Guest Post by Dr. Michelle Anthony

Today I am feeling overwhelmingly blessed that Dr. Michelle Anthony is in our Corner to share some nuggets of wisdom from her book. She and Dr. Reyna Lindert co-wrote this amazing guide to bully-proofing our girls (and children in general) last year that I strongly recommend. The whole time I was reading it, I kept wishing that I'd have had this book when Kaitlyn was in her formative years. I do keep on the shelves for check out in our parenting resource center. 
Thank you, Dr. Anthony, for the booster shot of inspiration!

Little Girls Can Be Mean: Four Steps to Bully-proof Girls in the Early Grades
By Michelle Anthony, MA, PhD

Almost 5 years ago, I found this notewritten by my then 6 ½ year old daughterstuffed between her mattress and the desk beside her bed. It sent instant alarms. That afternoon, when she got home from school, we sat together and I showed it to her. Her eyes welled up with tears and she turned away from me. I put my arm around her to let her know it was ok, and that we could talk about itwhatever “it” was.

The floodgates released and her story came pouring out: the months that she had felt confused and alone, but hid her feelings from us. The times she had turned to her teacher for help, but instead been told to “toughen up.” Her shoulders heaved as she told me story after story about her best friend, Sherrie, and the sometimes kind, sometime cruel things she had done. How scared my daughter was, and how confused. Who could she trust? What was real?

I sat there, stunned. Shocked. Who was this person my daughter was describing? Certainly not the polite, smart, thoughtful girl who came over to our house for play dates. Not the girl who had reached out and befriended my daughter at the beginning of the year, when she was “the new girl.” Not the sunny, smiling face that came to mind whenever I thought of her. Not this girl, who
even in first gradewould ask adults questions, say what a great time she had over, and offer to drop by homework when my daughter was sick.

The girl who I met and interacted with was clearly not the girl my child was describing...and yet she was.

That day was a turning point in my life, and in my relationship with my daughter. It was that day that girl meanness hit home, in a very real and tangible way. I had expected things like this, but not until adolescence
years away. My 6-year-old wasn’t ready to manage these experiences and emotions so young...and neither was I.

I sat there, holding my daughter as she cried, realizing how helpless and alone she felt, and that in part, it was because of me. No, not because I had forced a friendship on her
my daughter continued to ask for play dates right up and through when we started dealing with her conflicts with Sherrie. Not because I had ignored her complaintsshe never shared them. Not because I had told her that there are just some mean girls, and she needed to learn to more carefully choose her friendsthis was actually a very nice girl, who in fact had and continued to do many, many kind, thoughtful, “best friends” sorts of things for her.

No, it’s what I hadn’t done that had failed her. I hadn’t seen the subtle signs of her unhappiness, hadn’t noticed the level of her confusion, and hadn’t realized the importance of helping her learn how to manage her friendships, understand her rights (and role) within them, or feel that she had a listening, knowledgeable, supportive teammate to work things through with.

It’s what I learned that day that led, several years later, to our new book, Little Girls Can Be Mean: Four Steps to Bully-proof Girls in the Early Grades
, where we address the most common social struggles girls face in friendship pairs and groups.  In the book, we reach out to parents and other caring adultsto help them understand how and why meanness happens, and to give them the tools to help girls manage and mitigate the devastating effects of social cruelty and relational aggression. By following the Four Step plan described in the book, parents learn how to approach the issue of meanness, and support their daughters as they learn to navigate the rocky waters of growing up female.
What Parents Can Do
Because much of the “everyday” meanness happens between close friends, girls are often hesitant to talk to parents and teachers, in part because we often brush off social struggles, saying, “she’ll be nicer tomorrow,” or, “ignore her; play with someone else,” or “girls are just mean sometimes.”  Thus, in trying to help, we unwittingly isolate girls from the very support network they need and deserve. 

But, providing support is as simple as 1-2-3-4: Observe, Connect, Guide, and Support to Act.  The Steps are relevant whether your child is a target, is acting meanly, or is simply a bystander to “girl drama.”  

Step 1: Observe your child in new ways and with new eyes, seeking to understand who she is socially.  Is she passive?  Aggressive? A self-starter?  Recognize when things go awry: she suddenly stops wanting to do favorite activities, starts more fights with her siblings, complains of headaches, etc. 

Step 2: Connect with her, without taking over.  Ask questions; empathize.  Let her know you are on her side before switching into problem-solving mode or advising her to be kinder.  This is especially hard (and especially important!) if your child has been mean.

Step 3: Guide her, as a teammate.  Work together to try out possible solutions, whittling down the list to choices doable to you both (e.g., if she decides she wants more play dates, you need to support her follow through).

Step 4: Support Her to Act on one or two of the solutions.  Remember, she chooses her actions and follows through, not you.  Because you will not control how peers respond, follow up with the four Steps again, observing how things unfold, reconnecting over how she now feels, and working together as you guide her to new choices she can then act on. 

While not every social situation warrants all Four Steps, Observing and Connecting often will allow you to see patterns, or notice your child is unhappy.  In applying the Four Steps, caring parents, teachers, and counselors learn a variety of tools and strategies that give the girls they love a simple productive way to respond to the inevitable struggles every girl faces as she enters (and sometimes gets excluded by) the world of groups, clubs, and best friends.


  1. Thanks so much for posting about this book, as I was not familiar with it. I am going out and buying this right now for our parent resource library. It is so hard growing up as a young girl when pairs, triangles, and cliques are so prevalent.

  2. Fabulous post- am sharing. Thanks.


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