Mean Girls: The Prequel
September 17, 2009 8:46 AM   Subscribe

Two weeks into the school year, and my almost-tween daughter is being antagonized by another girl in her class. I want to help her deal with it.

(Apologies for length.)

The two of them rode the same bus for a year in primary school. There were some basic personality conflicts. Other Girl is fairly rowdy, My Girl is irritated by chaos.

Now, they're in all the same classes and the bus in intermediate school. And Other Girl has decided to turn things up a notch.

Other Girl deliberately sits next to My Girl's best friend on the bus -- once you sit, you can't change seats -- and then spends the entire ride rubbing it in MG's face (e.g., "I'm sitting next to your best friend Soandso and YOU CAN'T!"). Soandso is equally annoyed by this, by the way -- so it's not like they are competing for her. OG is really just doing it to upset MG.

OG also calls out to MG nastily from her lunch table, usually reiterating her smooth seating move from the bus. There was also a time when they were in a small group project and OG announced (out of the teacher's earshot, naturally) "Since MG is the smartest person in the group, SHE should do all the work so we all get it right and don't have to do it again." Infuse that sentence with the nastiest tone you can imagine. The only thing MG had the time to do before the teacher came over was say "We're all supposed to do the work, OG."

MG is bothered by all of this, even though she has friends and this doesn't really affect her relationships with them, other than Soandso being annoyed by it. MG mentions it to me daily, with little prompting. I remember what being bullied is like. I want to help her with this, and I realize that climbing on the bus myself and punching this kid is not an option.

So far: I've told MG to reply to OG's crap with relative nonchalance, i.e., act as if she hears the words but not the tone and be at least civil, if not friendly. Yet, everything I've been reading on the sly suggests direct confrontation is the better route. This came up briefly as an idea, but MG pointed out that OG will deny any accusation and then she's back at square one.

MG doesn't want me to contact her teacher about this. But if this escalates much more (and it has been escalating), I'm going to revisit that option with her. I won't do it without her knowledge and consent. The district appears to be responsive to issues like this, but I don't have any firsthand information yet.

I've looked at other AskMes under various permutations of "bully," but most of them involve physical altercations. This may never get to that point because this stuff always happens within 25 feet of an adult. Also, I'm not kidding myself into thinking she won't have to deal with some version of this again -- and why not try to get the right coping skills in place now?

(For the tl;dr crowd: These kids are nine and ten.)

Thanks for any advice or suggested reading.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (56 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I think you're doing all the right things by telling her to ignore the girl and giving her the option to talk to an administrator if it gets bad enough.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:49 AM on September 17, 2009

When your girl's friend gets on the bus, have her sit next to someone else. She's not sitting with your girl, but now other girl doesn't have the opportunity to sit next to her. This doesn't really solve the bullying problem, but it eliminates one annoyance for the friend at least.
posted by mikepop at 8:54 AM on September 17, 2009 [5 favorites]

I might try roleplaying with your daughter, where she is the bully, and you are her. As she starts to bully you, I would attempt subtle ways of undermining the bully's confidence, ultimately shooting for demeaning the bully by ignoring her. Obviously, the bully continues to bully because she gets a rise out of your daughter. And girls can be so cruel. I would try to embue your daughter with a sense of self-confidence with respect to this particular person, and use that confidence to leverage herself into a position of power. I know that is all more easily said than done, but I have seen roleplaying work wonders. Teach her to role her eyes, 'tch slightly with a mild hand wave and a, "please"!
posted by msali at 8:55 AM on September 17, 2009

I had good luck responding to that sort of typical-female-bullying behavior with mild amusement - like responding to her statements about seating with "Well, congratulations! I hope you have a good time." with a patronizing smile. The thing that really helped was that I actually was amused, not annoyed - it's really very ridiculous and funny.

Now, YMMV - I dunno if everyone could reach that state of mind. But it did work for me.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:56 AM on September 17, 2009 [9 favorites]

Wow, 10-year-olds are like this? I guess I (maybe inaccurately) remembering this starting much later.

A bit of reflection of OG's taunts might make her less motivated to attack. When she talks about sitting next to MG's best friend, MG could point out that it's nice to have a best friend and that it's too bad OG doesn't know what it's like.

It's retaliation, but it's not really introducing anything that hasn't already been brought into the situation.
posted by ignignokt at 8:57 AM on September 17, 2009

Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls

I read this on a whim when my daughters were babies, thinking it might be useful someday. It ended up explaining my entire public school experience.

I recently read it again when my older daughter started having some issues with friends, and it helped me a) put the situation into perspective and b) give her some tools to get through it.

I expect I'll be referring back to it again many times over the course of the next ten years, and I hope you find it as helpful and insightful as I did.
posted by padraigin at 8:58 AM on September 17, 2009 [25 favorites]

I really think you do need to contact the teacher. You can do this discreetly, and the teacher can be more alert and "catch" things on her own. Honestly, it's nice that you asked your daughter before intervening, but why should she have the final say? Everyone else around her has more experience with these sorts of situations than she does (probably including this OG, who probably has a history of Mean-Girling).
posted by hermitosis at 8:58 AM on September 17, 2009 [3 favorites]

My younger brother and I used to do this sort of thing to each other all the time. It's ridiculous. It doesn't need (or deserve) a response. Neither the tone, nor the words themselves have any actual meaning other than this kid antagonizing your daughter. It's just noise, ignore it or ask the teacher to intervene (your daughter could say, "I've tried responding nicely to OG, but she keeps trying to pick a fight.")

