Returning to classes after a school break brings with it all the excitement of reuniting with fellow students and making new friends. However, it can also be an opportunity for "mean girls," bullies and gossipmongers to make life miserable for their unfortunate victims.
Because the first few weeks of classes can set the stage for the rest of the school year, it's important to keep the lines of communication wide open once school r?sum?s. Pay closer attention to your child's mood, ask open-ended questions and check out Facebook activity.
Whether your child seems to be happy or experiencing difficulty with peers, school counselor Beth LaFata says it never hurts to ask school experts about a child's classroom social life. Utilizing the school counselor can help children transition through stages of development and ensure they are making smart choices every day.
LaFata visits classrooms to discuss bullying prevention, peer pressure, building healthy friendships and confronting cliques. She recommends checking with your child's school to see if counselors there follow the same procedures.
While boys are known to physically bully other children, girls can be equally cruel by causing emotional pain. According to a Brigham Young University study, girls as young as 3 or 4 will use manipulative behaviors and peer pressure to get what they want. (Think the classic preschool taunt, "You better do what I want or I won't be your friend!")
The study's co-author Craig Hart explains, "It could range from leaving someone out to telling friends not to play with someone."
LaFata believes in teaching girls to believe in themselves. "Girls need to build up their confidence so they can reach their full potential, embrace their own gifts and be confident in their own skin."
The author of the website A Magical Childhood, Alicia Bayer, suggests having girls build up good support systems by joining a church club, Girl Scouts or taking a martial arts class.
When you choose to invite friends over to your home, try to avoid having uneven numbers of girls together, Bayer says. For example, if you have three girls together, two are more likely to pair up against one.
If you want your child to be both liked and likable, experts suggest establishing a strong parent-child relationship, being empathetic, teaching kindness, encouraging socializing with other peers, and being a good role model.
It's no surprise that children practice what they experience. Many mean girls learn to domineer and manipulate because they see it at home, while boys might bully if they witness a father or older brother bullying others.
If you want a child that is kind and sensitive to others, model kindness yourself and don't gossip about others -- and make sure that older siblings don't do it either. And if you discover that a situation at school is negatively affecting your child, don't be afraid to report it to the school authorities, LaFata says. They are the experts and will usually know just what to do.
Remember, being popular may seem important, but your child needs to understand that the very best friendships are based on mutual affection and similar interests -- not mean-spirited behavior.