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Little Girls Can Be Mean: Four Steps to Bully-proof Girls in the Early Grades

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Worried about mean girls? Help your daughter respond and react to bullying where it starts---in elementary school

As experts in developmental psychology and each a mother of three, Dr. Michelle Anthony and Dr. Reyna Lindert began noticing an alarming pattern of social struggle among girls as young as five, including their own daughters. In today's world, it is likely that your daughter has been faced with bullying and friendship issues, too---and perhaps you're at a loss for how to guide her through these situations effectively. Little Girls Can Be Mean is the first book to tackle the unique social struggles of elementary-aged girls, giving you the tools you need to help your daughter become stronger, happier, and better able to enjoy her friendships at school and beyond.

Dr. Anthony and Dr. Lindert offer an easy-to-follow, 4-step plan to help you become a problem-solving partner with your child, including tips and insights that girls can use on their own to confront social difficulties in an empowered way. Whether your daughter is just starting grade school or is already on her way to junior high, you'll learn how to:

OBSERVE the social situation with new eyes
CONNECT with your child in a new way
GUIDE your child with simple, compassionate strategies
SUPPORT your daughter to act more independently to face the social issue

By focusing squarely on the issues and needs of girls in the years before adolescence, Little Girls Can Be Mean is the essential, go-to guide for any parent or educator of girls in grades K-6.

304 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2010

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About the author

Michelle Anthony

39 books21 followers
Michelle Anthony, M.A., Ph.D. is a child development researcher and educator. She is a co-founder of Wide-Eyed Learning, LLC, which teaches parents and educators the Signing Smart approach to using ASL signs with hearing babies and toddlers. She lives with her husband and signing children in Centennial, Colorado.

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5 stars
158 (14%)
4 stars
364 (33%)
3 stars
429 (39%)
2 stars
114 (10%)
1 star
11 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 164 reviews
Profile Image for Erica.
44 reviews20 followers
January 21, 2013
This book was ok. There were some good thoughts and ideas in it and there were also some things that bothered me.

Two things that bothered me were the suggestions that girls lie or manipulate the situation so as not to be embarrassed or feel left out. (Example: lying and saying you forgot it was crazy sock day to avoid being embarrassed your socks weren't exactly what you wanted. Or purposely changing the routine to make it not work with the outfit the other girls picked and you didn't like, forcing them to have to pick another outfit.) Both of those suggestions seem very inappropriate to me.

The other thing I didn't like was how they kept referring to the four point method as the be all end all of parenting and helping your daughter. Now I know they are selling a book and thus is there product and they have to believe it's the best and sell it as the best in order to make people believe in it as well, but I felt at times they were condescending about mentioning parents actions without the method. Again, I understand the logic and the point but I didn't like the way it came across most times.

That being said, they really did have some good points and suggestions. I really liked the focus on knowing your daughter and connecting with her. There is such a lack of true parental understanding and participation with their children I feel this alone could help so many problems. I also liked the sections for girls and the projects for them to do to boost their self esteem and work on their assertiveness and responsibility. All really great skills and habits for anyone to have and nourish and develop.
Profile Image for Leeanna.
Author 1 book3 followers
March 31, 2012
Having two daughters of my own I thought it would be wise to read this book. I know how mean girls can get and I was hoping for some useful stratagies for helping my second grader with her current friendships and friendships to come.

I found the scenario's in the book very realistic. I enjoyed the way that the author would show two sides of the same scenario from each of the girls involved in some cases. That made me pause and give some thought to how we as parents may overreact to our children without knowing the whole story.

All in all I wouldn't say the book was groundbreaking in tips to help you with your child. It was pretty basic in regards to watching your child, knowing your child, communicating with your child, and listening to your child. It was a decent read, but nothing that any good, caring parent wouldn't do already.
301 reviews
June 17, 2011
I've been waiting for a book about relational aggression and younger girls ever since reading Queen Bees and Wanna Bees, a book I liked but couldn't use for the difficulties my younger daughters were experiencing. Most of the advice in this book is very practical. When you read it, you'll be like, "well, of course." But it's always good to have reminders because in all honesty, sometimes I know what to do but get too caught up with rushing us through the day to really focus on the girls. My favorite part about the book was how they gave tips for parents, teachers, AND daughters. I'm also glad they addressed what to do when you daughter is the mean one because it can happen even with the best parenting.
Profile Image for Tiffany.
177 reviews8 followers
February 7, 2011
This is a must read for anyone who loves a girl between the ages of kindergarden and 6th grade. It's not only informative, but helpful as well.

