Girl Scouts stress ‘girl power’ in new recruitment efforts

800As American women seek a larger role in politics, fairer wages and an end to sexual harassment, the Girl Scouts see an opportune time to show some swagger in promoting their core mission: girl empowerment.

They recruited Queen Latifah to narrate a video featuring famous former Girl Scouts — Venus Williams, Katie Couric and many more. And they indulged in a little bragging when Girl Scout alumna Meghan Markle married into Britain’s royal family.

“Life is always better with a Girl Scout by your side, and Prince Harry truly hit the jackpot,” enthused a post on Girl Scout Blog.

But the marketing campaign is about more than boasting. It’s also an effort to confront several high-stakes challenges, including reversing a long slide in membership, making the case for all-girl scouting after the rival Boy Scouts included girls and updating the organization’s curriculum for a new generation that expects more than cookies and camping.

“What’s happening in society as a whole makes it all the more important for girls to have every possible opportunity to learn that their voice and opinion matter, and to have the courage and confidence to become who they want to be,” said Megan Ferland, CEO of the Seattle-based Girl Scouts of Western Washington.

As American women seek a larger role in politics, fairer wages and an end to sexual harassment, the Girl Scouts see an opportune time to show some swagger in promoting their core mission: girl empowerment to counter declining membership. (July 26)

One major challenge, she said, is to puncture some of the myths and stereotypes that affect public perceptions.

“People hear ‘Girl Scouts’ and think, ‘Oh, those cute little girls that sell the cookies and make macaroni necklaces’ and that’s it,” Ferland said. “It is so much more than that.”

She cited activities such as robotics and rock climbing, a strong emphasis on community service and the iconic cookie sales, which she depicted in a recent newspaper essay as “the largest girl-run business in the world.”

The Boy Scouts decided last year to admit girls into all programs. But the Girl Scouts’ parent organization, Girl Scouts of the USA, will not follow suit by admitting boys.

“I believe with full conviction that Girl Scouts is the best leadership organization in the world for girls, and that is because we are girl-led and girl-centric,” said Violet Apple, CEO of Girl Scouts of Central Maryland.

The Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, as well as other youth organizations and sports leagues, have experienced membership declines in recent years, for reasons ranging from busy family schedules to the lure of online games and social media. The Girl Scouts say they now have about 1.76 million girls and 780,000 adult members — down from about 2.9 million girls and 900,000 adult volunteers in 2003.

Some recruitment efforts reflect the Girl Scouts’ pride in the diversity of their membership. For example, the organization over the past two years has created more than 240 new troops in low-income Los Angeles neighborhoods to serve several thousand girls from Hispanic, African-American, Korean and other communities.

Denise Nowack, who oversees the recruitment programs, said the Girl Scouts council in LA decided to cover basic first-year costs for the new troops, including membership fees and uniforms, to ease the financial burden.

Many other councils struggle to find enough adults to serve as volunteer troop leaders, leaving hundreds of girls on waiting lists.

“It’s really sad,” said Asha Menon, a troop leader for seven years in the Atlanta suburb of McDonough. “All these parents show up with kids who want to be in it — but they want another adult to take the lead.”

In Chicago, TV producer Craig Harris has tried — with minimal success — to persuade other men to join him as Girl Scout leaders. Harris started as a volunteer 14 years ago when his eldest daughter — now a confident college student — joined the Girl Scouts as a shy 5-year-old.

Harris’ 11-year-old daughter is active in the Girl Scouts, pursuing her interest in science.

“I lead a full career, but I’ve found ample time to be a volunteer,” Harris said. “My oldest daughter went all the way through, and I was there at every stage. It was invaluable time building those memories with her.”

Among the many mothers juggling work and Girl Scout duties is Audra Fordin, owner of an auto-repair business in New York City’s Flushing neighborhood. She is founder of an education initiative called Women Auto Know and leader of her teenage daughter’s troop.

Fordin is confident the Girl Scouts can maintain their stature as an all-girl institution even as the Boy Scouts go coed.

“Some girls may not feel as capable of doing the same things boys can do,” she said. “But when we come together in a group, we can accomplish whatever we want to do.”

Reeny Boutros, 18, of Wichita, Kansas, started Girl Scouts at age 5. She said the experience helped her develop the skills and confidence that recently earned her admission to Stanford University, with plans to major in computer science.

