My daughter laughed as she said it, but I could see the hurt in her eyes.

“She just walked right past me, pointed her finger and said, ‘I don’t like you, not at all.’ And then she kept right on going.”

“What did you say?” I asked. “Did you do anything?”

“Nope,” she replied. “I’m just going to avoid her.”

The people-pleaser in me thought that was a wise decision. I mean, middle school is hard enough—who wants to engage in more drama?

A few weeks later, my other daughter and I sat in line waiting to go into a school program. Another mom and daughter we know from school sidled up behind us.

The mom and I chatted, but my normally talkative daughter stayed mute. In fact, the two girls smiled and looked pleasant, but barely looked at each other. It was borderline rude from the both of them.

When I asked her about it later, she shared that the other young girl didn’t like her. “Why would you say that? I mean, don’t you guys have a lot of the same friends?”

“Trust me, Mom, I KNOW she doesn’t like me. She’s told a bunch of people, so I just don’t know how to act around her.”

That’s when it hit me. My kids are great about being kind to others, but they become shrinking violets when another person doesn’t like them. They become unrecognizable.

And that’s not OK.

Parents, we have to get our daughters comfortable with the fact that they will not be liked by everyone—but more importantly, that it shouldn’t change who they are as people or how they behave.

I wanted to tell my daughters that these girls must be jealous of them for some reason or insecure with their own lives. I wanted to tell them that girls are just mean or that their opinions don’t matter a bit.

But at the end of the day, I don’t want my daughters to spend any time rationalizing the behavior of anyone else. I want them to feel confident they are good people who try to do the right thing, and that is enough. Everything else is out of their hands.

The end.

So, I shared this powerful truth with my daughters. “Not everyone is going to like you, and that is OK.”

But then I added, “But don’t you dare let anyone change your behavior because of it. Be confident in who you are.”

We discussed the situations where they could have acted a bit differently. We talked about sometimes the easiest way to ease the tension is by merely saying, “Hello.” We discussed how avoiding people is unnecessary if you feel confident that you did nothing wrong. We chatted about different ways to engage in uncomfortable situations, and even what to do if someone comes at them in a vicious way.

A few weeks later, I dropped my daughter off at the pool to meet some friends. Sitting on the park bench surrounded by a few other middle schoolers was the young girl she couldn’t talk to a few weeks back.

I watched as she looked over, gave a beautiful smile, and said “Hey guys! What’s up?” as she walked in through the entrance gate.

The young girl who didn’t speak a word to her previously held up her hand and gave a smile and a nod.

As I pulled away from the curb, I thought progress may be slow and shallow, but it’s progress nonetheless. And this mom will take it.

Whitney Fleming

Whitney is a mom of three teen daughters, a communications consultant, and blogger. She tries to dispel the myth of being a typical suburban mom although she is often driving her minivan to soccer practices and attending PTA meetings. She writes about parenting, relationships, and w(h)ine on her blog Playdates on Fridays.