This book gives numerous solid and specific examples of how you can utilize their 4 step process to help your daughter navigate through her social life. The steps are Observe, Connect, Guide, and Support to Act. They focus on what your child can control vs. what they can't, and they empower her to participate with you in finding solutions to her problems.

I can't say enough good things about this book. I love that the authors support tackling this issue in early elementary school instead of waiting until later when it's often too late. This book is a keeper for my bookshelf for sure.
Profile Image for Tracey Mcd.
211 reviews1 follower
March 23, 2019
More than anything, this is a reminder to be present. To ask engaging questions and help guide instead of telling your daughter what to do.
983 reviews13 followers
June 6, 2011
I thought this book was fine, once I got past the ridiculous title. The basic framework (observe, connect, guide, support to act) was good, and I think I could certainly use it to help me be more mindful in my day-to-day interactions with my daughter now, before she's reached the age where the mean-girl stuff starts getting real. But the main weakness of the book for me was when the authors tried to make with the advice in terms of specific vocab girls could/should use in certain situations. Suggesting that a nine-year-old approach a bully to say something like "I feel sad when you spread rumors about me. I would like us to talk about this" seems, at best, comical and, at worst, kind of irresponsible.
33 reviews
February 25, 2011
This book should be a must-read for anyone who has or works with little girls. It may not be the most brilliantly written book, but it gives a voice and a name for the subtle yet destructive ways girls bully each other. After reading it, I will never again dismiss a comment my girls make about what is going on within the social structure of school. I learned great strategies to help develop assertive, not aggressive, girls. It also gave me a better understanding of the need girls have to feel powerful and some healthy ways to help them get there.
Profile Image for Cynthia.
317 reviews8 followers
August 13, 2013
Really meant for parents of younger aged girls who haven't or are just beginning to experience friendship issues. Lots of repitition, some good nuggets of advice but nothing I'm not already doing. Disappointing.
Profile Image for Jen Ryan.
158 reviews1 follower
June 13, 2012
Technically, I didn't "read" this... I got about one chapter in and got so sick of the "tell them what you are going to tell them" formula, I gave up and sent it back to the library.
Profile Image for Lindsay.
307 reviews2 followers
August 8, 2018
DNF. I made the mistake of doing this as an audiobook and it was painfully boring to listen to. I also purchased this a little ahead of our time as my oldest hasn't started elementary school. May look for a similar book down the road as we try to navigate mean girls but doubt I'll turn back to this one.
Profile Image for Rebekah O'Dell.
Author 3 books78 followers
May 25, 2017
I feel like I will reference this book time and time again in the future. It's chock-full of helpful strategies. (But, as a result, it's not a super cohesive, engrossing read-through.) I'm glad this is now on my shelf as a reference.
Profile Image for Dolly.
Author 1 book643 followers
November 6, 2011
I am the mother of two young girls and having grown up experiencing how mean girls can be (myself included, I'm afraid), I want to help our girls find ways to rise above this tendency, be assertive in their choices (versus passive or aggressive) and be resilient in the face of cruelty and exclusion.

I like that there are a lot of anecdotes (from both of the authors' own families as well as descriptive examples with other children.) And I like that the authors provide concrete steps that parents can take to help children take the steps they need to take themselves, on their way to becoming responsible and caring teens and adults. In all of the examples, the authors point out what the child did well, as well as opportunities to learn and improve.

The four-step approach includes the following:
1. observe
2. connect
3. guide
4. support to act

I took my time reading this book, sharing some of the stories in the book as well as my own with our girls. I made sure to share the "Tips for Girls blocks with them, too. There are a lot of them scattered throughout the book and they provided us many opportunities to discuss their experiences in school and with their friends and classmates. And I like that there are many Teacher's Tips also included in the book that can be easily incorporated into the classroom as a single event or a daily practice. I see some of these techniques incorporated in our girls' school and I will certainly recommend this book to our girls' teachers.

interesting quotes:

"Results indicate that when children have difficulty with their peer group at school, they perform less well on measures of learning and achievement." (p. 11)

"Often girls as young as kindergarten or first grade come to class distracted by a fight with a friend or some group social tension." (p. 13)

"Problems arise for girls, however, because the reality is that most bully-proofing programs ignore or gloss over the friendship struggles that affect girls' ability to learn at school." (p. 13)

"While it might be nice to think you can spare your child from life's struggles, you serve her better when you prepare her. The goal in doing so is not to fix the problem for your daughter, but rather to help her develop the skills she needs to fix her own problems. (p. 29)

"Being assertive means being sweet and considerate mixed with being tough and determined. Finding this balance is no easy task, and most girls will flip-flop from passive (too nice) to aggressive (too mean) while trying to hit the mark on assertiveness. Even adults struggle along these same lines! (p. 179)

Profile Image for Michelle.
599 reviews49 followers
April 5, 2012
Somewhere between 3-4 stars, actually. This might be one to own.