OG: I'm sitting next to your Soandso, so you can't!
MG: Hey Soandso, I'll see you later.

OG: Hey MG, remember how I stole your seat on the bus?
MG: [silence, walk away]

OG: MG needs to do all the work. Blah blah blah.
MG: So, guys, how should we do this project?

It'll either take the wind out of OG's sails (she'll move on to bullying another girl) or she'll escalate to the extent that adults around her will notice.
posted by Meg_Murry at 9:00 AM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

The poor annoying girl has no one she can sit next to so is reduced to taking it out on your daughter. From her standpoint, it's better to be mean than to be bereft.
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:04 AM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've told MG to reply to OG's crap with relative nonchalance, i.e., act as if she hears the words but not the tone and be at least civil, if not friendly

I was completely bullied in middle school. I handled like you suggest, and it just made things worse. And it taught me that nothing I could do would work, and I felt like a worm for 3 years.

What I needed to do was to tell them to fuck off and get the fuck out of my face. Loudly and in front of a lot of people. Of course, I never said "fuck" until I was well passed that age. I was too nice and polite.

Your language may vary, but teach your daughter to stand up for herself.
posted by SLC Mom at 9:07 AM on September 17, 2009 [6 favorites]

Actually, I rescind my answer. Further reading and discussion has made me realize I don't understand this social environment well enough to be able recommend any action.
posted by ignignokt at 9:08 AM on September 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

Go see the teacher. The school I work at has a very strict anti-bullying policy -- they're not allowed to say "it's character building" any more. I'm sure any school not stuck in a 60s time-warp has the same. I get several internal emails a day saying "so-and-so has a problem with somebody-else who is behaving aggressively/rudely/insensitively, etc. Have spoken to the parents and they have agreed that ... etc."
posted by BrokenEnglish at 9:11 AM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I was terrorized like this. I was told to ignore it. I wish someone had encouraged direct confrontation, as I think it would have made me a more assertive adult. I think girl bullies respond differently to anger than boys; boy bullies (excuse the generalization) seem to think they've won if they provoke an angry reaction, and it encourages them. Girls are more likely to be encouraged by quiet annoyance. Your daughter can fake being aloof, but it will be obvious it is fake. She needs to show the bully how annoyed and angry she feels (obviously without violence or cursing).

posted by desjardins at 9:14 AM on September 17, 2009 [11 favorites]

My daughter was on the receiving end of some relational aggression when she was that age, and every attempt that I made to help her totally blew up and made it much worse.

I would very circumspectly talk to a counselor or administrator at the school, one-on-one. Any more visible measures to help will backfire for you and your daughter.

(I presented some printed evidence of harassment to the mom of one of my daughter's tormentors, and the daughter showed up at school and spread it around that I "assaulted" the mom.)
posted by Danf at 9:22 AM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

When I was a kid, I got this kind of weird bullying a lot. And my parents told me to "ignore it, because they just want to see you're upset" -- but they neglected to address the fact that I was GETTING upset. Then the bullies started escalating. But I thought that as long as I never told anyone about it, then I was ignoring it, and doing what I was supposed to. That....kind of messed me up for a while.

But at the same time, I remember being SERIOUSLY impressed by the reaction one girl gave to one of the regular bullies in my neighborhood. We were all playing in my yard, and the bully was walking by and saw her and hollered, "Hey, Cindy! Your middle name is 'Lou' and you know it!" And Cindy just looked at all of us, rolled her eyes and said, "Wow, big deal." The bully taunted her a little more, just shouting "Cindy LOU! Cindy LOU!" over and over, and Cindy just rolled her eyes, with the attitude of "wow, is THAT all he can come up with?" and he finally got bored and left.

I think that kind of "so what" sarcasm works great -- when OG pulls the whole "hey, I'm sitting next to Soandso and you can't!" MG could just say, "wow, you know how to SIT DOWN. Your Mom must be SO proud."

This also would help your daughter see that OG is coming up with REALLY lame stuff to tease her about, and help your daughter put the whole thing into perspective, I think.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:23 AM on September 17, 2009 [3 favorites]

Other Girl is fairly rowdy, My Girl is irritated by chaos.

This the main issue and it makes your girl a target both now and in the future. The Other Girl KNOWS she's getting under your girls skin and enjoys the power.

restless_nomad's suggestion is probably spot on. By taking away the Other Girl's power over her, she'll be free of her antics.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:25 AM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't understand this whole "once you sit, that's it" on the bus. Is there a bus monitor in addition to the driver? I think that your daughter's friend should quietly tell the monitor or driver that she does not wish to sit next to the mean girl but she won't leave her alone and request to have her seat changed. Or maybe you could write a note to the driver/monitor explaining the situation?

I know that your daughter doesn't want you to intervene with the school, but maybe putting a stop to this seating nonsense will do something to change their interactions once they get to school.

On the other hand, my father's standard advice in any type of bullying situation was always, "Punch her in the face. Hard."
posted by crankylex at 9:26 AM on September 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

I was psychologically bullied from about ages ten to fourteen. (Ever see Welcome to the Dollhouse? That was pretty close to my middle school experience.) I was extremely shy and socially awkward, and I guess kids were amused by my visible discomfort.

I have no surefire solution, but if I could relive those years, my boilerplate response to just about every bullying barb would be to turn to the offender with an exasperated sigh, look them square in the eye, and say "(bleep) you, (bleep)cheese. No one's impressed by your asinine crap."

