What are little boys made of?
Snips and snails, and puppy dogs tails
That's what little boys are made of!"
What are little girls made of?
"Sugar and spice and all things nice
That's what little girls are made of!"
So goes the old nursery rhyme.
But I realize, as I look around the playground, that boys as bullies and girls as gentle souls is a fallacy. Because the truth is that if girls are not worse than boys, they are most certainly their equals when it comes to being mean.
Little boys can be abrasive - of course they can. They can be bullies and mean-spirited and make other kids feel isolated and afraid.
But little girls can be as intimidating as all heck - especially to other little girls.
My own daughter is being picked on by another girl at her preschool. This little girl has befriended another, and has tried to isolate my own child - pushing her away from activities she and her new BFF are taking part in, telling her she's not wanted and shouting at her to "stay away."
They are all four years old.
I have little tolerance for this and the teachers are taking care of it. I have also instructed my daughter to tell her teachers if she's being bullied and to shout "keep you hands off my body" if the bully tries to push her (which she has). I'll keep on top of the situation and jump in myself if I need to. Fortunately it's just one girl, but to any tiny child being picked on, she might as well be trampled on by a herd of elephants. It can be frightening and over-whelming .
Studies show girls to be just as capable of bullying as boys and it starts just as early. But girls are more likely to use a bullying tactic called "relational aggression" - which is subtly using relationships in order to bully another girl. An example is a bully flattering girl X and telling her she wants to be best friends and that she's pretty, smart. But the bully just doesn't understand how she can hang out with Y. Y is dumb and doesn't have cool clothes and her parents are losers. And besides, she heard that Y said some nasty things about X. Girl X falls for it and deserts her previous good friend Y to become friends with the bully. The bully is less interested in her new friend and more focused on the fact that she has destroyed a friendship and made Y confused, lonely and isolated. Mission accomplished.
The boys may push and pull, but the girls enjoy games of the mind. Relational aggression also includes pointing at the victim, whispering each other in front of her, laughing or nudging each other when she walks in a room.
How do we deal with it? We can teach our girls that bullying is not ok (against them or by them) and that we have a zero tolerance policy for it. We can stay in continuous communication with their teachers and volunteer in their classrooms so that we can get a feel for the atmosphere between the girls.
We can also encourage playdates in our homes with positive girls who make our kids feel good about themselves. Strength in numbers as well as alone.
Not all spats between girls are issues of bullying. Girls have disagreement and fights, just like boys. They don't talk for a while and make up. They say a few mean things and then it's over with. A bit of finger-pointing and name-calling. Or they may drift apart. This is a normal part of growing up and figuring out relationships.
It's the systematic bulling that's the problem and it's bigger than most people think.
MSNBC reported research showing that 75% of younger grade school kids have told their teachers or parents that they have been bullied, with half reporting it as being "serious".
Teaching kindergartners that sharing matters and that it's not "all about me" is a good start. Disallowing our daughters to call themselves "princesses" and "divas" helps too, because they are not. They are human beings who are no better than anyone else and these labels encourage a sense of superiority and entitlement no matter how fun or innocuous they look from the outside.
Encouraging good behavior and consideration of others in crucial, and rewarding it with playdates and sleepovers can help avoid our sweet girls turning into mean girls.
Mean girls may be popular on the outside, with their cool clothes and charming ways but they often turn into mean women who end up with unhappy lives and raising another generation of mean little ones. We all start off pretty innocent - vigilant parenting can ensure that our sweet, smart girls grow into sweet, smart women, without the need to score points against others and take other girls down in order to build themselves up.
For more information on bullying, click here for the Ophelia Project - an organization dedicated to the elimination of aggression and hostility that breeds bullying : http://www.opheliaproject.org/main/index.htm
Have you dealt with bullying? In what way?
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