The premise is that we need to establish the kind of relationship where our children feel comfortable coming to us with their problems, knowing that we will take their concerns seriously and be supportive. Then, we help them to be objective and brainstorm together for solutions.

We need to teach girls to be assertive. So often girls (and women) are expected to be passive. Many of them are, but when pushed past their breaking point, they become aggressive. The goal is to teach assertiveness so that they can bypass passivity (which can harm them) and aggression (which can hurt others and relationships in general.)

A four-step program is outlined to help parents and children through this process:

1. Observing (body language, seeing the bigger picture, "hearing" what your child has not yet told you)

2. Connecting (listening actively, being fully attentive to your child without imparting your feelings, values, or judgments (yet), clarifying what you have understood from what your child has said, showing empathy)

3. Guiding (working together to allow your child to better understand the situation and to come up with a wide array of possible solutions, scaling the worry to an appropriate size)

4. Supporting to Act (supporting your child to act from a secure place - your relationship - and a place of personal power, discussing pros and cons, helping your child to choose a solution that she can live with and feel comfortable about.)

Lots of realistic examples along with play-by-play parenting tips for various situations. Girl friendships are fraught with drama and our daughters need all the help they can get to navigate these difficult waters!

Teaching girls to be assertive and to recognize their personal power to respect others and require respect in return? I can totally get behind that.
3 reviews3 followers
January 13, 2014
While this book had a lot of very good suggestions and techniques, and was certainly worth reading (if only due to the sheer lack of bully-related books for the elementary crowd), the authors made some truly baffling suggestions throughout. It really felt as though, for every four reasonable or good ideas there was one that was completely bonkers. The suggestion that you encourage a child to lie (when at this age they have no understanding of white or courtesy lies, let alone lies of self-preservation) was so incredible I had to read the paragraph several times to really believe what they were suggesting. The idea that a child stating "that's your opinion" or similar was non-aggressive clearly hasn't ever seen that phrase in action with young children. While I absolutely agree that thinking that you don't care what others think is a good means of self-preservation, announcing it is aggressive and will escalate the situation.

The other thing I found annoying was the authors almost complete reliance on the authors' own children as examples. It really dug holes into the professional and expert personas they were trying to establish.

All that being said, I think the method has merit and in a very short time beginning to implement it I can see how it does foster a sense of team and trust between my daughter and I. I have yet to test it in a bully situation but it shows promise. Just take their actual suggestions with a generous dash of salt.
Profile Image for Julie.
243 reviews
October 13, 2012
This book outlines a 4 step approach to helping your child dealing with problems, mostly social problems by guiding and empowering them. The steps are observe, connect, guide and support to act. These, as a general rule, are good things for any parent to do as they help their child grow, especially observing (paying attention to them) and connecting with them. I got a bit bored of reading the four steps being applied to many different scenarios with a lot of the same things being said over and over again but there are many good little tips in there and I can see that it would be a great resource to have and go straight to a scenario similar to what your own child might be currently facing. I though it was sound advice overall though some of the suggestions they had as possible resolutions to scenarios struck me as rather manipulative (some are outright lies like letting child tell their friends that they can't do something because their parents won't let them) which some parents might take issue with.
Profile Image for Angela.
450 reviews3 followers
November 15, 2012
I saw this book at the library and picked it up. It had some good insight into things my daughter had experienced with her friends at school. I was not crazy about all of the solutions. In one instance it said that one option your child had was to lie. E.g. a child getting upset about sock day at school and worrying about not having the right socks. One of the options was to tell kids you forgot about sock day. "Oh its sock day?" I find this a cowardly method of teaching your kids to cope with conflict.
Profile Image for Shala Howell.
Author 1 book22 followers
March 21, 2018
Little Girls Can Be Mean by Michelle Anthony and Reyna Lindert starts from the premise that friendship challenges are universal, complicated, and ever-changing in grades K-6. Still, they argue, it is possible to use a simple, clear process to teach your child how to navigate them on her own.

