Michelle Kelley, owner of Girls Stand Strong in Warrenton, Virginia, teaches pre-teen and teenage girls how to successfully navigate the tricky social dynamics of middle school and high school. In this interview, Michelle tells us how she came to specialize in working with girls, and about her upcoming workshops in May.
I always say that relationships are the “fourth R” in learning, and this is the next frontier for all of us. My area of focus happens to be girls. Specifically, I teach classes for fourth grade through high school girls, and my program teaches girls communication and conflict resolution skills, which girls can start implementing in their relationships immediately.
PW: That’s great, since we don’t get this kind of education through the school system. You are so right, that relationships are the “fourth R” and all of us can learn how to manage our relationships more effectively. I recall my own years back in middle school and what a confusing and difficult time that was for me.
MK: Absolutely. I really started my work focusing on middle school girls, because middle school is a time when girls are looking for their identity, forming their personalities and experiencing confusing relationships. And this is a time when, as a counselor, I would often see girls coming in for counseling, to understand what was going on and how to deal with some of these very confusing and complicated relationships, which we have all had in our life.
If you don’t have an understanding of what’s going on in a relationship and conflict resolution tools and communication skills to be able to deal with the situation, then a girl can often get lost in the process, and can develop anxiety, depression, and other issues that all started with something very simple in a friendship.
Coaching Girls: Cliques, Confusing Relationships, Conflict Resolution Skills
PW: You are a licensed clinical social worker, correct?
MK: That’s correct. I have more than 20 years experience in counseling. Though I specialized in working with children and families, as time went by, my focus was much more on just the girls and their social and emotiional development was my particular area of interest, and it still is. That’s why I do the work that I do. I have two girls of my own, one in middle school and one almost in high school, and so the work that I do is very near and dear to my heart.
PW: And are you interested in this particular niche because of anything in your own personal history? For me, middle school was a trying time; was there anything in your own history that also drew you to this kind of work?MK: Absolutely! I think it was a combination of confusing relationships, and the constant frustration of not being able to communicate in my friendships, and not being connected with how I felt emotionally, and certainly not being able to articulate that. So certainly that is something as a girl and as a woman that has affected me, and it was not until my adult years that I went “Wow, why aren’t more people talking about this? Why aren’t more people helping these girls through their middle school years that are so difficult?”
PW: Right. I can think of a situation with my own daughter three or four years ago. She had been good friends with two girls, twin sisters, and they had been close friends for five or six years. Then in 7th grade, these two girls formed another friendship and then the three of them developed a secret code language that specifically excluded my daughter, and it was very hurtful for her. Is that the sort of thing that goes on?MK: It goes on so much . . . excluding and the formation of cliques. That is an element of bullying, and as you know, bullying has gotten a lot of media focus. We used to think that bullying was a rite of passage, that kids needed to learn not to be so sensitive, adults and parents needed to stay out of kids’ issues. That is bad advice because girls need help understanding what is going on when they are being excluded and when cliques are forming.
Relationships are complicated, so without knowing the particular situation, it may be something where there is no malice intended, or it may be that a bully situation is forming. Without adult intervention, it can get worse. Sometimes these things go away on their own, but once a girl is given support and validation that this (kind of behavior) is not OK and it doesn’t feel good, and once you help her understand that there is always a power dynamic going on in any type of unfair type of bullying situation and equip her with the ability to first of all say, “No! This is not OK!” and then help her figure out what her options are for dealing with this kind of situation, and looking at the possibility of changing friend groups, or putting distance between herself and her friend, then she is empowered and not as devastated as she was.
A lot of the work I do is about empowering and helping girls realize that they have choices.
PW: So, when you work with girls, do you work with them individually, or do you work with them with their moms, so that mom and daughter as a team can develop coping strategies?
MK: My focus is on teaching these classes, holding workshops, working in small groups. Girls are social and learn well in these kinds of environments. But there are cases when specific individuals, depending on their situation, will benefit more from working one on one, and in those cases yes, I do see one on one and sometimes they graduate and move into some of the classes or the groups that I offer.I am going to be offering in the near future, parent-daughter workshops. I hear a lot of parents saying they want to know what I am teaching, and they want to hear these things as well so they can continue to support their daughter and reinforce the things that I am telling them, because this is not a one time deal where you come in, you learn something and you are good for the rest of your life.
