“I’m not your friend anymore!” We’ve all heard an indignant toddler yell these words to a playmate.

Any parent of a daughter will tell you, girl drama starts young. But while little girls resolve issues quickly, as girls get older, friendship problems become more difficult.

Cliques form, jealousy rages, secrets are told…girls can be downright cruel. Where boys are likely to resort to physical aggression, girls use something called “relational aggression,” which involves social tactics like gossiping, rumor spreading and exclusion to be mean.

It usually starts in elementary school when groups begin to form. Being part of a group is natural for girls, giving them a bond over common interests and a feeling of acceptance. It’s what girls sometimes do in those groups that can be concerning. Relational aggression happens when friendship is used as a weapon and girls try to gain power by mistreating other girls.

I’ve watched my own daughter struggle with friends, which led me to a book called The Smart Girl’s Guide to Friendship Troubles that gives girls perspective on what it means to be a friend (i.e. respect) and how they should be treated by their friends. Of course a book is a good start but you’re probably wondering, what can I do? Here are more ways to help your daughter:

  • Be a good role model: Do you gossip about your own friends? Show your daughter what respect means by resisting the urge to talk about others behind their backs.
  • Don’t expect her to like everyone: Explain to your daughter that she doesn’t have to like everyone, however you do expect her to treat all others with respect.
  • Help your daughter speak up for herself: Girls need help knowing what to say in difficult situations. Help her develop the skills to say things like: “It hurts my feelings when you don’t talk to me at school.”
  • Don’t get too involved: If your daughter comes home in tears, help her figure out how to resolve the situation on her own instead of rushing to call the other girl’s parents (unless it’s a really big problem). Ask questions like: What did you try? How did it work? What else can you try?

Girl friendships become difficult when they don’t deal with issues in an upfront way and instead resort to telling secrets and gossiping. Helping your daughter find the language and courage to express her feelings enables her to stand up for and respect herself, and it often resolves the problem too.

by Sara Ellington –  Sara Ellington is the co-author of two books on motherhood, The Must-Have Mom Manual and The Mommy Chronicles. Sara lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband and their two children.