Are mean girls now coming in mini size?

Picture it; a group of girls, hair perfectly kept, an air of smugness and sly smirks adorning their faces. Moving only in a pack, they pass other girls and quietly snigger to each other, while those other girls stare at the ground, hoping it will open up and swallow them whole in that very instant.

No, it’s not a scene from the movie Mean Girls, it’s what you might find in the school playground on any given day. Secondary school you ask? No, try Primary school.

When we think of ‘mean girls’, we often think of hormonal, narky teens, but in recent years a variation on such ‘mean girl’ behaviour has been witnessed in primary school-aged children. Girls as young as eight. Scary.

It’s something that I’ve seen in my clinical work, and is becoming more apparent as the years go on. Unfortunately, I’m not the only one to notice such a change. Rosalind Wiseman, author of the book Queen Bees and Wannabes (and the idea for the movie Mean Girls was born from), which specifically deals with the development of girl cliques, has noted that the age of ‘mean girls’ is getting younger.

There could be a number of factors that lead to this kind of behaviour. Wiseman highlights exposure to media as one factor, but some other reasons may be:

Middle childhood is a time of huge changes socially and emotionally

This is the time where children really start to develop socially and emotionally. They start to see differences between themselves and others, and can begin to pick up social nuances. But they’re still processing at a pretty concrete level. Hello, peer difficulties. 

Kids are trying to find their place in the world

Think about what it’s like trying to find your spot. Your place. It can feel pretty uncomfortable initially, you might push the boundaries a bit to see how far they go, you might ruffle some feathers as you find out about the pecking order. It’s no different for our children when they’re beginning to form relationships with their peers. 

Kids are starting to turn away from parents and take their cues from their peers

This is the prime age for peer development. Our cherubs have spent their early years looking to us for guidance on how to act and what to say. Now though, they start to turn away from us and to their peers, looking to see what’s socially acceptable and what’s not. And we all know that sometimes kids just don’t quite get it right!

Family talking together
With all those factors in mind, they help us plan ahead and shape the kind of support we provide to our children. If you little one has borne the brunt of some mean girl action, these tips might be useful:

We can't change what others say and do, but we can change our reaction and our response

This is honestly one of the best things we can teach our kids. Because unfortunately sometimes people can be mean, and life can be unfair. We can’t control what others are going to say or do, but we can be prepared, and adapt our response and thinking around the situation so that we can change the course of the interaction. It helps us all if we feel we have a bit of control in a situation, and control of ourselves is our power. 

Resilience is the key 

What helps us to weather the storm against life’s tough times is our ability to bounce back. Resilience is a vital skill for our children to learn. Working with them to understand they can bounce back, by using coping statements, calm breathing, talking it out, and seeing the brighter side of things, can help them, and us, feel more comfortable with tricky situations. 

Open communication

Getting these situations out in the open can be so helpful for taking the power out of the mean girl battle. Often children are scared to speak out, or don’t quite know how to process it all, so they bottle it up. And that only serves to make things worse. Working on open communication at home builds those bridges so that our kids feel comfortable in raising the tough issues with us. 

Assertiveness training

When these nasty peer interactions happen, there’s usually three main ways to handle them; passively, aggressively, and assertively. At a young age, children can learn assertiveness tips and tricks; from understanding how to speak to others, using I ‘statements’ instead of ‘you’ statements, and learning to say what they want, in a calm and balanced manner. These are skills that can carry them through all situations in life.

The Golden Rule

And finally, this gem is something my eldest picked up from school, and it resonates with children so well. “Treat others the way you want to be treated” is that universal rule that we should all aim to live by. If we can all teach our children the same language, then they can all set out to put it into action. 

While it can be tough to see, we can be aware, proactive and provide our girls with the right tools to make the change they want to see for themselves.
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