Boutros has received Girl Scouting’s highest honors — first earning the elite Gold Award, then being selected as one of 10 National Young Women of Distinction. She’s a technology whiz now, but recalled struggling with studies back in middle school.

“The badge work (with Girl Scouts) was one of the few academic recognitions I got,” she said. “I got exposed to archaeology, photography. It was a great way to boost my self-esteem.”
Boutros’ experience reflects the Girl Scouts’ push to engage girls in science, technology, engineering and math. There are a host of new STEM-related badges, and there’s a newly opened year-round camp in Dallas — the STEM Center of Excellence— that will offer K-12 STEM programs on a 92-acre campus.

But the best part of being a Girl Scout? “It’s always been camping,” she said. “You put your phones away and bond with nature — and just giggle uncontrollably with your friends.”




The Glory of a Skinned Knee

girl tends to skinned knee

“Be careful!” Stop and think about that phrase—and how often you say it to your daughter. The intention behind those two words is, of course, full of love for her and a desire to keep her out of harm’s way, but the effect could be that your girl errs too much on the side of caution, becomes overly inhibited, and misses out on some of the greatest adventures and opportunities life has to offer.

One of those great opportunities? A skinned knee.

It might sound crazy, but think back to the times when you were younger and skinned a knee (or an elbow, or maybe even landed yourself in a short-term cast). There’s a reason why you might remember those moments so vividly—in these times of trial, when we’re pushed to endure a little more than usual, we develop strength.

Not convinced? Check out these four reasons to think of a skinned knee as a badge of honor.

1.      It’s a sign that in the face of a challenge, she said, “Maybe I can!”
This kind of optimistic thinking is exactly the quality that will lead her to be a go-getter in life and to have the possibility-thinking skills employers are looking for. Building her courage and confidence will give her more fun and fulfilling experiences now and will benefit her big time down the road.

2.      A healing scrape teaches resilience
Our bodies are pretty incredible at bouncing back after minor injuries. Sure, there’s a process—it might hurt, there might be a scab for a while—but in the end, her scraped knee heals. This is a great parallel to the process we need to go through to recover from other disappointments and setbacks in life. Seeing herself heal physically might help her see her own strength and know that she’s capable of overcoming challenges.

3.      Her friends will see her differently
Falling down, scraping her knee, and getting back up again is a story of bravery—one that often comes with street (or, in her case, playground!) cred. Why? Because when the going gets tough, we want to know our friends can stick with us and weather the storm. Her scraped knee sends a subtle signal to your girl and her friends that she’s got what it takes to handle whatever the world throws at her.

4.      She’s choosing the “better” risks
Kids and teens gravitate like magnets toward intense, exhilarating experiences. It’s just how they’re chemically wired. Experts say that when we encourage girls to take healthy risks—say, hitting the local skate park or going whitewater rafting with friends—we’re fulfilling that need in them and making it less likely that they’ll turn toward the more unhealthy risks that could have serious, lifelong consequences.

So the next time you’re tempted to tell your girl to be careful, remember that those words could orient her toward avoiding risks in general—even those that could benefit her. Instead, consider telling her to be smart (there is, after all, a difference between trying out some new surfing moves and skydiving without a parachute!) and, most of all, to have fun. And if she does get a scraped knee or other fairly minor injury along the way? Know that she’ll be stronger and better off for it.

Three Guaranteed Ways to Have the Best Summer Camp Experience Ever

We asked Girl Scouts what made their camp experience epic. Turns out it boils down to three main things:

1. Having a friendly attitude when meeting fellow campers.

2. Loving the outdoors and everything that comes with it—like field trips, sports, and wildlife.

3. Supporting one another through team spirit as girls solve challenges together.

But don’t take our word for it—hear it from the girls themselves!

“I like camping because you can talk with your friends and do fun things and get to know everyone better.” —Nine-year-old Girl Scout, Texas

“I enjoy being outside and being active with my Girl Scout troop because it is simply fun to get together and play games with good, healthy competition.” —14-year-old Girl Scout, Washington 

“I got to have fun with my friends. And I have never done a ropes course, so it was awesome. Some of my friends were kinda scared, so I helped them and that made me feel good.” —Nine-year-old Girl Scout, Illinois 

But girls aren’t alone in their adoration of camp; parents love it too. Like Angela Borchert, who says,

“When I picked her up from camp, she was filthy, but she also had the biggest smile on her face—she was absolutely glowing. We stopped for lunch on the way home and she couldn’t stop talking about camp (and that’s saying a lot because she’s already a chatterbox). She was already planning the following year’s trip.”
Girl Scout summer camp offers a pro-girl environment for your girl to learn, socialize, stay active and have great adventures. And enrolling her is one of the strongest ways you can contribute to her healthy development.

