I will never forget the first day of kindergarten for my oldest daughter. It was as if she had been training for it her entire short life, she knew what she was going to wear weeks before the actual event…and it wouldn’t even surprise me if she had rehearsed what she would say to “would be” friends on the playground. My daughter understood that this was the beginning of her life apart from her home life. It was the first of many steps toward independence. Drs. Anthony and Lindert, in “Little Girls Can Be Mean,” discuss the experience this way:

With girls’ entrance into elementary school comes a newfound awareness of themselves as members of social communities outside their family. Despite the fact that a great majority of children attend preschool, it is not until kindergarten that they are cognitively capable of recognizing themselves as participants in cultural communities outside their homes.

The problem, however, occurs when a parent doesn’t make the connection between a “crisis” that may arise during this transitional phase and the actual meaning behind it. Take, for example, the school spirit event (i.e. crazy sock or hat day) and the need for the perfect outfit. While a parent may dismiss this requirement for their daughter, not understanding why she is having a complete meltdown about not having crazy socks worthy of her friends’ approval, it might be a signal of other underlying issues at play with her social circle. This might be the first of many tests for her to be accepted or rejected as a member of her school community. This is not to suggest that a parent makes an unscheduled trip to the store to fix this immediate problem, but rather to use this opportunity to explore what is really going on with your daughter and help guide her to become more resilient with her friend group.

I am a big fan of Anthony and Lindert’s book because it not only addresses the issues that emerge when girls start going to school, but it provides strategies to manage them. In their book, they outline a process of observing, connecting, guiding, and supporting actions to help parents get to the root of what is happening with their girls and actually deal with it. To give you an idea of what they suggest in this situation, here are the four processes:

Observe: Take the time to think about the larger context of the social issues, has your daughter had any recent disagreements with any of her friends? Is there something else possibly going on that is conflating the situation?

Connect: Give your daughter the opportunity to experience her feelings with a loving listening partner. Slow things down by making physical contact either by holding her hand or sitting close. Use this time to admit that you may not have been ready to listen before, but you are now.

Guide: Once you have fully observed the situation and connected with your daughter, now you are in a position to provide guidance. Do this by identifying the real issue (understanding that children may focus on one aspect of a problem when the real issue is something entirely different). Once you know this, help by brainstorming a list of possible solutions embracing any and all suggestions (ultimately narrowing down to only those you both are willing to follow through on).

Support to act: Be prepared to fully support your daughter as she prepares to act on her own behalf.

This is a relatively brief synopsis of what they provide in their book, but it gives you an idea of what each step in the process is. I will continue to use Dr. Anthony and Dr. Lindert’s teachings in my blog posts whenever I can. I highly recommend their book.