Inside: Peer pressure is hard to deal with for our young kids…especially when they get caught up with the mean girls at school. Here are ways to help walk them through it and stay kind.
My daughter came home with big news today.
She has been accepted into the JoJo Siwa club on the playground. This is serious, big, second grade, giant bow in your side ponytail news.
She’s so excited because she gets to wear more of her JoJo Siwa gear.
But then she started rattling off the details about the club.
About how there was a boss named Sarah and she’s in charge.
But knowing there was a “boss” and who it was, I knew to follow up and ask more questions.
See, Sarah is a classic “mean girl” and I’ve watched how she treats other kids for a few months now.
She picks on the weakest link in a group, and causes harm mentally, emotionally, and even physically.
And she’s also an Eddy Haskel.
She’s only nice to the people she wants to be nice to…namely people she currently likes and adults who are watching.
She happens to be nice to my daughter because my daughter is in the “cool” crowd.
This mean girl isn’t picking on my daughter. My daughter has never been her target.
So why am I so concerned? For two very serious reasons.
And if your kids are friends or friendly with the “in crowd” that also mirrors the “Mean Girls” movie, you need to be concerned and paying attention too.
What is a Mean Girl?
Most of us have had the unfortunate experience of being around a “mean girl.”
And one of my major concerns is preventing my daughter from becoming one.
For some reason, these “mean girls” tend to have some sort of power or draw that brings others into their circle of influence.
And they use that power not to create connections, and be includers and welcome friends in.
They use it to control their social situations in negative ways.
These girls tend to have control over who gets teased or picked on or bullied, whose shoes are cool and whose shoes aren’t, and who is allowed to grace them with their presence.
But the short story is this: social domination and social manipulation starts young. Shockingly young.
My daughter got caught up in it in Kindergarten. No joke. And I was horrified when I caught her doing the “mean girls'” bidding and purposefully excluding a child because she was told to.
Because we are on purpose raising our kids to be kind. It’s so important to us, it’s one of our only two family rules.
So now that my daughter is hanging out with Sarah, a new “mean girl” on the yard right after I separated her from last year’s “mean girl,” I have an extra thing to worry about and focus on:
Is my kind daughter drawn to the “mean girls?”
When Kind Kids are Drawn to the “Mean Girls”
When I was young, I had a few “mean girl” friends and they were nasty. They were down-right mean spirited. But not to me.
So I’m not sure why, but I was drawn to them. Maybe it felt dangerous. Maybe it felt fascinating. Maybe it was as close to being naughty as I was going to get.
But I knew it was wrong. I knew what they did was wrong. I knew what they told me to do was wrong.
And now, I think my daughter is following in my footsteps…and I’m not too excited about it.
As my daughter crawled into my lap after she got in the club, she told me all about who was allowed and more importantly who wasn’t allowed into the JoJo Siwa club. Boys were off the list. And girls who had told on Sarah were absolutely off the list.
Some of the kindest, sweetest kids my daughter loves were blackballed. In the second grade.
And I just looked at my daughter in disbelief.
I asked her, “Honey, if your best friends can’t be in the club just because Sarah says so, do you really want to be in that club?”
And her eyes welled up with tears quickly. I watched the torn look in her eyes.
She knew the answer to my question should be no. She knew she should want to not be in the club. But she couldn’t do it.
She whispered, “But I love JoJo Siwa. I want to be in the club.”
And I totally get it.
It’s a lot to ask a seven-year-old to take the high road when the low road is so appealing. To make the right choice instead of the fun, easy choice is a hard, grown-up decision.
It’s also incredibly hard to stand up to friends or in this case, “friends.”
But I need to put some distance between my kid and Sarah. I need my daughter to recognize the toxic behaviors “mean girls” exhibit so she can start to recognize and avoid them in the future.
I wish I didn’t have to do this with a second grader.
But since there are mean girls starting in Kindergarten, the conversation can’t wait until middle school.
It has to happen now.
So I had to remind my daughter that Sarah had hit and had spewed mean hateful things to my daughter’s very bestest friend and left her in tears.
