10 Ways To Not Bring Up Bitchy Girls (And Protect Your Daughter From Them Too)

A lot of the conversations we're encouraging in HuffPost UK Lifestyle's Women's Month, are around the identity of adult women and the challenges facing them.

But perhaps we should be looking a bit further back, to figure out how we can raise strong girls who will become the change itself.

Goodbye gender-stereotyped toys and the concept that 'hitting/crying like a girl' is an insult and inference of weakness.

Author Tanith Carey feels very strongly that girls aren't 'weak and defenceless' and has written a brilliant parenting book Girls Uninterrupted: Steps For Building Stronger Girls In A Challenging World on how to raise daughters who won't be damaged by the conflicted messaging out there.

Meanness among children has existed since the words; ‘No, you can’t play with us’ were first uttered in the playground.

The sad thing is that pre-meditated nasty behaviour among kids, particularly among girls, appears to be starting sooner than ever – even in nursery schools , according to educators, parents and bullying charities.

The reasons are many and varied: Puberty and hormones are kicking in earlier. Even if your own child isn’t growing up too soon, she may be well interacting with classmates who don’t yet have the maturity to understand the consequences of their actions.

Then there is the rise of reality TV shows in which judgements and insults are freely traded as currency.

All this is potentially damaging because girls in particular have a range of blunt instruments with which to put each other down – from sarcasm and eye-rolling to cliquiness, gossip and exclusion.

From the other side of the school gates, it often feels like we parents have to no choice but to leave our children to it.

But I believe there are clear ways we can help children develop healthy friendships, allowing them to have happier, stress-free childhoods.

1) Look at your own behaviour. It’s a harsh truth but it has to be said. As one teacher told me: ‘Nasty mums often have the nasty children.’ Ask yourself if you are bitching and gossiping at the school gate. If your child hears you judging and undermining, she will quickly learn to do the same even if you think it’s going over her head.

2) Teach her that everyone has feelings: Empathy can be taught. If you explain that everyone has feelings that can be hurt, she is less like to bully. Tell your children to be friendly and polite to peers, whether they are friends or not. Tell her to catch herself if the thought that another child somehow 'deserves' to be left out or dismissed ever crosses her mind.

3) Explain that being nasty will ultimately make her feel bad about her herself. Studies have found that people who bitch and gossip suffer lower self-esteem afterwards, while those who are kind and generous to others feel better about themselves. Remind her that unkind remarks say more about the person making them than they do about the victim.

4) Don’t leave her to reality TV: Programmes in which others are judged as success or failures are a major part of the TV schedules – and children are some of their most enthusiastic viewers.

A study by Brigham Young University found 52 acts of verbal aggression – like insults, back-stabbing, eye-rolling, face-pulling – every hour on reality TV. If they must watch, sit down with them and get them to question the judgmental, dismissive attitudes the seen on screen..

5) Don’t encourage Queen Bee behaviour. Mothers who were – or are – Queen Bees themselves secretly quite like seeing their girls being in the most exclusive cliques. If you are that mother, break the cycle because your daughter’s individuality is worth more than that.

6) Show you can’t change other people, only the way SHE reacts: Children who are mean are usually girls who need to temporarily shore up their fragile self-worth. Tell your daughter the meanness says more about them than her.

7) Don’t use the silent treatment: Children who use the silent treatment, threaten not to be friends with other children and give others the cold shoulder most likely picked up the behaviour from their parents, according to a study by Brigham Young University. Researchers found that parents who attempt to control their children by manipulating the child-parent bond have kids who treat their friends the same way. Be a role model even in the most subtle way you treat others.

8) Talk to your daughter about the power of the clique. Explain that people often seek out cliques because they feel insecure or crave the protection of the group. Talk to her about your experiences at school and how you fitted in – and stress that her individuality is always more important.

Tell her how being in a clique can limit her and cut her off from other people who could be good friends. Don’t let her think that because she is not in the popular group, she is not a valuable person. Remember that even girls who are at the top of the social tree don’t always feel good about themselves, are often more feared than liked, and are anxious about how to maintain their position.

9) Talk about gossip:. Discuss with your child how easy it is to get carried away by the intrigue and drama of a new nugget of information. Ask them if they think it’s really OK to pass on gossip about someone else, how they would feel if the gossip was about them, and what they are really gaining from it.

Appreciate that girls often gossip to work out their place in the social order – and to gauge the reactions of both her friends and you to what other girls have done. Even so, tell her that while you can learn from others’ behaviour, it’s not acceptable to spread information about other girls maliciously.

10) Explain the difference between a good and a bad friend: For children age seven and up, explain that a bad friend is someone who doesn’t want them to play with other people, makes them feel sad and pushes them to do things they don’t want to do. A good friend is someone who tells them they are good at doing things, lets them play with everyone and makes them feel good about themselves.

From Girls Uninterrupted: Steps for building stronger girls in a challenging world by Tanith Carey, published by Icon, price £7.99

Maggie Cole

Young women doing incredible things