Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Mean Girls...

I have been thinking about Phoebe Prince a lot. It scares me to think that bullying can go this far and have this consequence. Mostly I am scared for my very accommodating, just like their mother, daughters.
It was a hot summer evening and I was walking with my friend Misty on the dusty paths of the County Fair. It was a typical Friday night at a small town County Fair in Indiana. Expensive games with cheap prizes, stale popcorn, rides older than my mother, gawking carnies, and teenagers primed with hormones just looking for trouble. It was totally my scene.

We were walking and talking, checking out the fair, as well as the talent when someone pushes me hard from behind. As I turned around she then hits me and shoves me to the ground, yelling at me to get up and fight her. I evidently "took her man" and she was pissed and out for blood. But I stayed on the ground and told her no - I had no interest to fight(knowing full well she had 30 pounds on me, more raw physical strength, and a mean streak that frankly scared the shit out of me) and to just leave me alone. I don't clearly remember everything that happened, but I am sure I cried.

And for the life of me, I cannot remember that boys name that caused this incident when I was 16.

I have never in my life hit, pushed, whacked, or purposely physically tried to hurt someone - even in self-defense, and frankly am not sure that I could.

In the 6 years I have been going to day-care and preschool conferences, every teacher has told me the same thing about my daughters. "They need to be more assertive!"

Even as toddlers, they would not dream of taking a toy from another child, physically touching another child except for a hug, or if another child took their toy-they would watch it go and choose something else.
They don't fight with each other and have never taken something from their sister, and if their sister asks them nicely to use the pink marker they are currently using, they hand it over and grab the purple.

I don't remember ever teaching them any of this and believe it is somehow just inherent to them as now I see their baby sister being a real pain in their rears as she will TAKE EVERYTHING they own.
As sweet and innocent and seemingly polite this lack of assertion was in preschool, it is not serving Eloise well in school. She is in a class was some brilliant kids, who know what they want, get what they want, are quite independent and well, bossy. So she accommodates them all and then comes home in a puddle of tears quite often. How she "never gets to play what she wants to play" "never gets a turn" "is never picked for pairing up" "last picked for teams" "plays alone on the playground" "sits alone in the lunchroom" ...mean notes have come home in her backpack.(the note has already been addressed with the school/parents)
She is a sweet, kindhearted gentle soul with infinite patience. But it is all wearing thin and frankly I am feeling helpless. I lift her up trying to give her the confidence she needs to just be comfortable with who she is, but she is trying desperately to fit in with the "cool crowd" even at 7 years old. I totally understand, as in school, you are sadly measured by the friends you keep. I don't even want to have a conversation with her that some girls are just simply mean. I have a hard time swallowing that pill myself and want to believe in only inherent goodness in the world.
So I ask of you, how do you teach your daughter to be assertive, yet not aggressive, still be lovely and not loose her innocence of knowing their are "mean girls" out there? How do I not be a protective mama bird and just let me little girl fly on her own? How do I keep from going to the school and kicking some first grade mean girls asses myself?;)



Ann said...

Sad that it starts so young! Just keep offering love and safety at home and get your hands on a copy of Queen Bees & Wannabees by Rosalind Wiseman. Offers insights and navigation tools to help your daughter through those waters. Was very helpful and enlightening to our family. Thanks for sharing.

Jill R said...

I think you teach by modeling and then a lot of it is personality too. My oldest is very cautious with friendships, she only invests in those that she knows won't hurt her and therefore, she's got some fantastic true blue friends.

Somewhere along the way, they find their way...the mean girls pool together, same for the nice girls. We figured it out, they will too. It's a natural process that Eloise is going through. Of course you are watching her to make sure it doesn't get out of hand, most times it doesn't but part of the reason we switched schools 2 years ago was due to a domineering girl that controlled the entire classroom (boys included).

I was just thinking yesterday of this mean girl experience, the one we left behind in her old school. I would still love a pop at her....given the chance, I'd take it.

Jen said...

This is a tough one, Tracy. No answers here, but just wanted to send some hugs your way and tell you to hang in there (Eloise, too). Hell, I'm sure she's the best dressed kid in the entire class/grade---that should count for major points on the popularity scale :) Just keep thinking--summer vacation is right around the bend, right?! :)

Anonymous said...