One of the things I like about this book is that the authors recognize that your child can be on either side of a friendship struggle at any given time. She may be the one hurt by the actions of others, but her own actions can just as easily cause pain to another. Either situation can be addressed with the same four-step method.

1)Observe what’s going on.
2)Connect with your child by asking her to tell you about the situation in her own words, listening actively, and possibly sharing a story from your own experience that’s similar. Do not judge or propose a solution in this stage. Simply listen and ask questions about how the situation makes her feel.
3)When your child is ready, guide your child by asking her to brainstorm possible ways to resolve the problem.
4)Support your child by allowing her to pick the strategy that works best for her and act independently to resolve the issue.
Rinse and repeat as necessary.

The book organization is well-thought out. The authors spend the first couple of chapters talking about what relationships in K-6 look like and how the process works in general. The next few chapters give specific examples of common situations like yo-yo friendships, dealing with turf wars, and struggling to fit in. They show how parents and their children tried to resolve the situation, and talked about what worked well and what didn’t. They also describe what things might have looked like if the parents and children in question had followed the process at key points. By the time I was done reading these chapters, I felt fairly well-equipped to begin using their process on my own.

The final chapters sum things up by describing how to apply these same skills to situations that come up at home, at work, and at school.

There are tips scattered throughout that describe activities teachers can do in the classroom, that girls can do on their own, and that parents can do with their children to help them develop the social skills they need to navigate these tricky situations independently.

It’s an excellent book, and if you, like me, have found the social relationships in K-6 to be more complicated than you expected, well worth the time it takes to read
1 review
April 14, 2019
I was hoping for some solid advice on how to approach the middle school years with my daughter. This book boils down to, pay attention to your daughter and connect with her. Which is fine advice.

The reason for the single star comes towards the end of the book where they specifically suggest and encourage girls to be passive aggressive by talking about a characteristic or trait another girl has, without actually saying the girls name. The authors do not call it "being passive aggressive" though, but use it as an example of good communication. What?!

For example, if Susan is being bossy, the suggestion is for Mary to talk with Jane and say, "Boy, I don't like when some people are so bossy, do you? You're not bossy though." I only kept reading after the first quater in the hopes I would find some bit of actual use, but then I reached that part and became enraged at not only the complete waste of time, but the flat-out dangerous suggestion and encouragement for young girls to be openly passive aggressive.
150 reviews
January 26, 2018
This book offers a method of helping young girls deal with bullying. They have four basic steps you can take:
1. Observe. Don’t rush in to fix the problem or give advice. You want to gather information so you have a more complete picture of what is happening.
2. Connect. It’s a good idea to be generally well connected with your daughter, so she will trust you with difficult situations that may arise. You can also connect with her about the specific situation.
3. Guide. Work together with your daughter to come up with a solution.
4. Support to act.

The book was a little repetitive, but it did have some good example scenarios, as well as some situations that might not be traditionally thought of as bullying because no one is being intentionally mean. One helpful example was explaining that a good relationship should have a balanced power dynamic, with each girl taking turns controlling play.
Profile Image for Melody.
606 reviews4 followers
February 26, 2019
This book was a mixed bag. Some of the examples were GREAT, and some of the suggested prompts for active listening and questions for follow up were incredibly helpful. I know I’ll be going back to those pieces again and again as situations arise. But there were a few places where I was uncomfortable with the emphasis on “fitting in” and a few places where I felt more was needed to differentiate between when it���s important to step in and when it’s important to let the girls work it out. I liked many of the boxes that are intended for girls to read, but I would have preferred they were at the end of the book instead of scattered throughout. I’m not likely to hand the book to my daughter in the middle of a page, and searching through the book to find all the boxes intended for girls would be tedious — but if they were all at the end I could say, “I just read this really interesting book. I wonder if you’d read this pat here and tell me what you think. Maybe we could talk about it.”
Profile Image for Tiana.
660 reviews
December 30, 2017
Sadly, I picked this one up because the title is true--Little girls *can* be mean. There are good ideas presented in the book, though I'm not sure that the format was the most accessible. I like that the authors did not belittle the very real emotional pressures that K-6 girls face.

Several important points: girls cannot control others, only their choices; parents need to connect with kids on small things so that they will be able to connect with them about bigger issues; the importance of active listening and helping girls come up with their own ideas about solutions and actions; being assertive versus being passive or aggressive. There was also a valuable distinction being acting like a "mean girl" and "being a bully" and a lot of discussion of helping girls see things from different perspectives.

