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All the Ways I’m Trying Not to Raise a Mean Girl

Photograph by Twenty20

There are two words synonymous with raising girls: “mean” and “girl.” There isn’t a parent on Earth who doesn’t dread the notion that his or her daughter might become one. And there isn’t a parent on Earth who doesn’t vow his or her daughter will never become one. Yet, somehow, there are always girls who squeak through and aren’t nice.

We all have our mean-girl memories from childhood. Mine was a girl named Cheryl who wanted to beat me up in fifth grade simply because I wore barrettes.

Sometimes, mean-girl behavior is encouraged. We want our daughters to be strong, but we don’t cut them off when that strength turns unkind. When we don’t shut down mean behavior, we do our girls a disservice. We don’t give them positive feedback on how to be both strong and kind. And we run the risk of them running amuck at school and with friends, if their mean behavior has always been encouraged. Eventually, those mean girls will either be feared or iced out. Either way, the options aren’t ideal.

There are subtle ways little girls learn to be mean. And, since their parents are their biggest influences and role models, I try to take that into account as I work toward avoiding my daughter becoming one of the mean ones. Here’s how:

I speak kindly about others in front of her—especially about other women.

We forget our kids are listening when we aren’t so kind ourselves. Raising a nice girl means being a nice mom—even if she’s not within earshot.

Commenting about physical appearance is off-limits—from me or from her.

In general, we females are very sensitive about the way we look. Taking that into account, I don’t comment on the way someone looks unless it’s kind—and I require my kids to do the same.

Since I’m her biggest female role model, she’s going to follow the leader.

I try to make sure she knows there’s enough to go around, whether it be attention, toys, love or compliments.

It seems that sometimes girls compete with other girls because they don’t think there’s enough attention to go around. I’m encouraging my girl to be happy for others when it’s their turn in the spotlight and to surround herself with friends who do the same.

Life’s not always about her, and that’s a good thing!

I want my girl to show up for a friend’s birthday party even if she doesn’t want to, and to be happy for a friend who has something special happening in her life. She doesn’t need to be jealous when life isn’t about her. Her time will come.

Everyone’s included on the playground, even if they’re not our top-choice friend.

Kids like to form little clubs and groups, but those clubs can turn into cliques really fast. So, while my girl is allowed to explore her imagination with clubs, those clubs have to be open to all. There are no VIPs in elementary school.

I’m showing her it’s easier to include than to exclude.

In any group, there are close friends and some that just aren’t your preference. That's just life. Despite that, I try to include everyone in the group when I’m making a plan. I’ve learned that hurt feelings really aren’t worth it and I’m trying to show my daughter the same.

And, last but not least, I make sure I speak kindly to my daughter even when her behavior isn’t ideal. Since I’m her biggest female role model, she’s going to follow the leader. If I’m mean, she’ll be more likely to be the same.

If my daughter becomes a mean girl, I'll know it's not because she learned it from me.

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