I feel your pain. Those days haven't hit for us yet but I dread first grade for that exact reason. Forntunately for us or maybe not Madison is extremely assertive and always has been. That being said we are consistently reminding her to treat everyone with the same kindness and exemplify her school motto "Others before self" through her actions with others. The only wish that I have for both of my children are to be kind inviduals that learn to care for others in their lives. I only hope to keep them on the right path to that everyday. Tifani H.

Stacey said...

Here is another question??? What if your daughter IS a mean girl???

I was always quiet growing up, managed to fit in wherever I chose... enjoyed my friends and fortunately was a good judge of character... I still have many, many life long friends... and continue to make new ones throughout the stages of my life... BUT I have this dreamy, blonde little toot! she has ATTITUDE like nothing I've ever encountered... and defiance! We have recently been dealing w/ the issue of not playing w/ classmates because "she's not even cute...MOM"... you could have knocked me over w/ a feather... I couldn't conceive what would make her say such a thing... We had a lengnthy discussion and I explained that God made us all different to make us more interesting and how we appeared on the outside is only a tiny part of the person that we actually are...
She seems to be reacting to others w/ that thought in mind... But oh how scarry to see such confidence in a 5 year old... GOOD THING/BAD THING...
Eloise will learn as you & I did, to speak up for herself and be just assertive enough to get what she needs when she needs it... AND watch out for Astrid... seems she's on her way to "Divadome" w/ Miss Olivia

Janell said...

I totally know what you are saying here! This mean girl/cyber bullying business worries me too. Some random thoughts on what we've done at our house...one of my daughters is very sweet, quiet, young for her class and half everyone's size. I've tried to look for opportunities for her to assert herself (like ordering for herself at restaurants or calling to make arrangements for playdates, answering the phone and taking messages, calling a friend about a homework assignment question, having a lemonade stand, etc). I know it sounds like small things but if I didn't create some opportunities she would always defer to me. We also play "what if.." at dinner sometimes, "what if someone won't let you sit down in your bus seat? or what if someone hurts your feelings, What do you do?" We've also had talks that not everyone has to be our friend, some children(and adults) just have hate in their hearts. It makes us sad for them and we can still be nice to them but we can choose not to be friends with them (we have the power - they don't). One last thought, on the Today show this morning they had a segment on mean high school girls making facebook fan pages for all the so-called sluts at their school or people they hated or something to that effect and not 3-4 minutes later on another segment they had a segment on some Jersey housewives show where Meredith questioned them about some wife they all hated and were in some stupid dispute with. I screamed at the tv b/c of the irony - how could Meredith not make the connection that mean girls grow up?

Janell said...

One last comment, my prayer for my girls as they grow up is that I have helped them learn to be resilient. Because, the sad fact is, they will be hurt, they will be left out, they will be disappointed, and they will be underminded in not so obvious ways. My dying words to my girls will likely be..."Let's not freak out here girls." =)

Amanda M. said...

This is so hard. I am/was a lot like Eloise and really sensitive, too. And even though I traveled in what would have been considered the "popular" group, it was still not any type of cake walk. Girls can be so mean.
My 10 yo daughter talks to me a lot about things going on in her class/with her friends. She usually manages to say on the fringe of the drama and not be too involved, but she is still hurt sometimes, too. I am just glad she talks about with me. I know my girls will be hurt; it's unavoidable. But I just pray I can keep the communication lines open so I never taken by surprise like I am sure that poor girl's parents were. :( Oh, and I am also going to get that book that Ann mentioned above.

Tracy said...

I really appreciate all of your insightful comments. I just am so overwhelmed as she is only 7, that I just cannot imagine what 14 will be like. Ann, that book sounds wonderful. Buying today. Wow, Stacey - I don't know what to tell you - but I will be coming to you for advice in a few years when Astrid is causing me problems! ;)

..and J - my new motto "let's not freak out here girls.." LMBO

Rachelle said...

This is a tough subject. I was like her and still to this day do not 'get' how girls can be so cruel and live with themselves. She will gain confidence. She will find her voice. But, it takes time. The hard part, as a mother, is watching your young one go through this ick. The trials she goes through will build her character and cause her to be more empathetic toward others in the long run, if that is any help, but the waiting is painstaking. My thoughts are with you as you raise these girls. Wouldn't you rather go through it yourself than watch your child go through it?? It's excrutiating at times watching children grow up. For me, it brings out the strongest emotions I will ever feel (which include love and pride and joy, thank goodness!). I like what Ann says above about making home be as safe and loving an atmosphere as you possibly can. Great advice. It's tough out there in the cold cruel world. The best thing I can tell you is, you've got company. I feel for ya, sister.

