When I found out my first child would be a girl, I felt joy mixed with fear. Why fear? Because I remember how hard it was being a girl, especially when I had to deal with other girls. Girls can be mean. Girls can leave lasting scars on one another. I am still working through some of those scars, which could be a reason why I now write young adult novels.
I was prepared to deal with Mean Girls in ten years, give or take a few. So imagine my horror to find that the mean-ness starts in preschool. For the past two years, my little one has come home with stories about how, “so and so says she won’t be my friend if I can’t snap my fingers” and “so and so said my lunchbox is stupid” and “so and so says she doesn’t like me and wouldn’t play with me at recess.”
Even more horrifying? Little One is also dishing out the mean. I’ve seen it with my own two eyes. And no matter what I do to model and encourage and even, at times, force friendly behavior, it doesn’t seem to stick.
Here’s what’s triply horrifying: Little boys are mean, too. In fact, some of the most blatant mean-ness that I have seen has come from boys. Little guys on the playground make a game out of running away from my daughter. One little boy actually hit her in the face. Even her best little boy friend has been known to yell at her and tell her he doesn’t like/want to play with her. And guess what? She does the same to him.
It’s gotten to the point where I watch those PBS kid shows where all the kids share and play nicely together, and I wonder what planet they live on. Adults like to wax poetic about how kind children are at heart, but I think those adults are full of it. From what I have seen, a child’s first instinct isn’t kindness, it’s cruelty. Forget Barney, it’s Lord of the Flies out there, people. These days, when we meet children on the playground who are friendly and play nicely and include everybody, I am actually shocked.
What is a parent to do?!
I’ve discussed it with my daughter’s preschool teachers, and I know they do all they can to foster a positive environment. But this behavior almost seems hard-wired into kids. My husband and I have called children out on the playground for getting physical with our daughter, only to catch it from the parents, many of whom seem to think kids should be allowed to “fight it out.”
Well, I disagree. Kids shouldn’t be forced to play with each other if they don’t want to, but neither should they be blatantly excluding or even picking on others. And if my daughter were hitting other children or making them feel bad or left out, then I would *hope* somebody would let me know. I can guarantee you that I would be all over my child like white on rice. I try to stay on top of her behavior, teach her empathy and manners, and bring down the consequences if I see her being cruel.
But some days, it just doesn’t seem to sink in.
Fellow WMAGs, have you experienced what I’m experiencing? How do you deal with it? Should I just gird my loins and expect to be dealing with this for the next 20 years until my daughters are out of the house? Why can’t we all just get along?!