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.
One, my daughter learned that people are fickle, and even close friends aren’t always predictable. This is why Jesus should be #1, because if she makes her friends her god – putting them on a pedestal they’re not meant to be on – they’ll inevitably let her down.
Two, my daughter learned how it feels to be ostracized. She felt the embarrassment of being in the margins. Six months later, when her friend got kicked out of her friend group, she didn’t jump on the bandwagon of being cold to her. She stood by her during a lonely time.
And three, my daughter learned why kindness matters, both the kindness shown to her and the kindness she’d shown to the girls who took care of her. So often girls are only nice to their core group, and when that group changes or turns, they have nowhere to go. Nobody will take them in because they were exclusive or mean.
6. Seek truth, not victory.
I don’t always recommend calling the other mom when two girls have conflict, but sometimes – especially when girls are young and don’t have conflict resolution skills – this can be helpful.
When my daughter was in third grade, she and a good friend started fighting. Since the mom and I were friends, we talked, and what started as a calm conversation quickly got heated as we both felt attacked. In my head, an alarm went off. I realized my daughter and I might both lose good friends if we continued in this uncivil direction. I invited the mom and her daughter to our house so we could talk it out.
Before they came, I calmed down, swallowed my pride, prayed, and asked God to give me the right words. I reminded myself that I loved my friend and her child. Since our daughters had differing stories, my goal was to seek truth, not victory, and apologize for anything that my child or I did wrong.
Parents get defensive when you attack their child, and their loyalty is with their family. Other moms love their daughter as much as you love yours, so if you act like your daughter is an angel and their daughter is a villain, if you don’t believe your daughter could be hurtful (intentionally or not), things will blow up. I’d been dragged into a fight between two angry moms the year before, and I’d seen the heat escalate with every accusation they threw out.
When my friend and her daughter arrived, we all hugged and then allowed each girl to tell her side of the story. We reminded them that they had a friendship worth fighting for, and rather than point fingers, they should focus on how the other person’s actions made them feel.
It’s often said that when two people disagree, the truth is in the middle, and that was the case here. Neither girl was lying; they just had different perceptions of the same events. We ended on a great note, and I was thankful my daughter had this experience of talking things out.
7. Talk about healthy relationships and setting boundaries with hurtful people.
Some people are good for your daughter, and some are not. In every season, there may be someone who makes her feel small, ignores her, tests her patience, or wants her to fail.
Not every conflict can be resolved. Not every hurtful person will stop being hurtful. Your daughter won’t click with everyone, and that’s okay. She doesn’t have to be best friends with everyone, but she can be kind. She can do the right thing even when other girls don’t.
Friend drama hurts because girls are trusting. They’re starting to see the best and worst in humanity, and as they pull away from family, friendships gain importance. Girls want to belong and feel known, and when friendships go well, there is no better feeling, but when friendships go south – and your daughter discovers that the girls she bared her soul to have undermined her, gossiped about her, hurt her, or written her off – it’s a shock to the system.
You can’t take away your daughter’s pain, but you can walk through it with her. You can point her to people and hobbies that bring her joy, whether that’s a weekend at grandpa’s farm or creating art in the garage. When the time is right, you can share stories and perspective. You can ask questions like, “What do you think might be going on in their life to make them act that way?” to help her imagine the countless scenarios that don’t excuse mean behavior but can help explain it.
The fact is, some girls won’t like your daughter. Some girls can’t be trusted with too many details of her life. Some girls get on power trips and expect blind obedience. Some girls bond through gossip, bullying, and leaving someone out. Some groups operate like gangs. Some girls are just mean.
Still, good friends do exist, so help your daughter find them. Remind her how even hurtful people serve a purpose teaching her who she doesn’t want to be and what friends she doesn’t want to have. While some girls can be loved up close and personal, others are best loved from a safe and healthy distance.
8. Help her understand that conflict is a part of life. She can’t control how anyone else behaves, but she can control her reactions.
God rewards faithfulness, and when your daughter does the right thing – talking out problems one-on-one, apologizing when she is wrong, not retaliating to mean behavior or burning bridges that will haunt her, letting little offenses slide – it puts her on a path that God can bless. The blessing often comes as peace and being able to like herself at the end of the day.
As moms, we expect our daughters to master the skills that grown women haven’t mastered. We get frustrated, yet we often fail to give our daughters the tools to respond maturely.
Little girls who don’t get along become big girls who don’t get along, so let’s coach our daughters on this crucial skill. Let’s remember that being able to resolve conflict is the #1 predictor of success in marriage (according to America’s top couples’ therapist) and when we teach this skill, we set our daughters up to win.
Even on your daughter’s worst day, God adores her. He never gives up on her, and this truth is a lifeline. It may take a friendship rift for her to realize why she needs Jesus, why He’s the only reliable anchor when a storm hits, and if that’s her big takeaway from a fallout, consider it a gift. God never wastes pain, and even the heartache of friendship can help your daughter grow in faith and become the young woman she’s meant to be.
This piece originally appeared at KariKampakis.com, published with permission.