"The tyranny of nice and kind — the demand that girls act perfectly nice and accommodating — is oppressive to girls and wreaks havoc with their relationships. Such expectations require girls to push everything else they feel and think, especially anger, underground or out of public view. This creates fertile soil for those forms of aggression people have come to associate with girls — gossip, rumor spreading, subtle forms of exclusion and indirectness — because such tactics protect a girl's image as nice while they give her some way to express her anger and experience power. One of the best things parents can do for girls is to encourage them to speak their thoughts and feelings, and to help them stay connected to reality in the face of simplistic, stereotypical views of what a girl should look, act, and be like."
Lyn Mikel Brown, Ed.D.
Co-author, Meeting at the Crossroads
Cliques form and reform during this time.
In elementary school, girls form groups to explore common interests and out of a need to be included and, sometimes, to be in control. These groups can become a problem when they get mean, exclusionary and gossipy. But the fact that they form is normal. Experts recommend that you become a role model for good social behavior, help your daughter name her thoughts and feelings, and act as a sounding board to help her talk about issues with cliques and friendships.
Best friends become a kind of currency.
In elementary school, many girls feel it's essential to have a best friend. "Best friends become a sort of currency," says Lawrence Cohen. "The words, 'I'll be your best friend' also mean, 'I have power over you, because I could take my friendship away.' " Rachel Simmons notes, "That particular threat is a prime example of relational aggression. The prevalence — and normalization — of bullying within girls' friendships can make it difficult for some girls to call a friend out on bullying behavior, because she is a friend." Lyn Mikel Brown adds, "It's important that we tell girls that they don't have to be friends with everyone, especially people who don't treat them well."
Relational aggression heightens in elementary school.
"Relational aggression is the use of friendship as a weapon," says Simmons. Girls can gain power by forming close friendships that exclude other girls, although the act of forming a close friendship is not by nature exclusive. "Girls are entitled to their social groups," notes Simmons. "But it's what they do within those friendships and with them that can become aggressive — by gossiping, by sharing secrets, even just by giving dirty looks to girls not considered cool." Jealousy can also be one of the causes of bullying. "A lot of times, girls bully each other because they feel jealous," adds Catherine Steiner-Adair. "Girls behave this way because they are supposed to be nice and don't know how to express their anger except through indirect means. This doesn't make the behavior OK, but it's important to understand when you talk to your daughter about it."
Some girls may need help with social skills.
Some girls are shy — and do need help asserting themselves and getting to know other kids. Socializing is sometimes best achieved informally. If they are able to hang out in the playground, kids "find" each other. "Some girls are temperamentally more introverted," says Michael Thompson, "but it's only a small percentage of these girls that we need to worry about. If your daughter has some friends and is liked by kids, she might need some encouragement and some help arranging play dates, but she doesn't need to be worried about."