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Mean Girls in Miniature

October 5, 2010
By Betsy Bethel

We know all about mean girls in middle school and high school. Most people simply accept the excluding, name-calling, back-stabbing, reputation-ruining behavior, shrugging it off with a mere "girls will be girls."

But what if you're a mom of a grade-school age girl and you don't want to see her grow up to be a mean girl or a mean girl's target?

It's not too late to do something about it, but you need to act now. Because, according to a new book by Michelle Anthony and Reyna Lindert - both of whom have psychology doctorates from the Univesrity of California-Berkeley and both of whom are mothers of two young girls - the stage is set as early at kindergarten.

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In the opening pages of "Little Girls Can Be Mean," the authors give an example of a kindergarten girl excluding classmates who aren't yet 6. One little girl lies and says she's 6 so she doesn't get left out. In kindergarten!

In a Q&A provided by the authors, they say the most surprising thing they learned while conducting their research with girls, parents, teachers and professionals, is just how many elementary-aged girls are facing issues of bullying without any support or guidance. They also were shocked at how many "nice girls" engage in mean behavior.

The book provides adults with "a simple, coherent plan" to help girls know how to respond in social bullying situations. Their four-part plan involves observing, connecting, guiding and supporting to act.

"We wanted to help parents and other caring adults understand how and why meanness happens, and have a plan for what to do about it, whether their child is a target, bystander or shows signs of mean behavior herself."

The book is filled with real situations encountered in the authors' research. Scenarios include gossip and whispering, cultural or racial remarks, clothing and appearance issues, cliques, playing dare, friend dumping and more.

Why do I like this book? Because it focuses on teaching girls how to be empathetic but also empowered, and to take responsibility not only for their actions but also their reactions.

"The emphasis of the Four Steps," the authors write in their wrap-up, "is on helping you and your child better understand the context of social struggles, your child and the other child's role in that context, and the series of choices your child has, regardles of what the other child may do" (emphasis theirs).



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