Years ago, I spoke to some fifth grade moms about teaching our daughters to build each other up.
I’d just been to a University of Alabama gymnastics meet, and what stood out to me was how these gymnasts cheered as their teammates did crazy acrobatics. Every time a girl nailed a tumbling pass, her teammates went berserk on the sidelines, screaming and jumping up and down. All I could think was how different our world would be if girls could always join forces like this and see themselves as part of the same team.
One mom, a successful entrepreneur, raised her hand when I finished my spiel and said, “Ladies, we’ve got to teach this to our daughters now. I have 50 female employees, and we just had to have a big pow-wow over this very issue. These are grown women who can’t get along, and it creates a very unpleasant work environment.”
It hit me then why it’s essential to teach our daughters early how to deal with drama and conflict. Little girls who can’t get along become big girls who can’t get along, and as they get older, the problems and stakes rise higher. How well we coach our daughters through the ups and downs of relationships has long-term consequences. It could make all the difference in whether they succeed or fail in their friendships, their marriage, and even their careers.
Through my work, I meet a lot of moms and daughters, and one conclusion I’ve drawn is that every community faces the same issues. The most common dilemma I see and hear about is the deep pain that evolves when girls hurt other girls.
It happens to everyone. It happens because we live in a broken world where nobody is perfect and where people tend to be self-focused, thinking a lot about how others make them feel, yet giving little thought to how they make others feel. We have a mean culture where people get applauded for being funny even if their joke or sarcasm is at someone’s expense.
Most of all, we forget how to love each other. Without love, no one feels safe, and without safety, the instinct for self-preservation kicks in – and suddenly the mindset becomes “If this is good for me, who cares what it means for anyone else?”
So, what is a girl mom to do? How do you respond when your daughter comes home and bursts into tears over a social devastation, or when she starts hating school – or worse yet, herself – because she feels like she has no real friends? Every situation is unique, and some problems may be out of your league and require professional help. Some situations may warrant a conversation with a teacher or coach.
Typically, however, you can comfort and empower your daughter at home. Here are 8 pointers to get you started so you can become her safe place and sounding board.
1. Stay calm and don’t act on your knee-jerk response.
One common mistake that moms make (and I’ve been guilty too) is overreacting or taking immediate action.
Mama Bear is real, and while there are situations that call for Mama Bear, it’s best to save her for the big events. Otherwise, you’ll become known as “that mom” who’s always angry or upset, who always has a bone to pick. You’ll lose credibility and find that people stop answering your phone calls or listening to a rant.
A school principal for 30 years told me she’s not seeing more girl drama than she used to, but she is seeing heightened emotions among parents. She is seeing more dads get involved and act emotional too. We live in an age of nuclear reactions, where parents lose it over every offense, and rarely do nuclear reactions help.
If you ask your daughter if she wants you to get involved in her friend dilemma, 9 times out of 10 she’ll tell you NO. Also, she may stop opening up to you if she knows you’ll freak out or potentially make the situation worse.
Save your actions and phone calls for when it really matters, and don’t send an email or text when you’re angry. Cool down and wait until you can think rationally before making a move.
2. Be a source of strength and reason.
When your daughter is hurting, she needs you to listen, empathize, and meet her where she is. Don’t bad mouth anyone; just validate her feelings and take in her story.
Tell her how sorry you are, how no one deserves to be treated that way, and how the most hurtful people give us the best examples of how not to act. Remind your daughter of how much you love and admire her, and make sure she knows how deeply God loves her.
In my book, Liked, I tell girls that what people say about them is opinion and what God says about them is fact. The way to know their worth is to focus on the facts. This message is especially important when your daughter is hurt and needs to hear the truth about who she is in the eyes of her Creator.
3. Help her breathe, calm down, and brainstorm options.
You might begin by asking her questions like, “What do you want to do? What do you want me to do? How do you want handle this?” In many cases, your daughter will have ideas of how to respond and not need intervention from you.
4. Remind her that her friend issues are nobody’s business, so don’t give her classmates the satisfaction of knowing all the juicy details.
Everyone loves a catfight, and when girls show hints of anger or hurt, many people will quickly draw closer to whisper, “Tell me more.”
Some girls thrive on this attention. They tell everyone about their friend drama under the guise of seeking advice or to win people over to their side, and all this does is ruin relationships, amplify drama, and start rumors. Tell your daughter she can vent to you, but not at school. Remind her to be careful who she talks to because if she’s genuinely seeking advice, one or two trustworthy people should be enough to get input from.
Your daughter doesn’t owe an answer to anyone because most people are just nosy and want to stir the pot of drama. If her classmates ask what is going on, she can say, “I love Anna, and we’re trying to work through this privately” and leave it at that. She’ll see what kind of friend Anna is by whether she shows the same respect.
5. Look for the lessons.
My daughter once went on a weekend retreat where her friends unexpectedly turned on her. I was out-of-town for a speaking event when she got home and called me crying, and my heart broke as she replayed the sequence of events.
For unknown reasons, her friend group edged her out, but thankfully, other friends she’d made that year swept in to cheer her up. I’ve long told my girls to cast a wide net – to make a lot of friends beyond their closest circle – and on that weekend, this advice paid off. Although it hurt to see my daughter sad, this experience drove home that lesson I’d tried to teach her for years.