Helping to Create “Mean Girls”

Several conversations recently came together for me, into a shocking insight.  Now that I have had time to think about it, it is not shocking at all, of course; like so many things.

I was part of several conversations about children (boys) and gun play.  This subject never goes away, and may be a topic for another stream of thought.  Gun violence in this country is a real thing, and effects children and families, but, in this case,  this thread led to something else.

The other thing that never goes away, even in preschool (!!!!) is that of “mean girls”; that is, “social aggression” (as it is called in the literature).  How it appears: boys get mad and punch each other, girls are mean, and the “meanness” just flows in and out, and around, and remains a continual sore in the hearts of these girls.  Not all girls “do” social aggression, some just stay out of it, but, for the ones who do, what fuels it?

For those of us who do preschool, and parents of girls, we know that “talking it out” or asking them to “just walk away” rarely (never?) helps.

What Lynn * said, in one of many follow-up conversations: “Isn’t it strange that physical aggression is (generally) not modeled to these boys, but social aggression is modeled for these girls?” (This seems to be true in the community in which I work; other communities model different things.)  Lynn also said: “Can’t you remember every mean thing that was ever said to you?  I can.”  I can, too.

So, boys play gun play, and punch each other, but there seems to be little lasting damage, and they go back to playing; “getting it out”, or expressing their frontal lobe limits and going on; their dads are not shooting anyone, or punching anyone.

Girls, however, can often hear grown women criticizing each other.  Often.  In my family, it was sarcastically called: “helpful criticism”: “She really shouldn’t wear that color.”; “She should know better than to put on a bathing suit.”; “Does she call that decorating for Christmas?”  So many of us have made comments like this in private, in front of our children.

There is a story I read years ago, on the Internet, in which a mother made such a comment about another mother (something like: “Oh, let’s not have the meeting at her house, it’s always filthy!”) and her child, in the car, started to cry.  “I am sad that you hate yourself, Mom!” The mother is flabbergasted, and asks the child for clarification.  “You said that people who say mean things always feel badly about themselves!”  Um, yea.

So, how much of a stretch is it to go from saying those things in private, to saying them to someone’s face: “I hate you, and you can never come to my birthday party.”  Ow!!!  How could that EVER be okay to say?  And yet, somehow, it is.  And the hurt lingers, and poisons our children and their friends.

So, as in everything else, we have to look at, watch, and listen to ourselves first.

Ow.  And then cut it out.

*Lynn Miller, as very wise person.1-girls-fighting

 

 

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“Sensory issues”

1-children-huggingI have been teaching a long time, but I first heard of “sensory integration” concerns in Montessori training, not from one of my teachers, but from a fellow intern and mom.  Her daughter was dealing with “tactile defensiveness” and was going to a pediatric occupational therapist.  Wow, what???  Tactile defensiveness is feeling unexpected touch as pain, and a pediatric occupational therapist can help children learn to tolerate/integrate some sensory input that is lacking/needed/unwanted/uncomfortable.  Who knew?

I am writing this in part because I have found that sensory integration issues are hard to see, there is no blood test for them, and yet they affect many children.  Also, if you Google “sensory integration” you will get “Autism”, which is terrifying.  Yes, most children with autism have SID, many/most children  with SID do NOT have Autism.  In my classroom, I currently see about 4 children a year who seem to be effected by sensory irritations. (OTs can also help with many other issues, such a problems with core-strength- children who have trouble holding themselves upright- hand strength and dexterity, and many other things.)

That next week, after that conversation with Isabelle about her daughter, I was pondering a child in my class who would regularly get called out for punching someone randomly.  When I asked him, he responded : “They hurt me!”, even though they were generally only standing behind him in line.  Bingo!  Tactile defensiveness!  He described it as needing people “this far” (a full arm’s length) away from him, or “it hurt.”  His parents never bought into such a notion, but it was helpful for the class and for him.  As soon as he could articulate what was bothering him, there was no more random punching.

This is a pretty simple story; much of sensory integration sensitivity is much harder to see or address.  For one thing, a child can be both sensory “seeking” (wanting more sensation in some areas) and “sensory avoiding”.  A child who is sensitive to sound can yell (?).  As one OT explained it, “at least they are in charge of the noise.”  And, remember, we are talking about children, who are trying to deal as best they can.  And, why would they think that we do not feel the same things that they do?

If you or someone you know is sensitive to clothing, wrinkles in sheets, smells, sounds, certain kinds of lights, needs to move alot before they can relax to sleep, is always on the go, avoids certain textures of food or things on their hands, paints glue on their fingers, likes to wedge themselves into tight places, hates crowds, seeks out certain textures, rocks or jiggles their leg, fiddles, covers ears a lot, gets really revved up in large open spaces, moves away from others in a group, avoids hugs, seeks out hugs, doesn’t like to get hugs but wants to hug others….see, it is very complex!

Why does it matter?  Because it can be annoying/disruptive/painful, and so can affect learning and/or relationships.  And they/we don’t know how to describe, or what to do, so they/we may need help.

My learning about this is long and slow, as I am NOT a pediatric occupational therapist, nor do I play one on TV.  My own son banged into people he loved and jumped down stairs, and around.  So I yelled at him.  He wore his boots on the wrong feet because they “felt better that way.”  My stepson broke all the pencils, unbent all the paperclips and took Ritalin.  I, of course, am completely normal when I jiggle my leg to keep myself on task, want to cry in florescent lights and sleep under a heavy blanket, even in the summer.  My husband’s ears “hurt” in crowded restaurants, and he, too, cannot bear to stand in a line.

Wouldn’t it have been nice to have some help at some point for each of us, or at least someone who was willing to try to help us explain what we need/avoid?  Yes, I wish I had not fussed at my children so much, and had not been fussed at.

So, if someone mentions that your child be evaluated by an OT, you might be getting some interesting data.  This is not obscure, arcane gobbledey-gook, but real factors that affect real people, and can get “in the way”.  One of our jobs, as parents and teachers, is to remove obstacles.1-children-hugging1-children-hugging1-children-hugging

 

child-brain-development

We have recently had a most challenging child at school: very, very bright, and struggling very hard to self-soothe during adjustments or transitions.  Any transitions at all, including things that the child wanted to do, like get out his lunch and eat a cookie, caused crying.

What I have learned from this child: patience, empathy, respect for hard work, and also, when the child can be calm, it is his brain which does the most to help him.  Not that a lap, or a hug, or a empathetic look or remark does not help him calm down, a lot.  But, ultimately, it is when his mind is engaged, when he is intrigued or fascinated or curious or observant or amused, and his brain is working, that he is the most calm, during turbulent times.

This does not mean that we try to distract him with flashing lights and funny clowns, but calmly demonstrate something intriguing, and sit back.  We model our own enjoyment, and invite.

There has been a lot for me to learn in watching this process unfold.