I had to remind my daughter the girls being excluded are really kind, sweet girls who she could go play with. Instead of playing with the “mean girls.”
I had to remind my daughter that kids who say, “I won’t be your friend unless you…” are not real friends.
And I had to remind my daughter that people who are not kind to everyone are not really kind. Those are not the people she should be hanging out with on the playground.
I had to remind her how to be a good friend.
How to Help our Kind Kids Pull Away from the “Mean Girls”
I’m not going to lie. This is super tricky.
I don’t want my daughter hanging out with mean kids because being mean, snarky, and excluding goes against our family’s values.
I don’t want her following along with, condoning, or allowing mean girl behaviors to happen in her presence.
But I also don’t want her picked on and teased and ostracized by the mean girls either.
Related: How to Bully-Proof Your Kids
So, it bears repeating. This is tricky. Walking kids through peer pressure is tricky.
Here are a few things that might make it a little easier.
1. Walk away from the Mean Girl
My daughter can back away from Sarah “quietly” to go find the kids who are kind to everyone.
We can review what we value in friends and what makes a good friend.
And if your child is more of an introvert, this is the way to go.
Our kids can show they are not part of the mean girl crew by physically not being there.
2. Stand up to the Mean Girl
Or my daughter can stand up to Sarah on behalf of all the kids being picked on by telling her to knock it off.
If your child has the inner courage or is more of an extrovert and feels like she can stand up for her friends, then this might be a fit.
Because it usually only takes one person to stand up.
But standing up to a friend is hard.
Want to help our kids find the courage and the words to be the one who speaks up and stands up for others?
Read them some bullying books like these:
Or talk about bullying prevention with our bullying discussion starters:
3. Give the school a heads up
The mean girl isn’t always in class with our kids. But your child’s teacher can help. Let them know what’s happening on the playground, even if your child isn’t the target.
Teachers rarely go on the yard unless they know there’s something they need to check on.
Give them a heads up there’s something that requires their attention.
Most teachers will step in if they know there’s something going on they didn’t know about.
4. Encourage them to find friends who are kind and be an includer
We can’t force our kids to not be friends with someone. In fact, the firmer we are in who our kids can and can’t play with, the more they may dig their heels in to rebel… because it really is out of our control.
However, we can encourage our kids to spend more time with kind kids. We can set up play dates with those kids. I ask questions about those kids. I praise those kids.
Related: How to Help Kids Be a Good Friend
And if you’re not sure who the kind kids are, ask your child’s teacher. I often ask, “Who are the kind kids my kiddo should reach out to and connect with?”
Teachers always tell me.
And we also talk about including others and the power of being an includer.
But one of the most powerful ways we help our kids find friends is to help them discover what makes a great friend and what makes a fake friend. We give them this checklist and have them go through so they determine whether or not the kid in question is truly their friend or just a “friend.”
When they decide, it has weight. When we decide, they’re less likely to listen to us.
If we want to help our kids stay clear of the mean kids, they have to come to that decision “on their own.”
5. Encourage kinder behaviors at school
When my daughter was purposefully excluding others, every morning when I dropped her off, I tasked her with befriending the excluded girl. After she apologized, my daughter then asked her to play. They sat together at lunch. And we scheduled playdates.
They’re now really good friends.
To help your kiddos remember to be kind at school when you’re not there to remind them, we use these Kindness Lunch Box Notes.
6. Talk about kindness…all the time.
We talk about kindness all the time with these 60 Kindness Discussion Starters. But with the presence of a “mean girl,” we have to up our game and make sure it’s not a one-time conversation.
We use this Trash or Kindness Game so my kids understand the nuances of what is kind and what is unkind.
We talk about how the excluded girls must feel and empathize with them.
We talk about how if someone is only kind to a few people, those aren’t the people we want to spend time with.
And we brainstorm who else my daughter can go play with.
At the top of that list? All the girls who had been excluded from the club.
And then we figured out how else my daughter could enjoy JoJo Siwa without being told what to do and who to do it with by a four-foot mini-dictator.