she didn’t want to be friends with this girl, she was scolded and told, “We’re ALL friends, here.” But, they’re wrong. We’re not all friends, and we don’t have to be.

I have a feeling that what those childcare workers meant was that meanness won’t be tolerated. And, I agree. But speaking up for yourself is not the same as being intentionally mean. Being “nice” and being “kind” are two different things.

Our society teaches girls to be “good girls.” Women are supposed to be nice. We’re not supposed to cause conflict. We’re supposed to make ourselves likeable. We’re supposed to be considerate. Good girls aren’t supposed to get angry or be aggressive. And time and time again in my counseling practice, and personal life, I’ve seen this translate into an inability to stick up for ourselves (and in some cases, an inability to even know our true selves).

When my daughter is taught that she should be nice – that she shouldn’t hurt anyone’s feelings – she’s learning to put her own feelings aside. She’s getting the message that even if someone is treating her badly, she should keep the peace. She shouldn’t say something that might hurt that person’s feelings, or make them upset, and so she stays in a situation that makes her feel “trapped” (her own words).

So when she comes home and says that she doesn’t want to be friends with someone anymore, and she’s stressed about going to school, we have conversations like this:

  • There is a difference between being “nice” and being “kind.”
    • Think these two words mean the same thing? Check out Marcia Sirota’s explanation on Huffington Post:

      “Kind people can be assertive and set good limits. Nice people, on the other hand, bend over backward to be obliging. They deal with potential conflicts by placating the other person because they can’t bear to have anyone upset with them.”

  • Sometimes the person who needs your kindness is yourself.
    • My daughter doesn’t want to upset her friend by going against that friend’s wishes. And yet, when I ask my daughter how this makes her feel, she says it feels “horrible” in her body. It’s a great opportunity for me to point out that my daughter needs kindness too. And in this situation – one in which her friend isn’t being so kind – it’s my daughter’s responsibility to be kind to herself. This is an opportunity to practice setting boundaries and being more assertive. Again, this doesn’t have to be done in a mean way. Being assertive doesn’t necessitate being aggressive.
  • You can’t make everyone happy, and it’s not your job in the first place.
    • We all know this, and yet, it’s hard to know that someone isn’t happy with us. But the truth is, we can NEVER control someone’s reaction. We can try our hardest to make someone happy, or make someone like us, and there is no guarantee that it will work. The best we can do is to try and reduce the amount of intentional harm we cause, while also being true to ourselves.
  • You don’t have to be friends with everyone.
    • We’ve been talking about what “not being friends” really means. Does it mean never speaking her again? Never playing with her again? Is that even realistic? Instead of telling my daughter that she can’t/shouldn’t/should be friends with this girl, I start teaching her how to set boundaries. She still laughs with this girl, and likes to say hi to her on the playground. And that’s fine! When we talk about “not being friends” anymore, it means that she doesn’t have to spend all her time with that one girl, and she doesn’t have to do whatever that girl says. “Not being friends” means not being the type of friend that girl is telling her to be. It doesn’t mean ceasing to be kind, ceasing to enjoy her presence, or excluding her at recess.

I was a “nice girl,” and I stopped listening to my own voice years ago. I still hate conflict, and worrying too much about someone being upset with me. It’s taken me 30 years to figure out that this is even a problem for me, and I’m doing my best to take my own advice. So, I hope that with these conversations, my children learn that they don’t always have to be nice, and they certainly don’t have to be friends with everyone.


This post originally appeared at Chattanooga Moms Blog.

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Kimberly Mathis
Kimberly Mathis provides counseling and coaching services in Chattanooga, TN. She helps moms who have recently had a baby to transition into their new role as mother, teaches parents to have a better relationship with their children, and supports anyone who wants to become more self-aware, authentic, and intentional. In addition to seeing clients in private practice, she runs groups for women and new moms, blogs, gardens, and keeps doing her best to raise healthy, happy daughters. You can read more about what she offers, and catch up on her blog at www.kimberlymathis.com