Friday, August 27, 2010

GUEST BLOG POST: Create a Bully-proofing Plan - by Michelle Anthony, MA, PhD

My fifth-grade daughter is fretting about how hard the science fair project will be this year. You’ve done a project every year and really enjoyed it, I remind her. I know, she concedes, but this year we actually get graded on it. I can hear the worry in her voice. You’ve always done well on your assignments I offer. No, this is different, she insists. This year it will be really hard. I get it. It might seem like we’re talking about science fair projects, but really we’re having another discussion all together. I put my arm around her. I can see you’re really nervous about the start of school, I open. The tension leaves her face. We snuggle on the couch and talk about the real issue—her worry over friends. I ask questions and listen, and by the end of our conversation, she looks and acts happier than she has for days.

It wasn’t always so simple to figure out the undercurrent of what she was feeling. At six, she became entangled in a yo-yo friendship with her best friend. Confused and alone, she hid what she was experiencing for months. When she reached out to her teacher, she was told to toughen up. So she suffered in silence for longer. After all, she was not being physically attacked. She was not being threatened. These were just “normal” girl things that happen all the least that’s what she’d been told—and believed. It wasn’t until I found a crumpled note between her bed and desk that I began to uncover what she was going through.

It took a long time for my daughter to understand that what she was experiencing, as “normal” as it may have been, was not ok. During that time, as I reached out to numerous other parents and professionals, I discovered how many young girls were struggling with similar issues—friendship riffs, group oustings, defriendings, etc.—“regular” social struggles that were leaving girls lonely, confused, and distracted in school. In elementary school! There were no resources to help little girls approach these big issues.

We wrote Little Girls Can Be Mean: Four Steps to Bully-proof Girls in the Early Grades to help parents and other caring adults understand how and why meanness happens, and have a plan for what to do about it. With the Four Steps, you know what to do next in almost any situation, in the window of time when parents can best influence and guide girls, before the teen years when peer influence takes over and pushes caring adults away.

I know what a difference it’s made in my own life with my own children—each so very different than the other. But each needing to learn to face the joys and sorrows of friendships won, lost, and betrayed. And each deserving a knowledge supportive guide to help her steer and let her know she is not alone as she learns to navigate the rocky waters of growing up female.

Dr. Michelle Anthony has always been passionate about her work with families and children. After graduating with honors in Educational Studies from Brown University, she received a Master’s in Child Studies and Teacher’s Certificate from Tufts University. She taught for five years, and then got her PhD in Developmental Psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. Since this time, Michelle has continued to work as a learning specialist with both typical and developmentally-delayed preschool and elementary-aged students. She has taught graduate-level classes as well, and has been a speaker at international conferences on issues related to education and development. Michelle is also a columnist and writes feature articles for Scholastic’s Parent and Child Magazine. She is mother to three children, two girls and a boy, all under the age of 10.

As a result of her own daughter becoming involved in a series of “Mean Girl” interactions in first grade, Michelle’s interest in this topic was personalized. She has since spent almost four years interacting with counselors, social workers, school psychologists, teachers, principals, administrators, parents, and others around this topic. She and her family live outside of Denver, CO.  Visit

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