How to teach your daughter not to bully

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It may be unthinkable that your sweet little girl could be a bully, but bullies have parents too; so it's not impossible. What can you do? First, get some good advice from Rachel Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out.

How to teach your daughter not to bully
  • First--you have to acknowledge that your daughter is being a bully. Think about girl bullying the same way that you would think about more traditional forms of bullying.
  • Girl-bullying can start as early as two and three years old.
  • If your daughter hurts someone, emotional or physically, there are three steps: 1) define it as bad behavior, 2) explain to her the concept of empathy, and 3) follow through with the consequences for the bad behavior.
  • Give her a comparative definition: define the behavior as wrong by comparing it to something she already knows is wrong. For example, when you tell someone you’re not going to be friends with them anymore, that’s like hitting them and we don’t hit.
  • Tell your daughter not to give "subtitles": the silent treatment, eye-rolling, body language, and other nonverbal gesturing that communicates negativity.
  • When girls resort to nonverbal ways of expressing their problems, it becomes a bigger issue as they get older and cannot express themselves directly,
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LISA: I’m Lisa Birnbach for howdini.com and we’re talking about girls and bullying with author Rachel Simmons. Her book is Odd Girl Out, and she’s also an educator. What if, Rachel – and I know this isn’t the case for anybody watching – what if your daughter is the bully? What do you do?

RACHEL: Well first of all, if you’re willing to admit that your daughter’s a bully, congratulations –

LISA: Check please!

RACHEL: Because you are an honest, courageous parent –

LISA: Uh-huh.

RACHEL: And there are so many people, for every one mom or dad who’s willing to admit it there are probably ten who aren’t, so good for you in the first place. Now what do you do? First of all, I think it helps to think about bullying, girl bullying, the way that you would think about more traditional forms of bullying. So let’s say you see your kid hit somebody. What do you do? You don’t even know this as a parent, but you’re probably repeating the same series of steps over and over again. So you see your kid hit someone, and you say hey, wait a minute, you shouldn’t be hitting them, hitting is not okay. So the first thing you’ve done is, you’ve said hitting is not okay behavior; you’ve defined it as wrong. Second thing you usually do is, you say, ‘how would you feel if somebody did that to you?’ You promote empathy, that’s your second step. The third thing you’ll do after you see your kid hit somebody, is either say there will be consequences or give them out. So go to your room, or if it happens again, you’re going to go to your room.

LISA: Mmhmm.

RACHEL: The same three steps applying to how to deal with your daughter if you see her being mean.

LISA: And, and, and I have to interrupt: stick with the consequences.

RACHEL: Totally.

LISA: I have been guilty of it; every mother I know has been guilty of allowing a little bit of inconsistency.

RACHEL: Ask yourself what you’d do, what you would do if your child hit somebody, is the same thing you should do if your daughter is threatening not to be friends with someone in order to get what she wants. One of the most interesting research studies I read recently showed that moms had different attitudes towards physical aggression and relational aggression – that girl bullying behavior. They took physical aggression much more seriously. And so that was affecting how their daughters behaved because if you don’t tell a child that something’s not okay, they’re going to think it’s okay to do, and that certainly applies to teenagers more than anything. But what do you do with really young kids? One of the things that I think is effective with preschool, really young kids, is – and you know this girl bullying behavior starts when kids are two and three years old. You can go into any nursery class in America and you will hear girls turn to another girl and say, 'if you don’t give me that toy, I will not be your friend anymore.' So it starts really early. One thing that can be really helpful is to do what I call a comparative definition; in other words, define the behavior as wrong by comparing it to something the kid already knows is wrong. So when you tell someone you’re not going to be friends with them anymore, that’s like hitting them and we don’t hit.

LISA: They’re precocious because the media feeds them this.

RACHEL: Right.

LISA: And yet, we’re all saying the same thing, we’re all saying we want our kids to be nice and fair, and I’m looking for them to be thoughtful, and then you’re right. We buy them dolls called Brats, we make them read books in which girls are over-privileged and very obnoxious. Why are we buying them those books and those dolls?

RACHEL: Well, because the business world has discovered that girls of any age are some of the most powerful buyers in their families, and that, I think, has accounted for that. Another thing that, I think, can be helpful is to, in helping to stop the behavior is if you have a daughter who used a lot of nonverbal gesturing; so the body language, the eye rolling, the ‘ugh’ noise when they’re unhappy, the silent treatment. What I do with girls is I try to say well, when you do that, it’s sort of like you have a subtitle, like when you mute a television you get subtitles. When you mute your voice, you actually get subtitles too. So honey, when you roll your eyes at me the subtitle is, you know, ‘I think you’re stupid’ or when you stop speaking to me, the subtitle is, ‘I don’t like you anymore’ or when you make that ‘ugh’ noise, the subtitle is, ‘I’m sick of this and I want to get out of here’. So you may think you’re not communicating but you are and I’m not okay with that.

LISA: I have actually said to my children, there is one line I’ve given to my children, and now I’m going to reveal it for everyone to, to know, and it’s worked very well in my family. When they roll their eyes, I say, ‘I can hear that!’

RACHEL: That’s exactly what I’m talking about! Bingo.

LISA: Yup. Mmhmm. And, and they absolutely, I, I think I’ve curbed the eye rolling quite a bit.

RACHEL: And let me tell you why it’s another, a good idea to curb that, because when girls resort to nonverbal ways of expressing their problems, that’s behavior that continues with them as they get older, and ultimately I think we all want our girls to grow into young women who are able to express themselves directly, and not become young women who will sit in an office meeting, and when they hear news they’re not happy with, roll their eyes and make a noise.

LISA: Absolutely.

RACHEL: But who can say, you know, I don’t like this. You want to be able to hear them.

LISA: Those involuntary gestures are very hurtful, too. Rachel Simmons, thank you so much. For howdini.com, I’m Lisa Birnbach.

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meet theexpert
  • Rachel Simmons

    Rachel Simmons Author, Odd Girl Out Rachel Simmons is a best selling author and Founding Director of the Girls Leadership Institute. more about this expert »

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