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Reality Check: Little Mean Girls

Q. Some girls are bullying my preschooler. My husband thinks it's no big deal because she's not getting physically hurt. Should we step in?

These kids may not be throwing punches, but words can still inflict painful wounds. Girls, somehow, have a special knack for saying just the right slick-tongued thing to wreak havoc on each other's self-esteem.

This is a lesson Nick and I learned recently when Mari, our 7-year-old, burst into tears while getting ready for school. Turns out she was upset because two girls had been making fun of her clothes and she was worried they'd find fault with that day's outfit. Mari had complained about the teasing before, and we'd assured her that it didn't matter what those girls said or thought  -- they were just mean and jealous and should be ignored. But clearly, to Mari, their words couldn't be dismissed. They cut her like a knife, and we hadn't really taken it seriously because there was no blood. Her tears moved us to action.

Try what we did with Mari: First, we reminded her that no matter what anyone says, she is special and beautiful and loved. And then we suggested things to say back to the bullies: "I don't care if you think my pink blazer is ugly. I like it, and that's all that counts." In the meantime, we talked to her teacher about what was going on  -- she was completely unaware of it, we discovered  -- to ask if she could step in and talk to the bullies.

For Mari, that was all it took. The next step would have been to talk to the principal  -- not in anger, which would have made her defensive, but as an ally who could help make the abuse stop.

And let your child know that you're stepping in on her behalf. The message that people care and will protect her may be as important, in the end, as how the situation is handled.