For the last 12 1/2 years I have been living in the field studying my subjects. Hours have been painstakingly spent learning their eating habits, social dynamics, ability to adapt, and communication skills. I’ve collected valuable information about their predators and who are their prey. Living among them has been difficult. At times I think my presence goes unnoticed, blending in to the environment and yet at other times, it is clear that they are visibly agitated that I exist. And yet, even with all this data, I feel like I have barely scratched the surface of understanding this unpredictable creature called Girl.
On Saturday I had the pleasure of meeting a professional and technically creative mom who volunteers a lot of her time behind the scenes for her son’s football team. We started to compare notes on our experiences as moms: boys vs. girls. The one thing that stood out to me was a girl’s constant need to have a best friend. Even as women, most of us are content as long as we have that one special “go to” person. The one friend that you know will be there for you through thick or thin. It’s not that we don’t have multiple sets of friends, depending on what activities we are involved or work situations, but having one friend above all others is a priceless commodity.
I always thought the biggest social skill I would need to prepare my daughters for would be in regards to dating. Little did I know that figuring out the dynamics of girls and building relationships with them would be the greater task. It isn’t enough to tell them “treat girls the way you want to be treated” because a lot of girls just don’t give a rip. Classrooms and playgrounds are riddled with gossip, clicks, emotional bullying, pettiness, jealousy and friendship competitions. The whole boy mess has been trivial next to the girl drama. So how can our daughters maneuver through these girl-illas in the midst and find “the one”? We have to set them up for success by teaching and explaining unspoken, yet necessary, social skills.
Don’t assume your daughter understands the “Rule of 3” or sleepover etiquette. Three girls together is not a healthy number. There will always be a girl left out when two pair up. It’s inevitable. Instead, make sure that playdates and sleep overs consist of even numbers so that everyone has a buddy. There is nothing worse than having a sleepover and being ignored at your own house. On the flip-side, make sure your daughter understands how to be a guest. The hostess should be given the utmost consideration and respect. They shouldn’t have to wait on you, are clean-up after you. And above all – talking about how much fun you had at someone else’s house is never acceptable. It’s not likely that you would be asked over again if you create extra work or emotional stress.
Teach your daughter how to make others feel important. Who likes hanging out with someone who continually talks about themselves? I sure don’t. Explain to your daughter the importance of asking questions and then listening to what the other girl has to say. It’s far easier to figure out what common interests you have with someone if you’ve actually asked them what kinds of books they are reading, shows they are watching, and after school activities they are involved in every day. Plus, it gives them something more to talk about then gossiping. Sometimes girls think that by talking about themselves all the time they will draw others to them, thus building a community of followers. When really, what they are doing is making their life very public and creating lots of acquaintances and no personal relationships.
Explain the difference between bragging and sharing. I hear too many times The Hare trying to “one up” her friends whenever they are having a conversation.
“We’re going to Disney over spring break this year.”
“Yeah – well I’ve been twice already and even on the Disney Cruise.”
I’ve had to role-play with The Hare a better response, explaining to her how hurtful it is to extinguish someone else’s excitement. My gut tells me her intent was really to share that she’s been there too, but it came out boastful. Instead, she could have said something like: “You are going to have so much fun. I did with my family.” or “What are you most excited about doing? I liked meeting Cinderella when we went.” One of my biggest pet peeves is the “Yeah, I know” response. The Tortoise has been scolded many times for that one. Sometimes our friends may have forgotten that they already told us something, or they are just so excited they can’t keep from saying it over and over, but the fastest way to make someone feel unimportant is to brush them off and basically say, “shut up already”.
Make sure they understand body language and social cues. There’s nothing I hate more than someone who just can’t seem to get the message that I don’t enjoy their company. If girls won’t save seats at lunch, wait for you after class, continually talk over you, constantly make excuses why they can’t come over, or don’t invite you over, then they are just not that into you. And you can’t force them to, or else they will simply disappear, and usually with the whole group of girls they are hanging out with because your daughter has become “the annoying one”. If you’ve invited girls over a few times and they don’t reciprocate, then your daughter needs to move on.
Be your daughter’s advocate. Sometimes they don’t know how to make friends and gravitate to the more “popular’ ones only because they think there must be something really great about a girl that everyone else wants to hang out with, and not because they have anything in common. Help your daughter by facilitating opportunities to invite girls over that are already in programs or classes that your daughter is enrolled, i.e. dance class, band or choir, sports activities. When they build relationships outside of school with girls that have common interests or activities, they have a greater chance of success at school. In order to build a sense of community and comradery, girls need to invest in the environments that they already spend the most time.
Be a better listener and pay attention to the clues your daughter is already giving you. How are names flowing out of your daughter’s mouth when you ask her who she hung out with at school? If two names are continually linked together, then there is a good chance that those girls are becoming best friends. Make sure your daughter respects that relationship much like she would a boy/girl relationship. It’s possible that she might have a lot in common with one of them, which could result in building a friendship. But once your daughter starts actively pursuing one attention over the other, it soon becomes a competition resulting in a lot of hurtful behavior and feelings. Does your daughter hang out with a group, or does she draw one person away at a time? Obviously, there are times that girls couple-up naturally, but isolating one girl from an already established group is not only rude, it creates animosity with the rest of the girls. They feel left out and have nothing else to talk about but the girls who left – the assumption is that the ones leaving are talking about them and it creates a vicious circle of gossip.
I can’t wait or hope that my daughters will figure out all of these things on their own. Afterall, there are adult women who still don’t know how to be a friend – they are overly opinionated, control conversations, criticize, and brag, etc. But if we can help our daughters build healthy relationships now, then they will be better received later as women.
And hopefully find a best friend in the process.