AFC said...

I used to teach first grade and I did see the "mean girl" attitudes come out.. sad but true. I'd always suggest to the parents playdates with sweet kids..that way even if there were mean girls, kids wouldn't care as much because they had some really good friends who were not that way.

I think the best advice to give to Eloise is to ignore the mean kids and play with your nice friends instead. It is no fun to bully a kid who has minimal reaction to the meanness.. kids tend to go after kids they can get a rise out of.. The girl Jill who said that nice girls pool together is absolutely true.. it is the best defense against the mean girls. Good luck..Hayley's heading to first next year..wish me luck!

colored pencilgrandma said...

Does the teeacher have any idea how Eloise feels? At our school we had play act sessions all the time doing different type: mean, selfish etc scenarios We had lots of different type kids and we were "brutal" about encouraging kindness and the right kind of behaviors. Eloise is very sensitive and caring and unfortunately this type person gets hurt easily. Keep communication open and if it gets to be too much talk to the teacher.You are great parents. Just keep doing what you are doing....listening and communicating about the good the bad and the ugly personalities that effect our lives.Love to my beautiful Eloise....so grown up Boo Hoo!

colored pencilgrandma said...

Story from Seattle Olympics:

For the 100 yard dash there were nine contestants, all of them so called physically or mentally challenged. All nine of them assembled at the starting line and at the sound of the gun, they took off. But one little boy didn't get very far. He stumbled and fell and hurt his knee and began to cry.

The other eight children heard the boy crying. They slowed down, turned around and ran back to him. One little girl with Downs Syndrome bent down and kissed the boy and said:"This will make it better". The little boy got up, and he and the rest of the runners linked arms together and joyfully walked to the finish line.
They all finished the race at the same time. And when they did, everyone in the stadium stood up and clapped and whistled and cheered for a long, long time. People who were there are still telling the story with delight. And you know why?
Because deep down we know that what matters in life is more than winning and being number 1. What really matters is helping others to win and making others feel accepted too, even if it means slowing down and changing our course now and then.
Eloise has learned this lesson well. Hopefully with time she will truly appreciate this quality in herself and choose friends who value it also.

Good lesson for our world also.

Ann said...

Poor Eloise... that just breaks my heart. It is so hard. I struggle with this too, especially with my oldest. I wish I had great advice, but I feel like I'm still navigating these waters too.

MollyinMinn said...

That is such a hard situation. I wish I had answers, but I don't. All I can say is that, as a child who was also bullied I know what my parents told me. That I had to rise above it. That I had to be true to myself. And yes, that sometimes people are just mean.

And then there is what we tell our kids. People like that are trying to get attention. If you try not to give it to them, it's not nearly as interesting for them.

I'm sorry.

Ginny said...

First let me say that I LOVE the pictures of Eloise - such a model and so grown up looking!
To read your blog brings back memories of that evening at the fair:( The difficulty Eloise is experiencing breaks my heart. The stories and comments from everyone embracing this is wonderful and I think, I too, will read Queen Bees and Wannabees because I feel there is a true story there.
I tried to raise my children to "treat others as they would want to be treated", to be independent thinkers, to have self esteem, to realize the importance of family and to appreciate their alone time. Among other virtues. I knew I had 18 years to do this. Biggest obstacle - peer pressure. Tough one.
The reality is - this isn't just a problem for children. We are surrounded by "mean" adults. People who profess to be "Christians", people who gossip, people with low self-esteem issues, etc. Our whole life we make decisions about who we want to spend time with. We are placed in working environments with people we know we don't want to spend time with outside of work. Family is what matters. One true friend is all we need, more is a bonus!
You have more insight you will teach than you are aware. Raising children today is more difficult with all the distractions. You are doing fine. Keep the conversation and love flowing and Eloise will grow up to be a strong confident woman. Thanks for sharing.
Maybe this should be a mandatory subject in every class in every school. What do you think?

Anonymous said...