I'd advise finding a PG-rated subsitute for bleepcheese in case any adults happen to overhear, of course. The overall tone she should aim for, though, is "God, you're tedious, and I'm just not interested." She might need some role-playing practice to get this down - if you let on that you're intimidated or upset, the effect is lost.

There seriously should be psychological-bullying self-defense classes for kids that age.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:29 AM on September 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

OG: I'm sitting next to your best friend!
MG: Don't you have your own friends to sit with?
OG: Yeah, Soandso is my best friend.
Soandso: Nope, you just sit here and won't move.

Has she tried stuff like that?

I'll be honest, I failed at middle school socializing. I'm sure I could come up with all sorts of witty remarks to fictional dialog, but draw a blank for whatever OG actually says. It still might get a laugh out of your daughter though, and that's worth something.

I can understand why your daughter doesn't want you or her teacher to intervene. But maybe you could get suggestions from the teacher for what your daughter can do for herself? I think middle school teachers have seen more of this behavior than anyone and probably have a better idea of how to handle it.
posted by valadil at 9:29 AM on September 17, 2009

I was completely bullied in middle school. I handled like you suggest, and it just made things worse.

This was my experience, too. I couldn't pull off the casual nonchalance; I was too hurt and frustrated. I was a little older when I finally dealt with my bullies, but when I'd finally had enough I walked right up to their leader, locked eyes with him and told him from about half an inch away from his nose that he had to leave me alone. I didn't move away. I didn't respond to anything he said. I didn't blink. He walked away on his own after a minute or so of my staring at him at close range. Word got around quickly, and nobody in school ever gave me any shit again.
posted by jon1270 at 9:34 AM on September 17, 2009

Nthing "encourage her to be assertive".

I got teased a fair bit as a kid, and my mom ALWAYS trotted out the "ignore them; they just want to get a rise out of you" line. And although it is in some sense true, it never seemed to help. Neither internally, with my own feelings, nor externally, with the actual situation. I suspect teaching MG the power of the eye roll and the properly intoned "whatEVer" might not be a bad idea. It goes a step beyond passively ignoring OG, and lets her grab some control over the situation. It might help her feel more confident.
posted by kestrel251 at 9:38 AM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I used to respond to stuff like this with an obviously sarcastic "oh how I suffer" and an eye roll and it seemed to discourage the bullying attempt. I don't know if that will work in a situation like this that's been escalating for a while though. And it'll depend on the bully.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 9:40 AM on September 17, 2009

Honestly, it's nice that you asked your daughter before intervening, but why should she have the final say?

Because the whole point of this AskMe is to make the situation less painful for the kid. When I was the kid being verbally bullied, the fact that other people knew that my mom had to intervene on my behalf was in and of itself humiliating. I think I was within my rights, and this kid is within hers, to draw that boundary.
posted by clavicle at 9:43 AM on September 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

"There seriously should be psychological-bullying self-defense classes for kids that age."

There are, actually. That's a thought, too - I don't know where anonymous is, but it's worth looking into local martial arts schools to see if they offer this sort of curriculum. (Disclaimer - Sun Dragon is the dojo I attend.) Our sister school in Chicago, Thousand Waves, also covers this sort of thing, and both are non-profit organizations.

Odds are neither are close enough to help, but a little Googling might turn up something in your area.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:44 AM on September 17, 2009

I think it's great that you are listening to your daughter and trying in some way to help her defend herself. That's very important to keeping her self esteem very strong; the idea that she has your support. I would do everything I could to build my daughter's self esteem so she feels strong enough to respond in a way that is best for her.

Violence in kind, or ignoring her feelings would not benefit her. If for example, she has some sort of creative outlet, it will enhance and remind her of her own self worth, and the bully will be irrelevant. Which, for a bully, is about the worst outcome for them.
posted by effluvia at 9:45 AM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Reading through further responses, I might amend my earlier comment. In my experience in elementary school, it worked to ignore the bully. Responding or confronting just fed the kid's attention-seeking ego. This is not true for everyone.

I'm just envisioning the bus situation as being one that could easily get turned against your kid and end up with her facing punishment when this other girl should. Say OG sits down next to the best friend and taunts your daughter about it, then your daughter responds directly. Who, in the eyes of the bus driver/adult supervisor, is making noise and causing trouble? Your kid. After all, she's the one standing in the aisle arguing with OG, who's just sitting quietly in her seat.

Teachers and other adult supervisors deal with enough weird/bad/disruptive kid behavior throughout the day that they don't necessarily have the patience and thoughtfulness (and time) to consider the possible explanations for what they see when two kids are arguing. I think checking in with the teacher could be a way to avoid that.
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:10 AM on September 17, 2009

I am (and was!) a boy, so the bullying I was subjected to was more physical. But I have a little girl, and worry about this kind of behavior in the future (man, what is it about girls that makes them so mean to each other?!).

Anyway, since my daughter is so much younger than yours it's tough for me to judge how she might react to this kind of honesty (I always heard variations of this but it never 'sank in') - this girl is bullying your daughter, and teasing her, because she's jealous of her.

She doesn't have the best friend to sit next to, so she antagonizes your little girl to bring her down a notch (and bring herself UP a notch). I'm not sure how you could best explain this to your daughter but perhaps there are some children's books you could find that help elucidate what's going on here.

That being said, I wouldn't advocate your girl taking a swing at this other girl (it sounds like she's trying to get a rise out of her plain and simple), and I tend toward the snarky/sarcastic side of things anyway so that's how I'd naturally react, but it sounds like your daughter isn't apt to confrontation of any kind (verbal or physical), and is silently suffering through this.

