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TEACHING GIRLS TO STAND OUT FROM crowd

What do you say when your 11-year-old daughter says she's dreading going back to school?

You tell her it's going to be fine. But you can't tell what currents are going to run through that classroom this year, who'll be in and who'll be out.

On holidays, my daughter has formed a close bond with another little girl. They cling to each other for support against older siblings and unfriendly girls.

CONCERNS

But when I got talking to the girl's mother, I found she had nearly the same concerns about her girl as I have about mine. We had the conversation I've had so many times: How do we keep our girls happy at school?

The one bit of good news is that girls seem to bully half as much in secondary as in primary. So my girl's final year in primary may yet be her toughest in school.

But in secondary the eating disorders kick in, with 32pc of girls on diets in Ireland, and 5pc with anorexic or bulimic behaviour.

Why do girls create such a jungle for themselves? I've often thought it has to be the other side of creating relationships.

Women rule the world in relationship terms. They send the birthday cards, they bring the grannies out for tea, they organise the cake sales.

But on the other side of all that sweetness and light, people get discarded as relationships are made.

Nowadays the academics think that girls are as competitive as boys, just in different ways.

THREATEN

A boy might punch a rival who threatens him, but girls exclude other girls who threaten their relationships.

So if your girl is being excluded it doesn't mean she's weird, it means she's a contender.

It may also mean she's a real individual. Groupthink has never liked people like that.

But if your little girl manages to hack her way through school, research shows she has more chance of being a success than the groupthinkers.

A good tip I got was to try to get my girl into activities outside school.

I'm going to dig deep and find her a drama class. She's a sensitive, creative little soul and a drama group might attract others like her.

I've often told her: "Don't feel you have to be someone you're not, be yourself."

But the hard part of all of this is I don't know if I've ever truly believed that.

I've wanted her to be friends with the in-crowd, the ones whose mammies I'm friends with, and I've helped her compete for their attention.

This school year will be the test, not just of her, but of me too. This will be the year when we both find out if we dare to be different.


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