The best part? She doesn’t need to already be a Girl Scout to attend! Want her to get in on the fun? Sign up for Girl Scout camp!

The North Face and Girl Scouts Collaborate to Develop 12 Outdoor Adventure Badges and Reach New Heights of Girl Leadership

Girl Scouts has been blazing the trail for girls’ leadership in the outdoors for more than a century, and our Outdoor badges (all 52 of them!) continue to be one of the most popular badge categories. So today is a big day for the Girl Scout Movement! Drumroll, please—we’re thrilled to announce a multiyear collaboration with The North Facethrough which girls will challenge themselves, learn about the natural world, and continue the Girl Scout tradition of having life-changing outdoor experiences.

To power the next generation of women who push boundaries and move mountains, The North Face has teamed up with us to support the development of 12 new Outdoor Adventure badges, with programming ranging from mountaineering and climbing to backpacking, hiking, and trail running. As part of Girl Scouts’ iconic outdoor experience, with The North Face’s support, Girl Scouts will introduce bold new programming that embodies both organizations’ shared mission to provide girls, regardless of socioeconomic status, with outdoor experiences that enhance their leadership skills and confidence and encourage them to seek challenges.

These 12 new badges, which will roll out over the next two years, will teach girls in virtually every U.S. zip code about the benefits of exploration as they take healthy risks, overcome fears, and revel in the beauty of the natural world. The North Face is also lending its expertise in design and tapping its network of subject matter experts to inform the badge activities.

At Girl Scouts, we believe there are never too many opportunities for girls to experience the great outdoors and all the wonder and adventure it offers. The research is clear: outdoor experiences are imperative to fostering leadership skills in girls.

And we’re the experts in this space—spending time in the outdoors is a cornerstone of the Girl Scout Leadership Experience and has been since Girl Scouts’ inception. Our all-girl environment and proven programming show girls the benefits of spending time in the world beyond walls in ways that encourage them to take healthy risks and overcome their fears.

In a 2014 study from the Girl Scout Research Institute, 72 percent of girls said they improved a skill and a third of girls said they overcame a fear through outdoor experiences in Girl Scouts. Half of the girls stated that they could not have done a particular outdoor activity (such as archery, horseback riding, or canoeing/kayaking) were it not for Girl Scouts.

Thanks to this new programming, Girl Scouts will be prepared to inspire even more G.I.R.L. (Go-getter, Innovator, Risk-taker, Leader)™spirit in girls as they create their own outdoor adventures and develop crucial leadership skills, preparing them for a lifetime of exploration and success.

19 Genius Ways to Recycle Girl Scout Cookie Boxes

As cookie season comes to a close, girls are packing up their booths, tallying their earnings, and planning their epic summer adventures. But some troops may be wondering, “what do we do with our leftover cookie boxes?!” Because Girl Scouts always use their resources wisely, we asked troops to share the most clever ways they gave extra boxes of cookies new life. Here are our faves!

1. Make moving easier:

2. Keep your troop organized:

3. Bling Your Booth with banners:

4. Bling Your Booth with props:
5. Bling Your Booth with costumes:

More Bling Your Booth ideas > 

6. Earn a Girl Scout Art badge:

7. Earn your Letterboxer badge:

8. Work on your Think Like An Engineer Journey:

9. Give back to our furry friends:

10. Inspire future Girl Scouts:

11. Improve a Girl Scout camp:

12. Donate to those in need:

13. Provide comfort:

14. Lead in a local parade – like a Girl Scout:

15. Be ready for the next eclipse:
16. Play games:

17. SWAPS:

18. Create memories:
19. Get outside:

Have an idea to share? Email us!

Six Fun Summer Activities to Get Her Outdoors

With summer just around the corner, we’re already daydreaming about the sun, great adventures, and being outdoors! From climbing mountains to exploring new hiking trails to swimming or riding whitewater rapids, the outdoors comes with endless possibilities for fun in the sun.

And what’s better than soaking up those rays while also earning badges in the great outdoors? Get out there, like a Girl Scout! If you’re a member, you should earn outdoor badges when engaging in one or all of these 6 outdoor activities.

