When our daughters share about their social traumas and dramas, we have many reactions. And, we want to respond in helpful ways. But oh, the things that get in the way! Sometimes, our daughters push us away or don’t invite us in–when we know we could really help if they’d just let us! Or, we find ourselves reacting in surprising ways–angry at our daughters for excluding someone; feeling vindictive on our daughter’s behalf because it was she who was the target; or remembering our own 7th grade experience of relational aggression and reacting like a wounded 12 year old. We’ve probably all been there–at least once. So, what’s a parent to do?
(1) Understand relational aggression (RA) as it plays out in girls’ worlds. See Part 1 of this series.
(2) Do our own work of separating our personal histories of social trauma from our daughter’s; maintain perspective and attunement; and lead by example. See Part 2 of this series.
(3) Build communication bridges that encourage positive dialogue about RA and social disappointments and how to handle them. Obviously, you’ll need to find ways of responding that are in your authentic voice and are compatible with your parenting style. With that in mind, let’s consider a situation that may familiar to many:
A story about the betrayal of a confidence
You pick your daughter up after school. You can tell she is upset by the way she throws her back pack into the car. You ask her how her day was. She just moans and turns away. After giving her some cool off time, she says to you: “I’m sooo mad at Jennifer (her best friend). I can’t believe what she did–she told everyone something really private I told her last weekend. She promised she wouldn’t tell! Now everyone thinks I’m weird. I probably won’t have any friends left by tomorrow.”
Parent responses: Initial response: Respond, don’t react. Yeah, I know, this is a tough one, but it’s a great mantra to keep in your pocket. Take a deep breath and practice attunement. What might your daughter need most right now? Perhaps she just needs some quiet cool down time, or a distraction, or some comfort, or some encouragement. Let’s play with the options.
Cool Down or Comfort Time Sometimes it’s just easier to think and talk through a painful situation when there’s been some cool down time. If this is what your daughter needs, try to provide it. Some girls just appreciate having a little space. Others have ideas about things that can help calm or relax them–like taking a walk or bike ride; drawing or writing; watching a humorous sit com; playing with the dog. All does not need to be resolved right now–even though it’s hard to see your girl in pain. When you do have a chance to talk with your daughter about this problem, here are some communication bridge builders.
Seek first to understand: How often do we listen with an agenda, waiting for the moment when we can interject our point? Pre-teens and teens respond best when we are genuinely interested in learning about their thoughts, feelings and experiences. Girls recognize when they are being listened to with heart and mind; when the only agenda is “to understand.” Here are some phrases that communicate our desire to hear:
- Wow–I’m so sorry; that must really hurt.
- Do you want to tell me more about what happened?
- What do you need right now?
- Let me know if there is something you need from me; I want to be supportive.
Help her identify feelings: Reflecting a feeling may help your daughter put into words the storm going on inside. Even if we don’t identify the “correct” feeling, a feeling word may help our daughters clarify what’s going on in their internal worlds.
- I’m sorry she broke your trust. I wonder if this makes your really sad/angry/disappointed/betrayed?
Don’t interview the victim; interview the strong girl: Remember, your daughter can be quite hardy in regards to her social world. Empathize with the part of her that is sad, angry and more. But, don’t stay there. Ask questions & make comments that speak to the strong and capable part of your daughter.
- It must have taken a lot of strength to get through the day.
- What helped you get through the day?
- What helped you feel better?
- What will help you feel better?
- I know you. And I know you will come up with a creative and helpful solution. I’m happy to talk with you about ideas if you want support.
Praise and acknowledgement of strengths & resources: This is another way to support the strong part of your daughter:
- I’m glad you were able to tell me about this.
- I’m sure it’s not easy to talk about this; it takes some courage on your part.
- What a great idea to call Aunt Susie about this; I’m glad she was helpful.
- What a great idea to do some writing about your anger. I’m glad it helped.
- What a great idea to write about your brave talk/straight talk ideas. That will help you when you talk with Jennifer, I’m sure.
Promote assertiveness: We use the terms “brave talk” (for elementary school girls) and “straight talk” for middle and high school girls when encouraging appropriate assertive behavior. Brave talk/straight talk adheres to these principles:
- Being Strong without putting others down
- Being Gentle, but firm
- Disagree with Respect
- Teach others about how to treat you
- No put downs or attitude
It helps others take words seriously when girls can make eye contact, maintain a serious expression, stand tall, make an “I” statement, and let others know what they want them to do. Many girls in our groups and summer programs have been introduced to these skills and this language. As a parent you can encourage your daughter’s use of these skills:
- I wonder of there is a brave talk/straight talk response for this situation?
- I think it’s very cool the way you are thinking about talking to Jennifer.
- I think it takes a lot of courage to talk to Jennifer about this.
- You go, girl. I think the brave talk/straight talk idea you came up with may help.
Respect her solutions: Yep, she’s probably got some great ideas about how to comfort herself and how to deal with the social situation.
- It sounds like you’d like to try using some brave talk/straight talk to talk it out. What a good idea.
- What do you think will help you feel better?
- Do you want to say anything to Jennifer?
- What do you wish you could say to her?
- Is there anyone else you want to talk to about this?
- Who else do you think can be supportive of you right now?
Talk about something or someone else: If your daughter is having difficulty coming up with some of her own solutions, here are some questions to help her explore more possibilities:
- Can you imagine what (name role model) would do in this situation?
- How do other girls handle this sort of thing? How do you feel about their solutions? Do you think some solutions work better than others?
- What do you think about how (name the character in the movie or tv program) handled this situation of betrayal?
Girls benefit from tools for dealing with their complex social worlds–and so do parents! Hopefully the strategies discussed here will validate the positive efforts you’ve already been making–as well as provide you with some new ideas. Wishing you and your daughter well as you both navigate the social world of girls!
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Please note: Nothing in what you find here should be construed as medical advice pertinent to any individual. As is true with all written materials, and especially information found on the internet, you must be the judge of what appears valid and useful for yourself. Please take up any questions you might have regarding the content of this website with your psychotherapist or physician.