DEAR CAROLYN: My daughter is in seventh grade. Her best friend brags a lot about her grades (“I got an A” … said with a sing-songy voice). Same best friend has issues with perfectionism. Crumbles if she gets less than an A.
My daughter is an all-A-and-one-B type of student so far, which is fine with us. We’re proud of her, yet we’re trying to teach the ethic that if you’ve done your best, then we’re happy and you should be happy too, since there is likely to be a really tough class someday where a B or even C+ is something you had to work hard to get. A sort of “shoot for the stars” kind of mentality.
She and the best friend get along great save for this issue. I’ve been trying to think of ways to help my girl deflect the bragging, yet I think she’s loath to say any sort of “quip” in retort, because perhaps she knows instinctively that this girl lives for A’s, and has to have them or she comes apart. I don’t want to teach my girl to be mean or to ditch her friend, but I also don’t like seeing her be “made” to feel bad for not getting all A’s herself. Any ideas on how to deflect bragging short of dumping the friend?
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DEAR H.: Wait — dumping the friend? Quips? Who’s the middle-schooler here?
You’re at least a step too close to this, and that’s understating it as penance for my opening line. You don’t get to decide that deflection is your daughter’s best option; your job is to love her, teach her basic relationship skills, model empathy, field her direct questions, encourage her to develop her own answers, and otherwise stay out of the way.
In this case, I’d put empathy first. This best friend sounds terribly stressed over what is essentially an empty path. Hustling for grades devalues, and arguably undercuts, learning because grade-gunners tend to take fewer risks. Intellectual risk is the path to so many valuable things — including but not limited to creativity, broad connections from one subject to the next, resiliency in the face of challenges, and discovery (both academic and self-).
To the extent your daughter invites your help, provide her with chances to understand her friend’s motivations better. “What would motivate someone,” you can ask her, “to stoop to nanny-nanny-boo-boo taunting of her own best friend? Is tearing someone else down the behavior of someone who feels good about herself?”
If she says yes, then the next question presents itself: “Is that what you’d do, if you got an A and she didn’t?”
A “no” answer at either point signals a lesson learned by your daughter that she can, on her own, learn to apply in real time as she deals with her friend. Revisit as needed.
If instead you get yeses, then you note that you’re disappointed by her answer, because you expected her to understand as well as anyone how it feels to be on the receiving end of such taunting.
Then, again, you back off and let her work on this in her mind and on the ground as she navigates her friendship. Friendships are emotional laboratories for kids. Don’t take over the experiment just so your daughter gets an A.