1.  Go camping. We’re all about learning, having fun, and making friends—the perfect combination for camp. Playing games, singing songs, and making crafts are just a few of the things you’ll love about camp! Whether you go with your family or participate in Girl Scout camp, you’ll learn how to prepare for all your outdoor adventures. Daisies can even earn the Buddy Camper badge when they’re done.

2.  Take on an outdoor adventure! Consider climbing a hill or mountain so high you’ll be yearning to snap a selfie on top of it to capture the memory.  Grab a friend or team up with your Girl Scout troop to explore your neighborhood at night, or buddy up to set up a tent in a nearby park or your backyard.  If you’re a Brownie these are just some activities you’ll try out when you challenge yourself to earn the Outdoor Adventurer badge 

3. Try your hand at geocaching. Here’s your chance to play part global explorer, part detective when you search for treasure chests known as “geocaches” using GPS. By the end of your search, you’ll not only have had an exciting geocaching adventure but also have learned how to prepare for future quests. If you’re a Junior, you’ll be taking the steps to earn the Geocacher badge, too.

4.  Shoot Archery. Are you up for a challenge? Why not try archery? This exciting sport teaches you how to take aim outdoors and improve your strength, focus, and form. Be sure to prepare. Learn about archery equipment and safety before you shoot on an archery range. If you’re a Cadette, you can earn the  Archery badge while you’re at it.  Now that’s a win-win.

5. Outdoor Art? Why not!  Whether it be through photography, painting, jewelry making or music, experiment with new ways of expressing your love of nature. Let it move you to create art inspired by the outdoors. Seniors can earn the Art Expert badge once their masterpiece is complete.

6. Plan a trip to the beach, river, or lake.  Water surrounds us every day. In fact, it’s so commonplace that sometimes we forget how precious it is. We challenge you to think more deeply about water: what’s your relationship with it? How can you celebrate it? What are current water issues and possible solutions? When you’ve identified an issue you’d like to impact—take action like a Girl Scout! If you’re an Ambassador, the Water badge is yours afterward.

Prepare for great adventures, Girl Scout style! Get your outdoor gear at the Girl Scout shop. The badges don’t stop here. Check out more Girl Scout badges you can earn when you show the outdoors some love.

From “Cookie Bosses” to Business Trailblazers: The Power of the Girl Scout Cookie Program and Girl Scouts’ Financial Literacy Programming

Guest post by Sylvia Acevedo

Financial Literacy Month is a great opportunity for us to highlight that the Girl Scout Cookie Program, which powers amazing experiences for Girl Scouts year round, is at its core a powerful financial literacy program for girls. Every year during cookie season, millions of cookie customers, eager to indulge their craving for Thin Mints, Samoas/Caramel D’Lites, or S’mores, help girls across the country build their financial skills and become cookie entrepreneurs. When I was a seven-year-old Brownie growing up in Las Cruces, New Mexico, I decided to become one of those cookie entrepreneurs. And that experience changed my life.

Building my cookie business gave me my first taste of entrepreneurship. I learned how to set goals, create budgets, manage finances, cultivate customers, and make business decisions, and I developed confidence handling money and interacting with numbers. The program enabled me to come out of my shell and be creative, enterprising, and persistent.

I’ll never forget the great advice my troop leader gave me: don’t take “no” for an answer until you hear it three times. To a shy girl who didn’t yet appreciate the strengths and talents she possessed, this advice to not back down in the face of a little pushback was incredibly powerful!

And I carried these skills with me throughout my life. Whether I was working as a rocket scientist or as an executive in the tech industry, I always used numbers, demos, and strong analytics to persuade and make my case.

There’s a reason why so many Girl Scout alums are running the world’s largest businesses and are successful entrepreneurs. Millions of professional women got their start with the Girl Scout Cookie Program, learning everything from profit planning to budget management through the hands-on experience of running their very own cookie businesses. Over half of business leaders who are Girl Scout alums say the program was key to the development of the skills they use today.

At Girl Scouts, we believe that financial literacy is a critical building block for success in life, no matter whether a girl wants to successfully run a business, a corporation, a nonprofit, or a household. I’m so excited about our expanded and enhanced badge offerings, which include 22 Financial Literacy and Cookie Business badges for Brownies through Ambassadors, and 4 Leaves for Daisies. These badges are designed to simulate real-life situations, ensuring girls are poised to budget, save, and spend wisely.

