I’m part of a wonderful monthly parenting group run by Betsy Brown Braun, bestselling author of You’re Not The Boss Of Me: Brat Proofing Your 4-12 Year Old Child. At almost every meeting, I bring up issues my daughter is having with other girls at school. Rumors, secrets, lies, broken friendships, tears, nastiness and so on. Everyday seems to bring a new hurt or upset for my daughter. She is funny, nice and smart. But, she’s not especially tough.
My daughter is in 4th grade. But, her encounter with mean girls began very early. She first met a really, really mean girl at preschool. This tiny terror hit, bit and kicked. She also stuck her foot out and tripped my daughter right in front of me. That was just one of many things this mean girl did to my daughter and other kids. Luckily, her family relocated to another state before she became a real menace.
Mean girl behavior (or “girl terror” as my friend Jenny calls it), is often unwittingly facilitated by nice girls who don’t understand mean girl dynamics. Recently, my daughter made a mean girl mistake of her own. She gossiped about some of the mean girls to her friend. Her friend promptly went and told them what my daughter said. The mean girls came over to my daughter on the schoolyard and confronted her. My daughter is no longer friends with her former good friend. Obviously, my daughter took a page from the mean girl playbook when she gossiped about them and it backfired. Lesson learned.
Our private elementary school has periodic conversations with the 4th grade girls about what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable behavior. The school has been having these conversations since kindergarten. It just doesn’t seem like it’s having the desired impact. Part of the missing piece is the fact that the moms of the mean girls aren’t part of the conversation. There is no accountability for their daughters’ behavior. And, sometimes, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, if you know what I mean. But, as a mom, I can’t intervene. None of this stuff rises to the level of bullying. I can only talk to my daughter about her behavior. The school strongly discourages parent involvement in kids’ disputes and at some point, my daughter has to learn to deal with this stuff.
In my parenting group, Betsy assures me these are typical 4th grade girl antics. Whew! Call me crazy, but I thought this was middle school behavior. No! It’s arrived early and with a bang. Every day brings a new challenge. I’m optimistic, but lately my optimism has been quashed when I pick my daughter up from school. Another incident! My friend Jenny put it well when she said, “everything you’re dealing with is still better than having the mean girl for a daughter.” She’s right. I love my daughter’s sweet, trusting nature. I also adore her group of nice, generous friends. But, she does need to learn, as the school said to the girls, “watch what you say.”
The other day, I had one of my toughest parenting moments in a long time. My daughter, after talking with me for more than an hour about how she was feeling about her broken friendship, sent me an email. She signed it, “your sad daughter.” I instantly broke into tears. I knew how she was feeling, but I didn’t know how to make the hurt disappear. We talked some more and she settled down for the evening. I assured her tomorrow would be a new day and there would be an opportunity for good, fun things to happen.
Sure enough, just at the right time the next day, an invitation to a classmate’s birthday party arrived. My daughter was thrilled. Things are looking up.