I think you can try to guide her in the right direction, but getting her to understand the other kid's motivation for this behavior (while difficult if not impossible) would lead to the best outcome.

And at least she's telling you about it! I had a long walk home so after the bullying sessions were over (chases down the alley, that kind of thing), I had time to recover before getting home. I don't think I ever told my family about it. It sounds like you have some open lines of communication - I think you should use them at every opportunity to ask your daughter why she thinks the bully is doing this, and help guide her to the right answer.

Best of luck.
posted by pkphy39 at 10:10 AM on September 17, 2009

Seconding sarcasm as the weapon here. Since OG doesn't appear to have the charisma to lure the other girls into her meanness, your daughter will be Made Of Win after half a dozen epic burns. Everyone knows that OG is a jackass, but it'll really SINGE when the whole class is laughing at her. And, that'll end up making her stop. And, as a side effect, your daughter will probably be a bit more popular.
posted by Citrus at 10:14 AM on September 17, 2009

Off the top of my head:
[x] Try getting Soandso to do something annoying, so that OG never sits by her again? Rubbing up close on her or something, etc.
[x] Suggest to the bus driver that Soandso and OG not be permitted to sit next to each other, due to in-school conflicts?
[x] Tell OG that she's only breaking up their seats, because no one else wants to sit next to her?
posted by Quarter Pincher at 10:22 AM on September 17, 2009

Tell the teacher and any adult that supervises your daughter (I was a school librarian and I would sometimes witness what seemed like friends joking while under my care, but the regular classroom teacher was able to identify that a bully was pressing someone's buttons because the parents had told them). There is no need for your daughter or OG to know you spoke with the teacher if the teacher simply observes bullying in front of her and acts on it. Pulling OG aside to chastise her for bullying before witnessing anything herself WILL make your daughter seem a tattletale. But this bully appears to be needling on a pretty constant basis in school and the teacher will be able to see it for herself.
posted by saucysault at 10:29 AM on September 17, 2009

Try getting Soandso to do something annoying, so that OG never sits by her again? Rubbing up close on her or something, etc.

NO. Soandso having MG's back, contributing epic burns, etc. is a good idea, but anything involving body contact can have the unintended consequence of getting Soandso in trouble, particularly on the bus, where if there are rules about body contact they're probably zero tolerance.

OP, I think what's key is making sure your kid knows BOTH that her frustration and upset rewards OG's behavior AND that that behavior is shitty and your kid is not wrong to be upset about it.
posted by clavicle at 10:40 AM on September 17, 2009

I was taunted through college for one reason or another. One thing that helped me that could help your daughter might be to reframe the situation. Sit down with her and talk with her about Other Girl's behavior. "Why do you think she's doing that?"

That gives you a chance to talk about the things that your daughter is doing right. Maybe the poster upthread is right: OG is jealous that your daughter has a best friend and she doesn't. Maybe OG is jealous of how smart your daughter is. Maybe OG doesn't get a lot of attention at home, so she tries to act out so people will laugh and support her. Your daughter doesn't have to do this. (I'd shy away from making specific assumptions about the other girl's problems, but you get the picture.)

Yeah, this might seem a little subtle, but she's likely old enough and smart enough to take this to heart and remember all of the good things she has going for her. Then, instead of having a reaction of "What's wrong with ME that she's picking on me so much?" your daughter can think, "What's wrong with HER that she has to pick on me so much?"

Bonus: this is a good opportunity to talk about compassion for people you don't necessarily like :P
posted by Madamina at 10:58 AM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Maybe it'll help and maybe it won't, but something that really helped me when I was 11 and involved with mean, spoiled, bitchy 11 year old girls, was understanding the idea of INSECURITY. The mean girls are picking on people because they are insecure. They are basically scared, and this makes them feel better, because when they make other people scared and feel bad about themselves, they feel more powerful.

For some reason, understanding that made me feel compassion and even pity for the mean girls. Yes their barbs still stung, but it's like they lost their power to devastate me. It gave me the confidence I needed to realize there wasn't any truth to their jibes, and once I realized that what they were saying wasn't true, it was a lot easier for me to think they were pretty dumb and pathetic.

So maybe sit your girl down and explain why people get bitchy when they're her age. (Puberty's on its way, things are changing, new rules on the playground. Boys and girls start noticing each other. Expectations at home and in the classroom are different. Kids are insecure-- suddenly they have to start thinking about how they look, whether they're 'cool enough,' etc. So they pick on other people to make themselves feel secure and cool.)

Tell her it'll be like this for a while, but eventually it'll get better. Everyone goes through it, even her favorite movie stars, musicians, artists probably got picked on in their awkward phases. It's a pretty universal fact of life that people get picked on in middle school/high school-- it happens to the best of us, and there's nothing wrong with her. The best thing you can do to help your kid is help her get a sense of who she is, her own personal strength, because ultimately that's going to be the thing that gets her through it.
posted by np312 at 11:00 AM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

When I was 8, my best friend "stole" the boy that I liked from me. I spent an entire week unable to turn my head to the left, because they sat to the left of me in class and I was completely brokenhearted.

Fast forward past a lot of middle school angst, and in high school my former best friend admitted that she hadn't even liked The Boy, she was jealous of me and wanted to be like me, and so taking the boy that I liked seemed like the thing to do at the time. (Yes, she apologized.) I was a strange, awkward kid, even at 8, and it never, in a million years, would have occurred to me that anyone would actually want to be like me, or that that was her reason for stealing The Boy away. And yet in retrospect, it explained lots.