Still...I just wish it weren't so hard...
Profile Image for Allison.
21 reviews2 followers
January 22, 2022
I think I would give this book a higher rating if there were fewer anecdotes and more emphasis on the takeaways. While much of the advice is intuitive for most parents I would imagine, it’s good to see on paper how even the most simple acts of listening and observing without acting or intervening can help strengthen your relationship with your children. There were some tactics I didn’t like from a coaching perspective- like using certificates as “awards” for doing a social skill well. Do we have to give a trophy or a prize for every positive behavior ever? I feel like anyone who knows anything about psychology understands extrinsic motivation only goes but so far for long-term healthy development. BUT this is a solid read, especially for folks with 3rd-8th grade girls. Glad I read this now to anticipate how behavior can unfold at such young ages!
Profile Image for Karla.
197 reviews
October 6, 2017
With my daughter moving to 1st grade I was worried about other mean kids. I started reading about things when she was in Kindergarten and a few of the examples actually happened to her. I was proud that I was able to help her through, but I wanted a little guidance for when she was older and needed to deal with these issues on her own. I do like the 4 step method of Observe, Connect, Guide, and Support to Act. The guiding stage is something I'm working on. I want her to come up with options and then choose. It's a little hard at age 6 but if we start now then she'll have practice for the big things later. I know how mean girls can be and I want a way for her to see motive instead of just blindly following others. This book does help with the clear thinking approach.
Profile Image for Frank Jude.
Author 3 books41 followers
February 16, 2021
Yes, girls can be bullies, though their form of bullying tends to be more emotionally targeted rather than the physical aggression common among boy bullies. These two mama-psychologists offer an analysis of "The Rise of Social Cruelty" before launching into a detailed and proactive 4-stage system to "bully-proof" young girls.

The book's best parts are reviews of real-life scenarios and how to apply the four steps. And the last section, "Think, Share, Do..." is a wealth of activities that can help a parent (or teacher) to create and build upon the rapport and container for dealing with meanness.

A note: this book is designed for working with girls from the age of kindergarten to the pivot to middle school (K - 6th Grade).
Profile Image for jay walker.
140 reviews
January 30, 2018
It was OK. Nothing an attentive loving parent wouldn’t do anyway, but a good reminder to not try to fix everything yourself and use opportunities thoughtfully to connect with your daughter.
The authors are selling their product, The Four Steps (observe, connect, guide, support to act) and at times the book comes off like a readable commercial. Very repetitive, just shows different situations and how they can all magically be solved with the Four Steps.
Advice like “take her for a walk and ask what’s bothering her” or “be a fly on the wall at play dates and sleepovers to listen to group dynamics” is a little, like...duh.
13 reviews2 followers
October 2, 2021
I always recommend this book to other girl moms. It does have some basic advice you get from other parenting books, but there are some few key points that I haven’t seen over and over again from other books. I think society does underestimate the harm done by relational aggression and I think that the point about realizing your own daughter will be both the victim and the aggressor at least once is important to keep in mind. It is absolutely true. So the advice about building both their resilience and their empathy is huge.
Profile Image for Kassi.
74 reviews2 followers
November 9, 2019
I don't really like "self-help"-ish books but when my sweet Kindergartener came home from school sad because a "friend" was being mean to her, it was not something I felt equipped to deal with. Kindergarten just seemed way too early for these problems to be arising and I just wanted some back-up so I didn't settle on telling my kid to say something hateful to the little dumpster-fire child that was being mean to her.

This book was actually really helpful and set my mind at ease a little.
Profile Image for Janine.
158 reviews2 followers
July 14, 2017
I didn't exactly finish reading this because we were heading out for a long vacation and it needed to be returned to the library. I am planning to purchase a copy to finish and keep as a reference. My daughter is 8 1/2 and this book is very relevant to helping girls navigate the social world in which they live.
303 reviews
April 22, 2018
A nice no-nonsense parenting book for moms with girls. I liked the use of example scenarios and the overall message. Lots of good reminders of the importance of staying connected with your child and how the trust you develop over time continues to pay off. I will have to revisit again in a year or two as the kiddo grows.
Profile Image for Kristen Will.
61 reviews
July 2, 2018
Every parent and teacher should read this book! Helping our children (I do somewhat resist the authors’ notion that relational aggression happens just/mostly to girls) deal with bullying, friend issues, and disappointment in general is so important in a day and age when we rush to solve their problems for them.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 164 reviews

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