Brownies earning their Money Manager badge, for example, learn the difference between wants and needs, and use “elf money” to practice shopping for groceries, clothes, and school supplies. In the last step, they use their elf money to plan an outing such as a trip to the movies, an outdoor adventure, or a Girl Scout trip. They then have the opportunity to create a real-life budget. Badge activities such as these offer “fun with purpose” and set girls up to be savvy decision makers when it comes to money matters.

According to the 2013 report Having It All: Girls and Financial Literacy, 90 percent of girls say it’s important to learn how to manage money, but only 12 percent feel “very confident” making financial decisions. That finding was proof positive to me that it’s more important than ever to bring girls engaging and effective financial literacy programming that will build their confidence and strengthen their understanding of the financial realm.

At Girl Scouts, we’ve been turning “cookie bosses” into business trailblazers for over a century—and we’re only getting started!

Financial Literacy Badges

  • 22 Badges for Brownie through Ambassador
  • 4 Leaves for Daisies

Financial Literacy I:

  • Brownie—Money Manager
  • Junior—Business Owner
  • Cadette—Budgeting
  • Senior—Financing My Future
  • Ambassador—On My Own

Financial Literacy II:

  • Brownie—Philanthropist
  • Junior—Savvy Shopper
  • Cadette—Comparison Shopping
  • Senior—Buying Power
  • Ambassador—Good Credit

Financial Literacy III:

  • Cadette—Financing My Dreams

Cookie Business I:

  • Brownie—Meet My Customers
  • Junior—Cookie CEO
  • Cadette—Business Plan
  • Senior—My Portfolio
  • Ambassador—Research & Development

Cookie Business II:

  • Brownie—Give Back
  • Junior—Customer Insights
  • Cadette—Marketing
  • Senior—Customer Loyalty
  • Ambassador—P&L

Cookie Business III:

  • Cadette—Think Big


  • Money Counts
  • Making Choices
  • Count It Up
  • Talk It Up

The G.I.R.L. Superheroes Who Are Saving the World

There’s no doubt that Girl Scouts share the impressive qualities of a superhero: they’re selfless; strong; honest; courageous; kind; and, most importantly, determined to make the world a better place!

Today, in honor of National Superhero Day, we’re celebrating four of our top G.I.R.L. (Go-getter, Innovator, Risk-taker, Leader)™ superheroes who are using their powers to make a difference in their communities—and beyond.

Cassie the go-getter: Gold Award Girl Scout Cassie began her journey for justice in 2015, when she learned that child marriage was still prevalent in many communities worldwide—including her home state of New Hampshire, which allows girls as young as 13 years old to tie the knot. So this Girl Scout took action! After rallying a team of elected officials and advocating for two years to put together a bill to raise the legal marriage age, Cassie watched it finally go to the New Hampshire House of Representatives for a vote. Unfortunately, the bill failed to pass, and to add to the blow, the House also voted to bar the bill from coming up again for two years.

Like a true go-getter, Cassie isn’t giving up! She plans to continue to fight back against the initial loss and pave a new path toward change. In the meantime, she’ll expand on her Gold Award project, which teaches kids about advocacy and how to find their voice and gives them the tools they need to create change in their communities.

Learn more >

Devika the innovator: Gold Award Girl Scout Devika is changing the lives of girls in rural Rajasthan, India. While visiting, Devika learned that 23 percent of girls in rural India quit school because they lack information and resources to support menstruation. She knew she had to help, so she came up with an idea: Devika raised funds in her local community to purchase sanitary pad machines that grind cotton, press the cotton into pads, and then disinfect the pads. During her next visit to Rajasthan, she brought the machines to remote villages where the women were learned how to operate the machines and create a business from selling the sanitary pads.

And this innovator didn’t stop there! She also conducted workshops to teach women and girls more about menstruation and the importance of hygiene. Learn more >

Taylor the risk-taker: Girl Scout Taylor knows what it’s like to turn her struggles into triumph. For more than two years, she experienced severe bullying—from cruel name-calling to jokes about her appearance to even physical abuse. It got so bad, she would fake being sick so she could avoid her bullies at school. Then one day, the unthinkable happened: she was bitten and had the marks on her back to prove it, so her school was finally able to take action against her bullies.

