I teach early childhood classes where we talk about the difference between girls’ and boys’ bullying behavior. Boys typically attack physically and get lots of timeouts for that. But girls attack verbally, and we have to treat their attacks just as if someone has been hit.
I’ve been dealing with a little mean girl stuff around here lately, but it’s giving me the “wonderful teachable moments” that my friend Lynne is always talking about. I’m almost grateful for the run-ins that happen because then I get to teach a child how to make a healthy choice to protect herself.
For example I have a girl who I call my little boss. She’s only imitating my behavior, which a lot of girls do, but she likes to be in charge of everyone. She was telling Miss C what to do when Miss C yelled at her and started to cry (I so get that feeling).
The boss said, “I don’t want to play with you. Right, Miss C?”
I said, “Ms. Boss, she’s really mad right now because of how you’re treating her. She doesn’t want to talk about it. You need to leave her alone.”
Miss C looked at me and stopped crying. It was like she suddenly realized she didn’t have to play out the Boss’s puppet show. She could choose not to engage, and when she knew that the cloud lifted. This is one of the most powerful moments I get to enjoy on the job.
It reminded me of one of my clients whose daughter had gone on to preschool. She was having trouble with a child who was mean and she didn’t want to play with that child. But the teacher told her she had to because of the “we’re all friends here” rule.
I told the mom, “You tell your daughter she never has to play with anyone she doesn’t want to!”
I understand the intention of a rule like that because it’s trying to dictate good behavior, but it isn’t something you can control. It’s like saying “Be nice.” How do you regulate that?
And why would you ever want to force kids to play with someone who is hurting them? I suggested that mom tell her daughter to WALK AWAY, and that it’s OK to tell people exactly how they’re making you feel. You never make a child play with anyone, that’s just crazy talk.
I often try another response with the kids, which is no response at all. We recently had an interesting conversation with a friend who is a psychiatric social worker. She said that sometimes people will physically attack her. I asked all the kids present (there were four – I am never not surrounded by kids) to listen up and hear what her response is.
She said first you try not to respond too much. Then you put up a hand and say, “You’re getting a little too close to me now,” but you have to learn how to stay calm and project strength.
She even said that she’s been hit, and it doesn’t scare her anymore because once it happens, you know what it feels like and you survive. Now that’s tough.
The kids were interested and I was glad we had a chance to talk about survival tactics. Older Son said “I have a good way to deal with bullies. I just look at them and go, ‘Really?’”
We talked about how much easier it is for adults to handle the onslaught than kids. And how even adults have to deal with bullies. It’s pretty cool when you find life lessons in unexpected places.
So, in summation: no response, calm response, be strong, walk away, you don’t have to play with a bully, and you will get through this if you use your head. Just another day at the office.