It’s a process, and girls need to practice these new skills and they need a sounding board, so whenever possible, when I am working with someone individually, I always bring in the parent and say “you need to hear what I am saying to your daughter” so you can support her. This is not an isolated bubble where we work on some things and then I am going to send her back to you, because parents are such an incredible resource and tool, and a support that goes home with the child. That’s why working with parents is so important.
PW: So, do you ever work just with daughters, or just with moms, or do you like to have both there with you together?
MK: I will take whoever is willing to come in and work together. If it’s the dad, great! If it’s the mom, great! If it’s a grandparent, great! Whoever is the primary caretaker and whoever’s schedule will allow them to be available. So it’s not just for mothers and daughters. My work revolves around these girls so I will educate dads, and grandfathers, and uncles, and whoever is involved in that girl’s life.
PW: You also speak to groups, right?
Group Speaking: Schools, Girl Scouts
MK: Yes, I have gone into several schools and I have spoken to middle schools and high schools. A lot of schools are interested in helping girls develop their communication skills, identify non-healthy relationships, friendships, bullying situations, so in schools I talk about things like, “How do you deal with teasing? How do you deal with mean comments? How do you deal with mean kids?” A lot of time we practice and do role playing as well.
PW: And besides schools, you also spoke to a girl scout troop recently, right?
MK: I did. Two weeks ago I spoke to about 50 girl scouts and their parents about healthy friendships vs unhealthy friendships, complicated friendships, how to deal with teasing, mean comments, mean girls, what to do in a bullying situation, what is the role of a bystander? So we do a lot of educating and a lot of validating that if something doesn’t feel right in a relationship, you need to listen to your gut and talk with a trusted adult about what is going on. It might be a parent, or a coach, or a counselor.
PW: Yes, listening to your own gut is such an important skill to learn, whether you are school age or an adult.
MK: I think that is something a lot of us struggle with, because we weren’t really taught to listen to our gut. There is a lot of advice and a lot of songs about listening to your heart, and I feel like that is just horrible advice to give to a young girl. The head needs to be connected and be in charge when we are talking about friendships, relationships, dating, all that sort of thing. You really need to understand what’s going on and to let your head lead.
I talk with girls a lot about, “What is your gut?” It’s the sort of thing that you need and that is a lifelong skill to practice. And most adult women are still .. We all have situations where we are like, “My gut told me about that situation with that person!”
So we all need to be reminded to get more connected with our gut.
Upcoming Workshops for Middle School and High School Girls
MK: I have two workshops coming up: one on May 5, and one on May 12.
The May 5 workshop is for 4th, 5th and 6th grade girls. It will be held from 10:00 to 12 noon, and it will be at Tagaloo, which is in Old Town Warrenton.
The May 12 class is for 7th, 8th, 8th and 10th grade girls.
These are two-hour classes that are fun and educational and interactive, and they feel nothing like school!
If I get enough interest from 11th and 12th grade girls, I would love to put a class together for that age group too.
PW: How do your workshops differ for the two age groups?
MK: They are both talking about healthy friendships at an age appropriate level, so some of the things we are discussing in the older group might pertain more to some dating relationships and I give them some tools. We talk differently to different age groups, but some of the issues that girls are dealing with are different in the younger group vs. the older group.
How to Register Online for Michelle’s Workshops
Visit GirlsStandStrong.com to register online, or call (703) 505-2413 to speak with me directly and register by phone!
PW: Is there anything else you would like to say?
MK: I’m so happy to be talking about this, because it has been a slow brewing passion of mine in life, and I feel so blessed to be able to do the work I love, and that I feel is so needed. Every time I see someone benefiting or a parent thanks me, it means the world to me. I so believe in the work I am doing. And I just want to help these girls!
PW: Great! That’s why we have PiedmontWomen.com, so we can let more people in our community know about the fabulous, smart, talented women in our community and what they are up to in their businesses.
MK: There are a lot of us in the Warrenton and Piedmont area. I’m so happy you have started this website, and thank you for the work that you are doing!
No related posts.
Related posts brought to you by Yet Another Related Posts Plugin.