Lorraine Cushing-Kleber, Head of Counselling

School psychologists know only too well the complexities many girls feel navigating the world of female friendships. We also witness the plentiful benefits for girls when they feel connected to others and have a sense of belonging. Unquestionably, girls provide great support to each other and offer dedicated compassion and attention to friends’ emotions. Yet in a society where social comparison, envy and a desire for popularity and status is rampant, how do we empower young women to remain kind, empathic and inclusive and aspire to be young women of integrity?

Researchers now know that emotional and social intelligence can matter more than IQ and are predictors of long-term success. These ‘soft skills’ are now recognised as key life skills. Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children understand and manage their emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others and establish and maintain positive relationships. Pro-social skills, kindness and connections matter!

As children move into adolescence they become increasingly devoted to their peers and are also more likely to come into conflict with them. Children are still learning how to effectively communicate and set boundaries with others and social friction and hurt feelings can sometimes result. This can cause intense emotional stress both for the children themselves, and also for the adults who care for them. It’s not unusual for children to need adult guidance on managing friendships, friendship conflicts and caring for their friends when experiencing difficulty and these are valuable moments to steer children towards kindness and healthy relationships. Children learn ethical values by watching the actions of adults they respect and can learn a lot about managing relationships through what they see modelled.

So as parents and educators, how can we foster a culture of kindness and care in girls?

  • Model empathy and kindness – Demonstrate to children how to show understanding, compassion and kindness towards others.
  • Make caring for others a family priority and value.
  • Model and encourage ways to ‘talk up’ others rather than ‘criticise’ and have a ‘we don’t engage in hurtful gossip’ rule at home.
  • Encourage girls to build friendships but to avoid ‘cliques’.
  • Teach girls the difference between ‘good popularity’ (when people know and like you, kind and inclusive to others, welcome others into friendships) and ‘bad popularity (building status through power and control, feared by other girls, disrespects and ignores and excludes other girls).
  • Help girls understand the difference between sharing of information (information is truthful and not used to hurt, shame or exclude others) versus gossiping (information that is not truthful or is designed to hurt, shame or exclude others).
  • Guide children in managing destructive feelings – Teach children that all feelings are okay, but some ways of dealing with them are not helpful. Girls need our help learning to cope with these feelings in productive ways.
  • Help girls understand the difference between taunting (hurtful comments) and teasing (playful joking between friends).
  • Don’t immediately confuse conflict with bullying  – When girls suffer a social injury, it’s easy to worry that she has been bullied. While this may be the case and we would encourage adult assistance,  the term bullying is best reserved for repeated, one-way aggression against someone who cannot defend herself effectively.
  • Help girls identify the difference between what Dana Kurford from U R Strong calls ‘Friendship Fires’ (normal conflicts between friends) and Mean-on-Purpose behaviour. By making this distinction and establishing a common language, we can better coach and guide children towards healthy friendships.
  • Provide practical opportunities for children to practice gratitude.
    Research shows that people who are in the habit of expressing gratitude are more likely to be helpful, generous, compassionate and forgiving – and are more likely to be healthy and happy.

Creating a culture of kindness, care and compassion is central to Kambala’s vision to empower young women of integrity. Thursday 12 September is R U OK Day – a national day of action to remind everyone to ask “Are you OK?” and to support people who may be struggling with life’s ups and downs. At Kambala, the School counsellors and teachers held discussions with girls about caring for others, looking after friends, healthy friendships and key support skills.

About Lorraine Cushing-Kleber

Lorraine Cushing-Kleber is the Head of Counselling at Kambala. As a Psychologist, Lorraine oversees Kambala’s counselling service across the whole School and works closely with classroom teachers and pastoral teams. She holds a Master’s degree in Educational Psychology, a Graduate Certificate in Health Psychology, a Bachelor of Education and a Counselling certification. Lorraine is also a NESA-accredited provider of professional learning for teachers. Lorraine was a secondary teacher and year coordinator for many years before retraining as a Psychologist.