Last year Weasel was in prep and we had our first taste of the beast known as ‘mean girls’. She would come home from school with tales of recess and lunchtime woe, excluded from this or that, and generally baffled by her friends’ behaviour. As a parent, I was powerless to do more than give her a hug, chat to the teacher, and suggest she play with someone else.
Realising mean girl behaviour will only get worse (and let’s face it, I’m sure Weasel can be a bit of a mean girl herself), I set about researching a solution. Where do solutions for everything come from? Books of course!
I started with this one, Little Girls Can Be Mean. Though I like the ideas put forward by this book, I have to say it is really hard to read. I wanted to read it in a linear, front to back fashion, but I kept being told to skip ahead to here or there, random page number role play bubble, then do the 4 steps I hadn’t even finished identifying properly.
The four steps in summary
1. Observe. Watch your child for signs that they didn’t have a good day, signs they are suddenly not enjoying a club, things they’ve said in the past that might shed light on today’s problem.
2. Connect. Use active listening techniques to paraphrase what the child has just confided in you. Offer an empathetic story of your own. Keep the emphasis on the child’s emotions, not other people’s actions. Doesn’t have to be a long talk, just a quality one. See through their dismissals, such as ‘it’s no big deal’, because it obviously is – to them.
3. Guide. a) Identify the real issue, it might not be the one the child first mentioned. b) Depersonalize the situation, present other perspectives. c) Bring the worry up or down in size. d) Brainstorm ideas. e) Help the child understand the dynamics of the friendship.
4. Support to act. Help the child write a letter, plan a playdate, etc. Help them enact one or more of the brainstormed solutions.
What I learned
I’ve been trying to solve my daughter’s problems, not supporting her to solve them herself. Never ever say ‘play with someone else at recess’, because in the event of playground meanness, Weasel will be left bereft and alone until she comes home to complain to me, and is only then told how she should have responded. That blanket dismissive statement also tells her I don’t particularly care who she plays with, whether she connects with them, and that it’s okay for her to dismiss whatever her friend was feeling when she was excluded from play.
I also say other no-no things, such as ‘did you tell the teacher’, and ‘You’ll feel better tomorrow’.
I cannot control how other kids behave. I’d like to though, I really would!
What we’re doing at home now
We will still do our happy/sad in the car ride on the way home (Tell me something that made you happy today. Tell me something that made you sad today). This quick Q&A has been working well for us, and the girls actually do it for each other now. I join in too. It’s just a nice, simple, stress free way to check-in about our day and allows me to bookmark a conversation for later.
Working on ‘I feel…’ statements. Rather than Weasel telling her friends off for something, she is going to try to present the problem as hers, not theirs. I feel <frustrated> when you <sing different words to the song> I need you to <slow down and listen first, so we can all enjoy singing along>.
Making her skill set explicit, so she can be proud. This builds a solid block of self-esteem, the more kids have, the more resilient they are. Celebrate with a high-5, a hip hooray. We will link this with the happy/sad, and offer congratulations for small accomplishments, as well as big ones.
Practicing compliments. The book suggests giving compliments since people are more likely to be nice to people they like, but I prefer to think of it as creating a positively-charged dialogue. Our compliments aren’t based on appearance, but rather effort and achievement. The other day I wrote Weasel a list of ’10 things I like about you’ and asked her how reading it made her feel. I asked her to hold onto that list and that feeling, and think about how she could make her friends feel that way too.
Practicing friendly assertiveness. Role playing standing tall and saying things like ‘no, I don’t think so’, or ‘we’ll agree to disagree’. Sure beats having a tantrum and trying to force her friends to her will or doing something silly just to fit in.
Sizing down the worry box. My darling tends to get quite worked up and stressed over what I consider small things, so I’ve been asking her to show me how big her worry box is. If it’s a big worry, it’s a big box and arms go wide. You get the picture. We have a chat and brainstorm ideas of ways she could put it in a smaller box.
Would I recommend this book?
Yes. The concepts are sound, there is some good advice for parents, girls and even teachers. Will it “bully-proof” your child? No, of course not. It will give you a better idea of what to do when it strikes though, and how to explain the friendship dynamics in such a way that lets you guide your child towards/from their friend.
Next time, I’ll look at this book, written for kids, so less psycho-babble and more how-to.
Linking up with Grace, one of the bloggers I admire both as a writer and as a mother.
(Weasel isn’t the only one practicing compliments to become a better person)