4 Steps to Help Your Daughter Deal with Middle School Drama

Image Source: Thinkstock
Image Source: Thinkstock

Just when you think you’ve got things handled, instituting a workable homework routine or overcoming over-scheduling, you’re hit with a bout of middle school drama by your daughter (cue Darth Vadar’s “Imperial March”).

It’s heartbreaking and maddening all at once.

Your daughter comes home in tears because kids are talking behind her back, or worse, messaging online. First you must separate your own pain and anger from your daughter’s and then find a way to help her put things in perspective and regain her strength and self-esteem.

Girl drama is every seventh grade girl’s reality and every mother’s nightmare: dealing with mean girls. As a young woman, you too lived through the histrionics of  youth and now you’ve got to live through it again.. However, this time it’s far worse, since it’s your child’s pain. No matter if you are the mother of the mean girl or the victim, you’re dealing with high emotions. Brace yourself.

If your daughter has confided in you about what’s going on, take a moment to give thanks. At least she’s come to you — there is beauty in that. If she has tried to hide it and you find out via messaging or another person, don’t let her see how hurt you are, but make sure she knows you want her to feel comfortable coming to you. Your reaction to her will signal how she behaves moving forward. If you’re calm, positive, and helpful, she is more likely to continue to come to you. If you’re hysterical, angry, and vengeful, she’ll likely find another resource, or sadly might keep it to herself next time.

Remember to breathe. It can make you well up to see your girl in tears, and it can be maddening to think about what kids are saying about her, and worse, why they are saying it. And it can be awful if her “friends” are the ones spreading the gossip. You can’t stop it and you can’t change it.

What you can do is talk to your daughter about her reactions and potential responses, and support her through deciding on those. Remind her that she has friends (maybe even point to kids outside the school community). Once she’s decided what her next step will be, help her practice with role-playing. What different responses might she get if she ignores or confronts the person/people involved?

Sadly, this is normal for adolescent girls and your girl will likely find herself periodically on both sides, and around the entire circumference of this kind of behavior. Happily, it is a moment in time that will pass and likely have few lasting negative effects. Hopefully, she will emerge with wisdom from each experience.

While a mother’s natural instinct is to jump in with a lot of questions and suggestions, that is not necessarily the best approach. You cannot make it all better, certainly not in one sitting, but you can help your daughter understand the situation and work it out. When you’re in the thick of it, just remember to trust your gut, and more importantly, your daughter. It won’t always be easy or a quick fix, but she will start to develop resilience, understand the importance of empathy, and learn that she ultimately has control over how she deals with difficult situations.

Here are some concrete steps you can take:

1. Listen

Dismissing or trivializing the problem can create a divide between you and your daughter. Acknowledge the enormity of this issue in her world, and don’t qualify it by saying something like, “I know this is big to you.” While helping her put the situation in perspective (it’s not the end of the world), try not to minimize it and never let her think that it’s easier and perhaps safer to do nothing at all. Don’t leave her with the perception that this is only a small blip in her life and that she should simply accept the mean behavior without response.

2. Don’t fix it

You actually can’t. But this doesn’t mean you can’t help. You can be there for her to talk to and you can certainly make suggestions, but the truth is she will be better off if you let her find her way. Let her know she has choices — no matter how grim they may feel. Feel free even to offer some options if she is open to them or cannot even fathom what to do. Her obvious choices are to confront the problem directly or to let it go. She could ask a peer or counselor to help. You can help her role play what she might say or do.

The painful moments are the ones that can teach your daughter that she can stand on her own two feet. These are the moments she can step up. And, if her choice doesn’t work, she’ll learn that too. She’ll survive – and so will you.

3. Identify resources  — for her and for you

If this situation is out of control and your daughter truly cannot handle it or does not feel safe at school (or wherever the situation is), contact a specialist to help you. In some cases it will not help for you to take matters into your own hands, even if you think you know what’s best. Contact your pediatrician, a school counselor, an administrator, or a teacher that she and you trust. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Your number one job is to keep your daughter safe and that comes before everything else.

4. Process the situation on your own time

I know you’re hurting, and frankly it’s likely to have a longer-lasting impact on you than on your daughter in most cases. Nevertheless, reserve your anger for the others involved and find someone you can talk to about it in private. Even joking with your daughter about getting revenge is inappropriate and will only confuse her.

What you need to know about tween and teen girls is that they often hurt one another to make themselves feel better. Gossip is normal. Their brains are developed enough to master manipulation, but not developed enough to fully comprehend the damage they can do. It’s our job as mothers to teach strength and advocacy as well as forgiveness and empathy.

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