April 17, 2013

Little mean girls?

For some time, SB has been telling me about two girls in her preschool class she says are mean to her. Because of her seizures, there is certain equipment on the playground SB cannot go on. It seems these two girls have honed in on that and use it to exclude and taunt her during recess.

I've had the opportunity to participate and observe in SB's classroom several times, and what she told me about these girls surprised me. They don't come across as "little mean girls" to me. I do know both have recently experienced the kind of significant changes in their lives that could cause them to act out. I wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt.

I also believe preschool is primarily about learning social skills. These kids are four years old. I'm not going to label them "bullies." They are learning how to get along with others just as my own child is. I decided to first try helping SB focus on her own behavior, and how she might handle the situation in the future.

"We never know why people choose to not be nice. Many times it is because they are unhappy. Sometimes they are mean on purpose, so others will be unhappy, too. And sometimes they don't even realize they are hurting someone's feelings. Have you told (the girls) it hurts your feelings when they treat you that way?"

"No."

"Well, maybe if this happens again you could say to them, 'Please don't do that. It hurts my feelings.' Or you could ask them to join you in some other type of play. Something you can do. Do you think you could try that sometime?"

"Yes."

That did not work. The girls continued their behavior. One day, when SB told them it hurt her feelings when they excluded her, one of them said, "I don't want to hear your voice ever again!" SB responded in kind. So I talked to her about it.

"The important thing is that you always be kind. Even when someone else is not being nice. It's easy to respond to meanness with meanness, but it's never the right thing to do. OK?"

"Yes, Mommy."

"From now on, just look the girls in the eyes and say, 'You are not being nice. I don't want to play with you.' Then walk away and go play with someone else."

"OK."

"Does that makes sense?"

"Yes."

"You have a good heart. You are very beautiful on the inside. You should always let people see that. And if certain people in your class are not nice, if you try to play with them and be friends and it doesn't work, there are plenty of other kids you can play with. Choose to spend your time with the ones who are nice instead."

"I will."

"It can be hard, but try to remember it is not really about you. It's about something bothering those girls, and they don't know any other way to deal with it."

I know both the girls' moms. We're not close, but we interact regularly and are friendly with one another. I don't believe they would condone the behavior their girls were exhibiting if they knew about it. If things didn't get any better, I planned to approach them.

Not in an accusatory manner, but to see what, if anything the girls may have shared with them and if they've been having any other issues. I was also considering talking to SB's teachers, although I had complete faith in their ability to manage the situation.

That faith was confirmed last week, when one of the teachers pulled me aside to talk to me about the issue. She did not name the girls, but focused on the behavior taking place, which I felt was appropriate. What she told me matched SB's accounts of the interactions.

I told her I was aware and had been working with SB on how best to respond. The teacher said she has heard SB using the language I had coached her on. She made it clear SB had done nothing wrong and was not in trouble.

However, the taunting had gotten worse and the teachers felt the need to step in. I was told they "read the riot act" to the girls and had serious talks with their mothers. It was made clear the behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

The girls have been banned from the play equipment in question for the remainder of the school year. If the behavior continues, further action will be considered.

I thanked the teacher for addressing the situation, and told her I felt they had done so appropriately. I explained I believe preschool is about learning social skills, and that this was a good opportunity for all the girls involved, including SB, to do so.

I also feel it is best to address these types of problems early on, so they don't continue to get worse as the children get older. I'll be interested to see how things go the remainder of the school year. And next year, as the girls will likely all attend Pre-Kindergarten together at the same school.

SB seems to have taken the whole thing in stride. She still loves school. Never says she doesn't want to go there. In fact, she told me just the other day she wishes she could go five days a week instead of three. She is not showing any signs this has affected her negatively.

I was somewhat taken aback to learn this kind of behavior is happening with children so young. I'm not sure they are capable of understanding what they are doing. It seems deliberate (and the teachers said it very clearly was), but do they truly comprehend the impact of their words and actions? I don't know.

It has given hubby and I reason to think and talk at length about how we might want to deal with similar situations in the future, and help SB to deal with them. We used to worry her speech disorder would make her a target of ridicule from her peers. But even with Apraxia, she speaks better than many of her classmates. It's never been an issue.

Now the epilepsy causes us to worry about how other children will treat her. There are certain limitations that have to be placed on her to ensure her safety. That will continue indefinitely. It has the potential to make her "different," which increases the chances she could have issues with other kids.

This is not the first time SB has encountered mean kid behavior on the playground. And I'm sure it won't be the last. We will take things as they come and deal the best we can, teaching SB to handle difficult situations and communicate with us when they occur. Above all, we will instill in her the importance of focusing on her own behavior, making sure she treats others how she wants to be treated at all times.

Photo credit

What do you think? Can children as young as four really be considered bullies? How would you handle the situation if your child was involved?




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