Your situation is so similar to my oldest daughter's 1st grade experience. She is now in 5th grade and I found that around 3rd grade she seemed to find a group of really nice, kind girls that were very much like her. I believe that around the 3rd grade age, they naturally become more assertive (my youngest is currently in 3rd grade and I have seen this happen with her, as well.) When my oldest was dealing with these same issues your daughter is, I kept reinforcing what a great little girl she was and to be true to herself. Not to change to fit it, but find the girls who readily accepted and appreciated her. Although, I did tell her that when she needed to stand up for herself, to do so. I basically "gave her permission" to be more assertive. I think she needed to actually here me say it was o.k. to be more assertive before she was actually able to do it. Maybe she thought she would get in trouble if she didn't have my permission?? I just found it helped her when I told her it was o.k. to stand up for herself. I did teach her, though, that she still needed to be kind and not hurtful in how she went about it and if she couldn't handle it on her own, to let her teacher know (and obviously me if she wasn't getting anywhere with the teacher.) I actually spoke with her teacher when a specific bullying situation occurred and her teacher told me to encourage my daughter to discretely tell her if something happened. She said that the mean kids tend to only bully when a teacher isn't around and they know they can get away with it.

I would just try to keep reinforcing what a great, kind, sweet and lovely little girl she is and to stay true to herself and I believe you may see that as she gets into the older grades it will begin to come much more naturally and she will also find a great group of sweet girls just like her!

P.S.: Believe me though, I also felt like you did too, and was ready to kick some butt if necessary . . . ha ha!! Hope this helps and hang in there!!!!!

Heather said...

We just had a discussion about this last night. I have also been thinking a lot about Phoebe. And I would say that in the last year or so, I've read about 4 or 5 kids who have done the same thing because of bullies. Some were boys. I think the youngest was 11. Can you imagine how hurt and hopeless a child must be to take their own life?

It certainly is making me aware of every little problem the girls have each day. I don't want to create mountains out of molehills. But I also don't want my girls to ever feel such pain and desperation.

My girls are so small, they are the smallest kids in their grades. My oldest is probably smaller than all of the kids in the grade below hers. She is also kind and quiet. My younger daughter is a wild child, and can usually hold her own. But the damage to her self esteem still happens.

What brought this up last night, was a fight with another girl in our neighborhood. She is in the third grade. She is a trouble maker and often has my girls at odds with each other. Yesterday she was angry with my older daughter.

She and apparently her boyfriend(?!), were on the phone with my younger daughter. They dictated a note to be give to my older daughter. She wrote it all down and told me about it. That it had a bad word in it, but she didn't write it out, instead used stars for some of the letters. She showed it to me and I was shocked, even beyond the "b" word. It was so hateful. And it blew my mind that elementary kids could put together words in such a horrible manner.

I showed my husband. He too was appalled and did something surprising. He called the girl's mom to inquire about this boy, and share what her daughter and he had dictated. I was so proud of him for that. I went on to talk about Phoebe and the others who have taken their own life.

It's a serious problem. And I worry how much worse it will get as they get older? The only advice I can offer is to keep the communication flowing-always. No issue is too small ya know? Also taking a stand against this hateful behavior, not only so our girls will see it, but also their friends.

And on a not so serious note, this comment has gotten to blog post length. Maybe I will blog about it as well.

Sahnya said...

Wow! Thinking of Eloise and you as well!

If you can, you might try and volunteer in the classroom. I do it just a bit at Holden's school and it really helps me get a feel for some of the kids. It also helps me understand why Holden is drawn to some kids and not others. Our kids are smart and will find great friends! Best of luck!

Heather - Hopelessly Flawed said...

I blogged about Annie's first mean-girl experience a couple of weeks ago. It's tough. Especially because she is like Eloise - sooooo kind. I wanted to attack the little brat. And I addressed it with her father, who comepletely ignored me and blamed it on my daughter's size. (Short makes it ok to bully, I guess?) Jerky parents raise jerky kids, I learned.

Small consolation I know, but I take some comfort in knowing that at least it was happening TO Annie. I would be so much more upset to think that she was the one being a mean girl.

What about a martial arts class? Not so that she'd kick her butt (although honestly, if the kid needs a smackdown to make her lay off, then I'd have Eloise's back all the way ;) ) BUT I hear they do a lot for helping a child develop self confidence and personal strength. Someone recommended it to me and it seems so unlike anything we would ever do, but then I thought hey - maybe that's why I should try it!

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