Despite everything, Taylor’s G.I.R.L. spirit never faltered. She joined a Girl Scout troop, improved her grades, and her confidence soared! Soon she decided she wanted to help other girls in her community take a stand and overcome their own bullying experiences. Not only did this risk-taker find the power of her own voice but she also uses it to inspire others! Learn more >

Lily the leader: Gold Award Girl Scout Lily is empowering teens in her community to break barriers and build lasting friendships. Her event, the “Longest Table—Class of 2018,” brought students together for critical conversations about how to prevent bullying and strengthen relationships that promote peace, equality, truth, and unity, both among the students themselves and within the community at large. This event was the first time that students from all area high schools came together, and despite being from different backgrounds, many discovered they shared similar concerns about their community—and learned that through healthy conversations, they have the power to solve problems and create positive change. Learn more >

Do you also have what it takes to be a G.I.R.L. superhero? Discover your G.I.R.L. superpower.

No Contest: Girl Scouts is the BEST Leadership Organization for Girls

The Benefits of Being a Girl Scout are Clear

Girl Scouts prepares girls for a lifetime of leadership like no other organization. From protecting our national parks to accepting a mission on the International Space Station to lobbying the city council, Girl Scouts is the best-suited organization to offer girls unparalleled opportunities to learn 21st-century skills and empower themselves with the experiences they need to succeed in life.

Girl Scouts is the premier leadership development organization for girls,” says Sylvia Acevedo, CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA. “We are, and will remain, the first choice for girls and parents who want to provide their girls with opportunities to build new skills; explore STEM and the outdoors; participate in community projects; and grow into happy, successful, and civically engaged adults. We’re dedicated to building that critical STEM workforce pipeline that businesses and communities across the country are looking for. Girls are our country’s greatest untapped resource and are the key to our nation’s competitive advantage in the digital economy we’re living in. They’ll be the drivers and the designers of our industries of the future, filling and creating jobs that don’t even exist yet. And at Girl Scouts, we’re preparing girls for these opportunities.”

Research shows that a girl learns best in an all-girl, girl-led, and girl-friendly environment. Here she can practice different skills; explore her potential; take on leadership positions; and even feel allowed to fail, dust herself off, get up, and try again.

This pro-girl environment is now more important than ever—and the proof is in the research. Compared to their peers, Girl Scouts are more likely than non–Girl Scouts to be leaders because they:

  1. Develop a strong sense of self
  2. Seek challenges and learn from setbacks
  3. Display positive values
  4. Form and maintain healthy relationships
  5. Identify and solve problems in their communities

Girl Scout alums continue to make waves across industries, proof that the Girl Scout effect is lasting. In the United States, more than half of female business leaders, 73 percent of current female senators, and all secretaries of state are Girl Scout alums.

There’s no contest: Girl Scouts is unmatched in delivering proven outcomes that set girls up to close the gender gap and position our nation to compete in the global economy.

The Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest achievement in Girl Scouting, is a top-tier credential for girls as they enter their post–high school lives, enabling them to distinguish themselves in the college admissions process, earn college scholarships, and enter the military one rank higher.

Our findings are clear—there has never been a better time to be a Girl Scout. Because when girls succeed, so does society. Invest in Girl Scouts. Change the world.

Warning: Your Daughter Really Might Be the School Bully

teen model posing as a school bully on her phone

Imagine this: You’re going about your day and get an unexpected phone call from your girl’s school. She’s physically fine (phew!) but what is wrong seems like your worst nightmare. The principal says your child has been bullying another student at school.

“Not my daughter!” you might think, because of course you see the best parts of your girl—her kindness, her funny sense of humor, and more than anything, her sense of right and wrong. But the truth is that even though you’d never dream that your girl could be the “school bully,” really anybody, regardless of what a good person they are, can engage in bullying behavior. People (kids and adults) can bully others from time to time for a variety of reasons. Sometimes people feel pressured into it or pick on others to fit in with a certain group, because they feel powerless in other situations, because they’re looking for attention, or because they’re having trouble working out their own emotions and don’t know how to deal with them in a healthy fashion. The truth is, most people have been on both sides of bullying at one point or another in their lives. Of course none of those reasons make this kind of behavior OK or acceptable in any way, but thinking about it in these terms can help you get past the defensiveness and onto the problem-solving part of working through this issue.