Which is a long way of saying that most mean girl bullying stems from jealousy and insecurity, and the Other Girl in this case appears to be full of both. Your daughter has friends. Your daughter is super smart. Other Girl craves these things, which are positive strengths, and tries to turn them into weapons against your daughter because she can't figure out how to have them herself. She is making your daughter feel small, not because she looks down on her, but because she is tormented by your daughter's awesomeness. She lies awake at night, desperately trying to figure out how to be like her, and sitting next to your daughter's best friend is as close as she can get.

And she's being a total bitch about it, don't get me wrong. I was on the wrong end of a lot of bullying in middle school, and in response I developed a scathing wit. If your daughter can deliver a few humiliating burns, it might get the Other Girl off her back. Or it might increase her insecurity and escalate the torment even further. Also, I'm not sure this is your daughter's style.

I can't believe I'm suggesting this -- because I'm the girl who told bullies on the bus to take a flying fuck at a rolling donut -- but it might completely disarm Other Girl if your daughter tried being nice to her.

OG: I'm sitting next to your Soandso, so you can't!
MG: I like the headband you're wearing. It's really cute.

This has the effect of a) not rising to OG's bait b) displaying an amazing level of self-confidence c) not getting her into trouble with teachers or bus drivers and d) making OG feel less insecure and therefore less inclined to do crazy shit.

Just a thought. Regardless, telling her to ignore it won't work, and talking to principals and teachers won't help either. Your daughter either has to blow her off, or diffuse her jealousy somehow.

On preview: also what np312 said.
posted by junkbox at 11:03 AM on September 17, 2009

I was also yet another bullied girl who was told to "just ignore it," which did not help the situation at all. Sarcasm is the way to go, I feel. Encourage her to cop an attitude. She has to act like OtherGirl is totally lame (and she is) for caring about such things. So:
"Hey look, I'm sitting with your best friend!"
"Wow, hooray for you." *eye roll, bored expression*

"...SHE should do all the work!"
"um, yeah, I don't THINK so. *pointed direct stare* Let's get started."

Part of this is a "fake it til you make it" strategy. unlike the "ignore it" advice, which invalidates the distress she is feeling, she gets to channel her annoyance into behavior that might actually get this girl to leave her alone, or at least not see her as such an easy target.

And if she gets in trouble with a teacher, so what? None of that will matter in a few years; how she protects her self-esteem, however, will impact the rest of her life.
posted by chowflap at 11:07 AM on September 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

I have a great handout that I use to teach girls assertiveness with situations just like this. It includes various steps, like eye contact, body posture, and tone of voice, as well as some things to say (like "I don't like that, please stop" or "Thanks! [sarcastic response to insulting comment]"). I'd love to send it to you if you're interested. I also really like to advocate for responding to put-downs by saying "oh" or "thanks" and smiling... it's often enough to fluster the heck out of the bully and change the dynamic of the ongoing system between an OG and an MG. I DO NOT recommend things like trying to humiliate the bully in front of the whole class or something like that, because that's bullying in itself, which is obviously not a useful tool.

There's a pretty decent book called Simon's Hook, that talks about insults as fish hooks, and ways not to take the bait (uses lots of kind of silly/funny examples). The book might be a little young for 9-10 year olds, I think, but the message is valuable.

I also agree with validating that OG's behavior isn't right and that it's ok that MG feels upset by it. The key is that MG begins to feel like she has power to do something about it, by learning a lot of tools to keep in her pocket.
posted by so_gracefully at 11:08 AM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Everyone's got an opinion about how to deal with bullies, and they all stink. Other than making sure an adult intervenes if this escalates, there's no solution that's necessarily any more likely to help the situation than to make it worse.

Here's what I'd suggest. Keep talking about this with your daughter, but instead of focusing on how to make it stop, help her form a frame of reference about it.

Is she concerned that OG will become friends with her Best Friend as a result of sitting together on the bus? If so, reinforce that Best Friend finds it annoying as well and that the ties of real friendship aren't even going to notice some bratty tween playing power games. If not, help her realize that the taunting is completely meaningless.

Is she concerned that the people in her school groups will actually make her do all the work, or think she's a nerdy bookworm? If so, make it clear that she doesn't have to bear the workload alone, and that being smart and being socially adept aren't mutually exclusive at all. Explain that it may seem like smart kids get picked on, but so do dumb kids and redheaded kids and kids with any kind of identifiable trait of any sort. It's not about the trait, it's about finding something to tease. If she's not concerned about those things, then point out once again that this is taunting with no real consequence and thus no real meaning.

Again, these conversations should not be geared towards "so here's how to make it stop" because there are no guarantees. What they will do is to give her a framework to understand why the teasing shouldn't matter to her beyond being an annoyance. Having that sense of perspective will help her no matter how she chooses to respond... avoidance, friendship, retaliation, whatever.
posted by Riki tiki at 11:16 AM on September 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

My daughter is nearly 7, and an 8-year-old classmate of hers - also a girl - has been picking on her ever since the beginning of the semester. Taking her things from her. Messing up her schoolwork. Saying awful things to her (including that she wished my daughter would "die from a hole in her head".) Now, in my view, children their age are too young to be expected to resolve some conflict situations by themselves, so we simply decided to butt in.

