Girls on Board from our Head of Year 8
Many parents will realise that for children, and girls especially, friendships are the cornerstone to being happy at school. Hence, our commitment to Girls on Board in Senior School.
Girls on Board an approach that helps girls between the ages of 8 to 18 navigate the choppy waters of friendship, as well as providing guidance for teachers and parents. It was shortlisted for the Wellbeing Initiative of the Year award at the TES Independent School Awards 2019.
Girls on Board works on the principle that all girls (to varying degrees) feel insecure about their friendship group, and this unites them because they experience similar anxieties. As schools and parents are aware, when girls fall out with each other, the resulting distress can be traumatic and damaging. Teachers and parents can limit that distress and trauma by acknowledging certain truths about what girls need, and by fulfilling and facilitating those needs in recessive ways (i.e. by using a reflective narrative).
By empowering girls to find their own solutions, parents need worry less, schools can focus more on the curriculum and the girls learn more effectively because they are happier.
This innovative approach does not prevent girls from ever falling out (that would be impossible); nor does it offer specific advice (as teachers and counsellors do that really well already); nor does it say that girls should not share their problems with adults – quite the reverse. Girls on Board encourages continued dialogue: it is how the teachers and parents react and respond that is radically different.
The Parent Guide refers to a book by Rosalind Wiseman, titled Queen Bees and Wannabes, which contributed to the establishment of Girls on Board. You may be aware of the film Mean Girls. This was produced as a result of the book, recreating in a ‘humorous’ way the pressures that teenagers experience when trying to navigate friendships. However, in truth, the reality is far more traumatic.
How is Girls on Board facilitated?
The first Girls on Board session takes around 50 minutes, laying out the principles behind the approach. Subsequent sessions, delivered in the smaller form groups, act as a reminder and provide an opportunity to discuss specific issues and problems. Discussions focus on the statement that ‘every girl needs a friend’, the pros and cons of group sizes, and behaviours and scenarios faced by girls every day.
As girls share their concerns, they realise they have similar anxieties. Those girls who are more confident in their friendships and have yet to experience these emotions are made aware of these anxieties, which engenders empathy and support on their part.
Role play enables volunteers to act out simple scenes that girls face in real life. As the role play progresses, we witness the girls struggle to reconcile the difficult situations and witness ‘tweaked’ accounts that later get reported back to parents.
We explore the reasons behind why girls share their worries with pets and cushions, and suggest to the girls that they ask their parents if they could negotiate a similar arrangement – that is, telling parents what happened, warts and all, without being told off or told what they did wrong.
For parents, resisting the urge of wanting to step in to fix the situation is very difficult. Yet a simple question at the end – “do you want me to just listen or are you wanting advice?” – often results in the girls saying they feel better already, and have a sense of how to resolve the issue just as a result of being listened to.
By encouraging the girls to guide their parents regarding what support they feel they need, the girls are happier and parents are less anxious.
As Rosalind Wiseman’s book advises, be supportive, yet reinforce your family’s values. Any concerns parents have can always be shared with the school without necessarily asking for action or intervention. Once the school is aware of what might be happening, gentle and discreet enquiries can be made to try to get to the bottom of concerns to check that bullying isn’t happening as, on the whole, bullying is rare.
Despite the best efforts of the school and parents, on occasion things won’t seem to be improving with your daughter’s friendships. The key thing to remember is that things WILL get better, just hang on: support her, love her, listen to her and she will find her own way. As Rosalind Wiseman’s says when describing different parenting types – be the ‘Loving Hard-Ass Parent’.
Head of Year 8
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