Since a young age, my daughter has been picked on at school all the time. How can I help her cope?

I am asked this question a lot—mostly by moms, although sometimes a dad contacts me. Much of what you do as a parent depends on the age and current coping status of your daughter, as well as what kind of behaviors are taking place at school.

At a very young age, girls begin to show signs of stereotypical “mean” behaviors—pairing off, talking about others, and using friendship as leverage. Kindergarten teachers tell me they see this happen all the time, and a recent study from Brigham Young University showed even preschool girls get involved. This makes the imperative to educate young women about positive relationship skills as early as possible all the more important. An understanding that you don’t have to be “best friends” with everyone, but must treat all with respect can begin in the toddler years, when daughters observe how their moms interact with other women.

Some “picking on” behaviors are definitely more egregious than others. A one time snub in the hallway or on the playground has a different impact than a year long campaign against one girl on the school bus. Documenting the behaviors and assessing their daughters’ response as factually as possible helps parents determine what to do next.

If your daughter is coming home every day crying, shows signs of depression (change in sleep patterns or appetite, sadness, and others) or fears going to school, it’s time to take action. She should visit the pediatrician to see if there are health problems needing treated, or if medication or therapy might be of benefit. It might also be appropriate to contact your daughter’s teachers or guidance counselor to develop a plan that works both at home and away. Exposing her to new experiences and situations where she can be successful can give her confidence and build self esteem, as can the opportunity to forge a friendship with an older girl or other nontraditional friend. The best coping strategy is getting her involved with these ideas, and brainstorming solutions together.