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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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.

“Keep their feet moving”

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This may be an odd post for a Montessori teacher to make, but I love metaphors, so I hope this works for you.

I was sitting on the sofa, editing school photos on my laptop.  I was watching an infomercial by a horse trainer.  (Yes, I was.)  It was a kind of “Horse Whisperer” thing.  The question was : “How do I get my horse into a trailer?”  The words that jumped out at me were : “Keep their feet moving.”  Okay, you are not going to learn about how to get your horse onto a trailer in this post.  This is about young children, like the ones I work with.  And maybe about older children and adults, and me.

When children are struggling: sad, afraid, anxious, angry, defiant: “stuck”, there is often little we, at school, can do, but to “keep their feet moving.”

We often cannot solve whatever the child’s issue is.  We often do not know what it is.  They often do not know what it is.  We can offer some support (hug, lap, read a book, sing a song…), but, often, this is rejected.

When this is true, the kindest thing I know to do it to “keep their feet moving.”  That may mean that we gently take them by the hand and lead them away (from something) or toward (something or someone).  We often lead children toward a group of children who are calm and engaged.  This is something to observe and absorb.

Maybe this will show them that this is not such an awful place, or that there may be other ways to react, or other things to do, or try, or think about.  It may distract them long enough to shift their perspective.  It might interest, even fascinate them.

I don’t know what it may do, but I know that we all need to learn some strategies around what to do when we are “stuck”, and who and what might help.

I know that I want all children to know that they can move through hard things, and that there are many ways to do this.

I want children to know that they are not dependent on adults, or anyone to “make them feel better.”

I do not mean that we are not allowing children to feel what they feel, or that they should be distracted from their feelings.  But I do know that shifting gears can be hard, for all of us, and sometimes a change of scene (outside!!!!) or company, or perspective, may help.

A teacher at school was describing helping a child who was having a morning cry when her mother left.  After a bit, she offered her own support (hug, lap).  When that was not helpful, it was time to move: “I have not done all of my morning jobs, I need your help!”  Leading child to help with setting up dishes, getting ready for snack, doing some of the things that need to be done.  The child became calm, engaged, focused, interested, and felt useful and competent.  Perhaps, if you can cope with small things (dishes) you can cope with larger things (feelings)?

So, if all else fails, we can “keep their feet moving”, and do this for ourselves as well.