One morning when my husband took our daughter to the school, he had a chat with the bully-girl. He dropped down to her level, looked her straight in the eye and said calmly but sternly [paraphrasing]: "I've heard things haven't been too great between you and my daughter, and that you have said some pretty bad things about her and taken away the plush kitty she got from [classmate]. You have to understand that she is my daughter, and I'm not going to let people treat her like that. So, these things shouldn't happen again. If I hear there's more unacceptable behaviour, I'm going to talk to the teacher and your parents about it."

The girl launched into flustered explanations, to which my husband nodded and just repeated that he doesn't want anything like that to happen again. And it hasn't. The girls have been ignoring each other ever since.

Often on English-language parenting sites, I've noticed very many parents are extremely reluctant to step in when their kids get bullied. Maybe it's a cultural difference? Some kind of character-building, self-reliance thing? Since my kids will in all likelihood grow up to be whiny little Euro-lefties anyway, I don't have any qualms about... mollycoddling, isn't that what it's called? But, yeah, I realize YMM(and probably will)V.
posted by sively at 11:24 AM on September 17, 2009 [3 favorites]

I recently read an article (so sorry I can't find it or remember where I saw it) that talks about how a lot of the typical strategies (many found above) don't really work because they are coming from adult psychology. What the author of the article suggested as a more reliable way to stop bullying was to enlist the help of other students to identify and help stop the bullying.

Now the author actually helped her daughter's school set up an education program to inform students about how to deal with bullies etc. and I'm not suggesting that here, but it sounds like your daughter has friends and maybe she or you could talk to them about ways to help out in this situation. For example, your daughter's best friend could call out the behavior on the bus either to the other kids around (the worst part about being bullied is that it is so isolating* and to openly talk about what's going on as it is happening helps deflect the situation) or to a teacher. The more kids your daughter has on her side, the more likely that something will be done about the problem.

*This thread was a nice read for me because I was tormented in elementary and middle school and it made me feel less lame.
posted by Kimberly at 11:32 AM on September 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

Confront bullies. The failure to do so results in this behavior. Sometimes we are forced to fight.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:37 AM on September 17, 2009

...a lot of the typical strategies (many found above) don't really work because they are coming from adult psychology.

I agree with this. To a child, passive nonchalance doesn't look cool and confident, it just looks meek and weak. I don't know about girls, but if it were a boy I would highly recommend martial arts and other athletics, especially if the kid is old enough to build muscle.

From my own experience, the most damaging aspect of bullying is that it cultivates a "loser" mentality in the victim that will haunt them much later in life. Whatever happens, it's important to not let your kid leave school with a bitter "everybody sucks" mentality, because then she'll still be fighting bullies long after they've stopped bullying her.
posted by mpls2 at 11:56 AM on September 17, 2009

Here's the article Kimberly is talking about:

Stopping bullying is very hard to do, because the bully wants attention. However, you can't just stop giving them attention, because they will turn the noise way up when you do.

The other reason bullying is hard to stop is that it's ignored. I do think culturally we have issues with bullying that make us very ineffective at addressing it.

This article recommends basically shaming the bully. You publicly call out the behavior as something similar to, say, bedwetting, that is a socially inappropriate behavior that the bully is too old to engage in. You instruct others in the class on how to deal with this behavior and stigmatize it. Of course this is all easier said than done.

You need to talk with the teacher, the girl's parents, and ask that bullying be addressed in the class.
posted by xammerboy at 11:59 AM on September 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

I just went through a very similar situation with my own 9 year old daughter.
I wish it were true that girl bullies were just insecure and jealous. In fact, a lot of recent research has found that many of them are actually bit too secure -- not empathic, no self-consciousness about themselves at all. Bullies consistently are found to have really high "self-esteem," and what's more, they often don't lack friends. They are what my daughter calls "The Popular Girls" (yes, this category began in 3rd grade.)
After many months of hell, I did something you're not supposed to do, but it worked in our case. I wrote a long, thoughtful email to the kid's parents asking for their help, with a tone that assumed that they, like me, want an empathic, kind child and not a bully. They were gruff, a bit, but they obviously took some action at home. Now, when the kid forgets for a minute and says something mean and snotty to mine, she quickly apologizes.
The best part? Today my daughter saw her neighbor boy crying. It turned out another boy had slapped him in the face. My kid, always the tiniest in the class, marched up to this boy-bully (who has 40 pounds on her) and said: "Johnny Doe, if I ever hear that you slapped my friend again I will slap you so hard you won't believe it." He began stuttering. The outcome of her own misery was that she turned into someone who stands up for other kids. Sweet.
posted by keener_sounds at 12:11 PM on September 17, 2009 [5 favorites]

I had good luck responding to that sort of typical-female-bullying behavior with mild amusement - like responding to her statements about seating with "Well, congratulations! I hope you have a good time." with a patronizing smile. The thing that really helped was that I actually was amused, not annoyed - it's really very ridiculous and funny.

I agree with this. OG's leverage over MG is purely perspective-based. I know that when you're immersed in the elementary-school world this sort of crap can be crushing. But to grownups - mature people - OG looks like a complete idiot. Seen in that light, it's actually kind of funny. And when I was in elementary school, one of the worst insults imaginable was being called immature or babyish.

It reminds me of Louis CK talking about his douchebag daughter and all the shit she gets away with just because she's 4. When, you know, if it were an adult holding everyone up because he refused to put on his shoes? That person would be an ASSHOLE.
posted by granted at 12:35 PM on September 17, 2009

I have the most awesome story related to this, which I think could be of some help.

