I met Stacy and Stephanie in the third grade. The three of us shared a seat on the school bus, twice a day, five times a week, for nine months.

Almost thirty years later, Stacy and Stephanie are two of only a handful of kids from my elementary-school days whose names I remember. I wish I could say it was with fondness, but I can’t. You see, these two seatmates were my first encounter with mean girls.

What exactly is a “mean girl”?

One website defines them as girls who exhibit “relational aggression” such as “gossip, verbal put downs of others, bullying, backstabbing, and using others to get ahead.” Back in my yellow bus-riding days, meanness took the form of passive aggressive put downs, subtle insults disguised as discussion and critique.

Fast forward to my late thirties and I’m now the mom of four daughters. In the last two years, each of them, from my five-year-old to my twelve-year-old, have had at least one encounter with a mean girl.

How do I help them respond well when they face gossip, verbal put downs, or bullying? Here are three things I teach them.

1. Someone Else’s Words and Actions Reflect Them, Not You

Before undergrad, I worked full-time as a correspondence assistant at a large ministry in Southern California. There I read and responded to letters we received from viewers of the weekly television program. Each time I poured over one full of criticism, it struck me that the judgmental words reflected the heart of the writer much more than whatever was being scrutinized.

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