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Popular girls: Outgoing trumps in crowd

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Q. I’m proud of my 13-year-old daughter and want her to know that she is just as good and as worthy as the popular kids at her school. But she has trouble talking to them. Although she is gregarious with her friends — whom I love and who have been close to her since kindergarten — she’s never friendly with people until she knows them well. In fact, she is so shy around the popular kids that she even has trouble saying “Hi” to them when they say hello to her.

I don’t think she trusts them because she felt rejected when she tried to be a part of various groups in the past and also because she heard some of them gossip about their friends. This disappointed her although I’m sure that the other girls in this group are really quite sweet.

A. Trust and caution are two different animals.

Your daughter should trust other people because they have as much of a right to be trusted as she does, and they also have the right to make a few mistakes. None of us is perfect.

Your daughter should also be cautious because this will help her avoid difficult classmates (and teachers and colleagues and bosses) when she can and deal with them when she must. Your daughter should learn this skill on her own because she has reached her teens — a time when she should start standing on her own two feet, even if she wobbles a bit.

You’ll still give advice to her, of course, and plenty of encouragement, too, but now you need to do it in a more collegial, respectful way.

Because teenagers respond to recollections better than advice, try telling your daughter about your own middle school experiences. Tell her how the seventh and eighth grades were ridden with cliques then, just as they are now, and how the popular girls were full of gossip and drama in those days, too. And then tell her that she may have to make a few new friends in middle school, just as you did, because some of her old friends are sure to move away or go to another school or maybe get a little wild. Life is full of changes.

While your daughter is certainly worthy enough to be friends with the popular girls, there are bound to be lonely girls in her class, and they need friends so much more. They may be lonely because they’re having a tough time at home or they’re new to the school or maybe, like your daughter, they were born shy. Explain this possibility to your daughter and ask her to invite one of these girls to shoot baskets with her once or twice a week or to sit with her group at lunch.

It may be hard for your daughter to extend these invitations, but they can turn a bad day into a great one for a lonely child, and they can make a big difference to your daughter, too.

Even if she doesn’t become good friends with these girls, she will be hosting these little events and asking her guests about their lives and their dreams instead of wondering what she should say. This should put these girls at ease, which is one of the greatest skills you daughter can ever learn.

Once she knows how to make people feel comfortable, she will never meet a stranger again.

Find links to previous Family Almanac columns, plus more advice, news and events for parents at On Parenting.

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