So, I'm currently 21, but when I was in the 4th grade there was another girl in my class who picked on me ccoooonnnnstantly. The most egregious form of this was when we'd go from one class to the next (through one of those weird temporary canvas call doors) this girl (let's call her Stephanie) would always shut the door behind her quickly to pinch my hand in the door (we had a set line order). There were other less physical things, but this was the most obvious.

I told my (awesome) mom about the situation, tearfully. She said I should try to avoid her, and just watch my hands carefully. I tried this but the harassment continued. Then my mom asked if I had ever directly asked Stephanie to stop. I hadn't. So she told me that I should go up to Stephanie and say "I know that you've been shutting my hand in the door. It's mean and it hurts. Please stop." I did this, and of course mean girls being mean girls, she didn't stop. Then my mom got out the big guns. First, she just asked my teacher to keep an eye out for this behavior, but the teacher said it was silly since "Stephanie is such a nice, well-behaved girl" while I was a little more unruly. When the behavior continued, my mom called Stephanie's mom to ask her to talk to her daughter. Stephanie's mom assured my mom that Stephanie would neeeevvveerrrr do that, she's just so well-behaved.

Finally, my mom went to the principle saying she though I was being bullied and would someone please monitor the classroom to make sure everything was fine. Nothing happened, and all the while my hand kept getting pinched and Stephanie kept making little snide Stephanie comments to her little mean girl minions.

At this point I was in tears at the thought of going to school each day (because when you're little, this shit is BIG). And my mom said "Well, we've done everything that we can do. You asked her to stop, and I asked your teachers to get her to stop. They didn't, so you have to take care of this yourself. Tomorrow, if Stephanie does it again, punch her in the face."

Sure enough the next day, Stephanie slammed my hand in the door. I paused for a moment, and then when we were in the next classroom, I walked up to her and punched her in the face (really, it was more of a push because I had no idea how to punch someone). Stepanie fell backwards over a chair and stared at me, stunned. The teacher came running over and took my straight to the principals office.

The principal called my mom, and said "Mrs.BusyBusyBusy, your daughter has just hit another child."
Mom: "Is her name Stephanie?"
Principal: "Yes..."
Mom: "That's okay, I told her to. Someone needed to make her stop."

The principal was a little stunned, and just sent me back to class and gave the teacher orders to watch my closely. Needless to say, Stephanie never messed with me again (nor did anyone, actually). And the older I get the more awesome this story is. I bring this mentality to everyone. Be nice and play by the rules as much as you possibly can, but at the end of the day, you have to stand up for yourself.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 1:25 PM on September 17, 2009 [47 favorites]

Once when I was being taunted by a "popular girl" in the sixth grade, I used this tactic. I stayed as calm as possible while she was talking, like I was drinking everything she was saying in. Then, I looked at the girl as if I was concerned for her, not about myself or what she was saying. Then, I said, "This isn't even about me, is it?" The girl was REALLY confused at that point. I continued on with, "You must have really low self-esteem if you're trying to bring me down to your level like that. Look, I understand what you're going through. We all have insecurities sometimes. But you don't have to do that with me." And then I smiled at her as sweetly as I could and walked away.

This was hard for me at 12 and took a lot of courage, but it was well worth it. The other girl was totally shocked at the time, but she never said another unkind word to me after that.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 1:26 PM on September 17, 2009 [23 favorites]

This is a bit of a weird case, because OG almost seems to be complimenting MG in all of her taunts... your best friend - so I'M going to sit by her, and make you pay attention to ME instead... YOU'RE the smartest... It almost seems like classic pigtail in the inkwell action - like a little crush, really. It doesn't seem to me to be that biting, exclusionary mean-girl thing, but something that is much more like awkward, wrong-headed attention-seeking from OG, because she actually likes MG.

That doesn't mean it isn't just as irritating, and it certainly doesn't mean that someone gets to be a part of her life by being a major pain in the ass and trying to dominate her attention (never too soon to learn that lesson!), but, if this is the case, it might help your and MG's perspective on things and may suggest more targeted responses. For example, it might be a good idea for MG to answer with something like "I thought you were smarter/cooler than to act like such a little baby." "You get more boring every day with this baby stuff," etc. It may be a bit early maturity-wise for her to add something like, "you know, if you want to talk to us, just talk to us like a regular person - you're a lot more interesting when you do that."
posted by taz at 1:56 PM on September 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

There have been some great and thoughtful comments on this thread. I agree with the person who said that bullies are overconfident, attract social admiration, and enjoy tormenting others, especially in front of an audience.

There are plenty of bullies in the grown up world; they are just called something like "Vice President of Marketing" . Bullies have exactly the kind of strategies that land them in positions of power.

Teaching your daughter how to weather the storm, I think, is the best long term strategy. Know her self worth, courage, avoidance, don't hold a grudge, seek out people that are kind to her.
posted by effluvia at 2:00 PM on September 17, 2009

Boy, does what your daughter going through sound like what I went through. Don't encourage her to ignore it. The bully can use that to "spin" your daughter's reaction, and portray her as snotty and stuck-up to the other kids, which will escalate the bullying, bring people onto the bully's side against your daughter, and (worst case) cause the whole class to gang up on her. I was advised to ignore the bullies, and I speak from painful experience. ;_;

She needs strategies to defuse the bully, if confronted directly. I like BusyBusyBusy's anecdote above, since it methodically goes through the various attempts to stop the behaviour, culminating in physical action, which rightly should be the last resort. She needs tools to make friends despite the bullying - she will be best protected if she has some allies and fast friends she can rely on, even in the face of the worst this little witch can deal out. She also needs outlets to play, have fun, and most importantly experience some success without the bully being present - extracurricular activities like dance, or sports, or something. This kind of thing can really mess with a kid's self-esteem, since that's exactly what little girls target when they bully. Reminding your child that she's a capable and worthwhile person will stand her in good stead for a lifetime.

