Book Review: Little Girls Can Be Mean

Book cover for Little Girls Can Be Mean by Michelle Anthony and Reyna Lindert. Little Girls Can Be Mean: Four Steps to Bully-Proof Girls in the Early Grades
By Michelle Anthony, M.A., Ph.D & Reyna Lindert, Ph.D
St. Martin’s Griffin (2010)

For the second week in a row, I failed to ask The Ten-Year-Old what she was reading on our walk to school this morning. Oops. Instead of ignoring the book post for a second week, I decided to take this opportunity to tell you about a really helpful book I’m reading.

Most people I talk to either remember middle school vividly or have blocked it out of their minds completely. Personally, I don’t think about middle school most of the time, but when my daughter comes home from school looking for advice on a tricky social situation, the memories come flooding back.

Since The Ten-Year-Old is only in fifth grade, and middle school officially starts in sixth grade around here, I had been hoping to have another year of blissfully ignorant parenting in front of me before this stuff really started to hit.


I don’t want to go into any details out of respect for The Ten-Year-Old’s privacy. Fortunately, I don’t have to, because based on what I’m hearing, middle school relationships are just as complicated and painful as ever. Think back to what being in middle school felt like to you, and know that it’s still pretty much the same.

As a parent, my number one job is to give my daughter the tools to act independently and wisely in whatever situation comes her way.

I had been dealing with these social situations as one-off, independent problems. My daughter would tell me about something that happened at school, I would pose some possible solutions, she’d pick the one she wanted to try, and we coasted along until the next problem came up.

But while this approach felt like helping her in the moment, it wasn’t really helping her in the long run. If your solution to a new problem is “Go ask Mom” you’re not really very independent, are you?

Neither of us were getting what we needed out of this process.

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.

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