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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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.

Privilege and responsibility

independent childWe have jobs in the classroom. The teachers have jobs (subtle ones, and not so subtle ones, like, watching someone use the stapler, using the teacher scissors, helping sad people, giving suggestions, stopping some behavior). The children have jobs. We have a “job board” with “sticks”. On Monday, if you are one of the oldest children, you pick a job and a helper. Your job is to do the task, to help the classroom, and to train the younger child how to do it. This ranges from hanging wet napkins and folding dry ones to setting up dishwashing for snack plates, to feeding the pets.

Each child goes, in the classroom, from incompetent and clueless to competent teacher, in 3 years. I recently watched a five give a lovely, patient lesson in napkin folding: “Bottom to top, and side to side.” with great warmth and kindness. The 2.5 year old was enthralled, as a child can only be by an older child.

The child “who was in charge of napkins” becomes “the napkin leader”, who hands out napkins at lunch. This is a coveted job, that carries prestige, as seen by the children. Over the third year, the oldest children are willing to share the prestige, and often allow their helpers to be the “napkin leader.” This is a fun transition, sharing privilege, because you know what it feels like, and are willing to share it with others.

I could say a lot more about this, but it is another lovely aspect of the multiaged classroom.

At home, make sure that your child feels responsibility for something, so that they can experience the privilege of being competent. Children often feel that they are always needing help/deserving service. Let’s help them graduate to feeling empowered and capable.

Giving comfort, escaping shame

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http://www.purposefairy.com/72173/brene-brown-speaks-on-shame-6-types-of-people-you-should-never-confide-in/

If you have not read the work of Brene Brown, or seen her TED talk, please do.

If you haven’t noticed yet, parenting pushes all of your buttons; especially the buttons you didn’t know that you had. 🙂 Of course, it is very hard to reflect on your childhood and the assumptions in your family, but it is part of the work, I think, of parenting.

One comment that I hear often from parents is: “I don’t want to be THAT PARENT!‘” I think this comes from our past, and that we can mean different things by it. What is our biggest fear as a parent? And where does that come from?

Our children are more resilient than we can imagine, and, if we are honest with them, the way Brene Brown describes being honest in this video, your children will stay in relationship and learn something about what to do with their own shame.

(She describes the difference between shame and guilt this way: “Guilt is when you know that you did something “bad”; shame is when you believe that you are bad. Shame leads to bad outcomes on every level.)

So, whatever you fear, please face your fear, or you can pass on your shame to the next generation.

if you are afraid for your child not to be pleased or entertained, to be angry, or to stand your ground, your child may feel unable to cope with difficulty.

If you are afraid of a child who is “spoiled”, you might be too strict, and fail to express your empathy, leaving your child anxious.

If you are afraid that your child is not learning enough, you may keep them too busy, and not give them enough time to discover on their own.

If you are uncomfortable with structure, you may leave your children hanging about what to expect.

If you are afraid that they will get emotionally or physically hurt, you may not let them explore relationships and environments on their own. We learn best when the learning is our own discovery!

Cultivating Your Child’s Character

Interesting Powerpoint on developing character in young children. One important point, “decision fatigue”: that is, the truth that the more choices we have to make, the worse job we do. So, much of character development is fostering positive habits. Mary

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It was a pleasure spending the evening with an engaged group of parents to think about what we each want our Character Legacy to be and how to practically go about passing that on to our children.  If your parenting partner was unable to attend or if you would like to participate at home, please feel free to email me and I’d be happy to send along the Cultivating Character Worksheet Packet to you.  Please keep me posted on your discoveries!

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Try being curious, George

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http://blog.positivediscipline.com/2012/12/curiosity-questions.html

Positive Discipline parenting classes give new ways to see children, new ways to see misbehavior (as mistaken goals; your children trying to connect in some terrible, or at least, ineffective ways), and at least 52 “tools”.

This is one of the “tools”: “curiosity questions”. Asking a question gives you an opportunity for the child to consider the consequences of an idea or action: “I wonder what will happen if you do that?”; “How do you think your brother will feel if you do that?”; “How would you feel if I said that to you?”; “What could you try next time?”; “Do you have a solution we could try?”

Said with real curiosity, this invites a child to think and not react. Our first job as parents is to be teachers.

It’s all what you’re used to

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(This really is about parentingl bear with me!)

Recently, our very fancy dryer died. It has a fatal computer error. It needs a new computer, which costs $200. Talk about First World problems! My dryer is not happy without its own computer! I am old enough that I know that one does not need a computer to run a heating element and a turny thing. I am contemplating a dumber dryer, for sure. My husband wonders why this is aggravating me so much; what’s the big deal?

In the meantime, I am enjoying my drying rack. It is better (vinyl covered) than my old one, the wooden one I had for years when the kids were younger. (The mildew on the wooden one was off-putting. Otherwise they are identical; great designs are hard to beat.)

Before my children were born, we had no washer or dryer. I went to the laundry mat, and brought the clean clothes home to hang them up. Nice weather: outside; bad weather: inside. Then, after child #1, my mother bought us a washer! I still hung up all laundry, even cloth diapers. After child #2, we got a dryer.

With the dryer demise, I have revived the drying rack. As I said, I enjoy it. I don’t enjoy every minute of it: not the scratchy towels, or the lint issue, or what to do when your favorite shirt is hanging damply when you want to wear it, or the wrinkle issue, or the get-up-and-hang-something-up issue. But I enjoy it nevertheless. And I think I enjoy it because I am used to it. That is, I did it every day, for years, even if that was 30 years ago.

We also have a drying rack at school. I am now contemplating bringing wet napkins and towels from home to hang up. Talk about inconvenient! However, when we have done this, inside and out, the children LOVE it. They love, love, love it. They fight over who can hang things up, and who can take them down. They do this with all “practical life”, but, I will admit, they have more interest in the novel jobs. However, if we did this every day, there would always be a child who did not mind helping. Unlike adults, who know that it is silly to hang things up if you can dry them in a dryer. (I am not arguing the energy efficiency issue here.)

That is to say, children enjoy tasks which involve their bodies, a bit of skill learning, that are obviously useful and needed, and that you (adult person) will do with them, at least initially. They really do. They will sharpen pencils, fold napkins, sort socks, squeeze orange juice, grind peanut butter or flour, any old boring thing that needs doing.

And, if they are used to doing them, these chores become habit, and can even be enjoyable. They can space out a bit, socialize, and do these boring old jobs with some satisfaction, like me with the drying rack.

Please take time to teach and allow your child to learn to do the needed, boring jobs that make your household work, whatever they are. They will value learning a skill, being part of the family, contributing, and will have more boring things to enjoy as adults.