Good luck.
posted by LN at 2:37 PM on September 17, 2009

(Please get back to us and tell us how things have progressed! I'm rooting for your daughter, and judging by the huge response, I'm going to assume the MeFi hive mind does too!)
posted by hellomina at 3:40 PM on September 17, 2009

I am neither a parent or a girl, but I saw a fascinating show on this on the SBS channel here in Australia. The show is called "Insight" and the Episode is called "The Trouble With Girls".

They interview Rosalind Wiseman, author of "Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence" amongst others.
posted by Admira at 5:15 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

So, I was a pretty 'geeky' kid at your daughter's age - my mom dressed me in clothes about 10 sizes too big for me (I was the skinny chick with home-cut bangs and a shirt with a lab looking for ducks in men's XL), etc., etc., etc. - and while people tried to bully me I honestly never had too many issues. Two things that worked for me that I haven't seen suggested:

1. The two times I can remember, off the top of my head, that dumb thug girls taunted me I spoke to them like we were adults. The first girl was talking directly behind my back about why my socks didn't match, I turned around and calmly asked if she had some problem with me, or had I done anything to upset her without my knowing. She said no and it was never an issue before. The second girl was screaming after me in the school parking lot - at the top of her lungs - 'asking' if I cried when my 8th grade boyfriend dumped me. I walked over and, again, calmly, said "yes, I did." (we held hands once, you know!) - and she was never an issue again either.

Other statements can be answered calmly "I sat next to your friend on the bus!" A: "I know, (name)." "Yes, I'm aware of that, (name)."

2. The only time I was physically bullied, beaten against a window by a big dude on the bus at your daughter's age, my dad paid my next door neighbor (now a marine) who was our age to beat the hell out of him. The kid apologized the next day, I couldn't figure out why until maybe 10 years later when neighbor told me. And my dad confirmed. Not great, but it worked...

Ignoring is such a dumb plan - did you have siblings? You know when your sibling is taunting you/whatever you IGNORE them rather than responding because you KNOW that ignoring is going to piss them off way more than anything else possibly could and escalate things so damn satisfyingly fast... can't believe this is ever suggested as a solution for kids.
posted by Acer_saccharum at 5:22 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

A lot of people have horrible middle school experiences, just tell her to rise above it and in three years she probably won't see the girl again.
posted by Groovytimes at 11:52 PM on September 17, 2009

OG's coping mechanism is to bully someone--anyone--and for some reason, she thinks MG makes a good target. If she wasn't, OG would move on to someone else, right?

So work with MG to make her an undesirable target. She could even say, "OG, I know you want to pick on someone today, but you're wasting your time with me. Move on". She will need to stand up tall, shoulders back, chin up, head cocked back a bit. Tell her to pretend she's an actress playing the role if these postures don't come naturally to her. If MG doesn't believe it, OG won't either.

Schools are finally starting to take bullying (of all kinds) seriously, but still the best defense is a smart offense--don't allow yourself to become the target. At the first hint of anything towards MG, she needs to be ready to make it clear that she's not interested. And yes, sometimes that means physically. Even just taking a step or two toward the bully can help.

I hope you'll fololow up on this one--we're all rooting for MG!
posted by agentwills at 7:18 AM on September 18, 2009

You've probably talked to MG about why OG does what she does, but if you haven't yet, I'd avoid bringing out the bald "OG is jealous" explanation. These are the years when social hierarchy, cliques, being popular, and fitting in start to take center stage. If you already feel uncool by arbitrary middle school standards, it feels like a huge leap to consider that anyone could possibly be jealous of you.

"OG is insecure" might also ring hollow. OG is insecure, but from the perspective of someone being bullied, the bully appears very secure - secure enough to assert her dominance and kick other people around.

It might help if you asked MG questions like "Why would someone go out of their way to be mean to people?" and "do you think she wants people to dislike her?" or maybe "Do you think anyone deserves to be treated like she treats people?" so MG can arrive at her own "Wow, what OG does really is messed up" conclusion.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:46 AM on September 18, 2009

It might help if you asked MG questions like "Why would someone go out of their way to be mean to people?" and "do you think she wants people to dislike her?" or maybe "Do you think anyone deserves to be treated like she treats people?" so MG can arrive at her own "Wow, what OG does really is messed up" conclusion.

Speaking as a former "MG" -- this could really, really backfire.

MG already knows that what OG is doing is messed up. She has daily exposure to just how messed-up it is on a daily basis. That's precisely the problem -- what OG is doing is screamingly obviously messed up, but no one is doing anything to stop her. That's the perspective MG is thinking in right now.

Not that we shouldn't teach our kids to be empathetic, but there's a really, really fine line between "figuring out how OG'S feelings are affecting her and putting them into perspective" and "...Huh, Mom's telling me to be considerate of OG's feelings -- but what about someone being considerate of MY feelings? I guess since Mom is telling me to be considerate of HER, that means MY feelings don't count. Wow....that really sucks."

I know what you're trying to do, but -- just let's not forget MG's feelings in all of this as well.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:28 AM on September 18, 2009

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