While it’s absolutely vital to call out bullying and to correct the behavior, know that that’s exactly what it is—a behavior, not an identity. “No one should be defined by her actions,” says Girl Scouts’ Developmental Psychologist, Dr. Andrea Bastiani Archibald, “which is why we should get away from calling kids ‘bullies’ when they’ve been engaging in bullying behavior with others. Using that term implies there’s nothing more to that girl or boy than those actions, and can make a child feel as if that’s all they’ll ever be, that they have no potential to be better. It can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Your job, as a parent, is to find out what was going on with your girl to cause her to act in this way so you can help her to recognize her behavior – in this instance and potentially others — and avoid engaging in it in the future. How can you do this? Follow these steps from Dr. Bastiani Archibald:

1. Take a deep breath
Just because your girl may have done something hurtful or bad doesn’t mean you’ve failed as a parent! Friendships, especially among girls, can be very tumultuous and it’s fairly common for girls to engage in relational aggression with other girls rather than talking things out directly (the latter can be difficult for some girls). Focus on moving forward and helping your girl to be more respectful of other kids, to recognize her feelings and speak directly about them. Teaching her to talk out her frustrations or sad feelings can go a long way in giving her alternatives to more subtle but sometimes even more hurtful behavior.

2. Ask your daughter what happened
Talking about the issue and making sure your daughter feels heard, rather than simply punishing her, is super important when it comes to improving her behavior. It will also give you a better understanding of what she believes happened, why it did, and perhaps her role in the situation.

3. Recognize the incident for what it really is
If your girl has repeatedly taunted or teased another child, threatened them, or physically hurt them in any way—that’s straight up bullying behavior. Make sure your daughter knows that, and understands that bullying is damaging and likely unhelpful to what she wants to accomplish. However, if the other child says your girl was bullying her by not inviting her to a party, or by choosing other children to play with at recess, you have a bit more investigating to do. Sometimes exclusionary behavior is purposeful and ongoing, in which case it falls under the umbrella of bullying and relational aggression, for sure. But if it’s simply that your daughter doesn’t feel the same feelings of friendship as this other girl, and she’s never been disrespectful or pointedly singled her out from a group, your girl may not have been bullying anyone at all. “It’s up to your daughter to decide who she connects with and who she doesn’t,” says Dr. Bastiani Archibald. “Sometimes, when a girl wants to be friends with another girl, but those feelings aren’t returned, it can be mislabeled as bullying when, in fact, she should be encouraged to choose her own friends based on shared values and interests. Still, talk to your girl about how it feels to be left out and encourage her to include this girl in some larger group activities when possible.”

4. Squash victim blaming
There’s a good chance your daughter will want to tell you what the other kid was doing to provoke her or even deny that there was any bullying going on at all. In these instances, pay attention to her feelings as well as her actual words. If this is the case, try saying something like, “It sounds like you were feeling really frustrated,” and then alternatively, try to talk about her about how it could have felt to be in the victim’s shoes. She might not even realize that her actions were unkind, so engaging her in some empathetic thinking can get her to understand the impact of her behavior. Empathy is something we get better at as we get older, and this is a great opportunity for you to help her develop this important quality.

5. Help her make things right
If what your girl did fell under the bullying umbrella, help teach your girl the value of and the art of delivering a meaningful apology. It’s human to mess up, but it’s negligent to never admit to your shortcomings and how your actions may have affected others. Either in person or in writing, encourage your girl to be specific, in her own words, about what she did that was hurtful and to explain how she can imagine that made the other child feel. This apology isn’t about tossing blame around—so make sure she’s not just starting a fresh argument by saying, “I’m sorry I did this, but you did that first!”—rather, it’s about your daughter taking responsibility for her own actions and expressing her desire to do better next time.

You may not always be able to be there with your daughter, making sure she’s on her best behavior (and that’s OK—you’re setting her up to learn how to navigate this world on her own!), but there are some things you can do to check in on her social behavior and catch any potential signs of bullying straight away. Pay attention to who she’s hanging out with or talking to online. If any friends suddenly disappear from the picture, ask her what’s going on with them or why you haven’t seen them lately. Ask about the girls she sits with at lunch and who does most of the talking. Are there some kids who want to sit with her at lunch, but she doesn’t want them to? When she and her friends engage in activities, is it always your girl who picks what they’re going to do, or do they trade off? Are there any kids at school that others are unkind to?

Checking in frequently and reminding your daughter of the importance of respecting others can help your girl get past any bullying behaviors.