Can’t We All Just Get Along?

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?!

7 thoughts on “Can’t We All Just Get Along?

  1. Dude, I am SO not looking forward to this. Cassie hasn't seemed to experience this meanness yet. But she just turned 3, and has only been in preschool for a few months. Yikesers.

  2. When the rare occasion does present itself and my 3 year old is around other kids. I try hard not to hover and let him play on his own. Its fascinating to watch kids play together, but can be horrifying at times.
    My son starts preschool soon… will be interesting. Not only will I see how my son reacts, but I will also see how I react!

  3. Well, there's hovering as in "omigod, Britany, don't climb on the jungle gym you might fall down and don't touch that it's dirty and come here so I can wipe that speck off your chin" and then there's hovering as in making sure your kid doesn't haul off and sock some other child or organize a posse against one unfortunate soul who will spend the rest of the play session in tears. I wish more parents did more of the second type of hovering.

  4. Overwhelmed Mom says:

    My oldest daughter just turned 9 and I started reading the book that "Mean Girls" was based on (Queen Bees and Wannabees by Rosalind Wiseman)…thinking reading it ahead of her teen years will get me really prepared…come to find I can apply a good bit of it now. Whenever my daughter is hurt by someone else, I tell her to remember how that feels so she doesn't do it to someone else. No idea if that will work or not.

  5. I have many thoughts on this, so bear with me.

    At this age, I don't think this is really "mean girls" or "mean boys" type behavior. I think some kids like one another, and other kids don't. Just like adults. But more simpified. There are adults I care to talk to, and some I'd rather not. Of course, I don't tell those certain adults I don't like them–I just avoid them. But our kids aren't that mature yet. And the ganging up thing is a little different. Sara, you talked about that in your comment, but not the original article. I don't know much about the ganging up, just yet.

    Do I like it when a kid excludes my kid from activities? Hell no! A little boy came up to O not too long ago and said "O, I don't like you." It felt like someone punched *me* in the gut. O brushed it off though, and the next day they were best buds.

    I don't think that little boy meant to hurt my son's feelings. I know his mom, and she's an outstanding woman. Her and her husband have adopted three kids (this being one of them.) Her son just didn't like O at that moment. Kids are impulsive, kids say what they feel. They don't hold back. Right now, O tells me he doesn't like some of the kids that have moved up into his room at preschool. He says they are "babies" and that's why he doesn't like them. Well, it's sort of true. He's almost three, they just turned two. He can talk wind sprints around them, and to him, they are "babies." I don't think he means anything mean by it, and I try to reinforce that we should try to be friends with everyone, and even if we don't want to be friends, we still have to be nice.

    Now when it comes to violence, such as pushing, shoving, hitting–that's a whole other story. Another little boy tried to push my son down a slide at the indoor mall park play thing the other day. When I saw what was happening, it was like I was in slow motion–I couldn't get there fast enough, but I needn't worry. My little one just said "NO! NO PUSHING!" really loud, and the other boy stopped pushing. I gave O a thumbs up, and some parents smiled at me, but the offender's parents were nowhere to be found.

    I'm just trying to roll with the punches. Instill what I think are good values in him, and realize kids will be kids. I remember when I was young, I was often in "fights" with the kids up or down the block. It kinda just is. I remember the pre-teen year turmoil a lot more b/c of the hormones and *I* became a lot more self conscious of who I was.

    See, I told you? Book. 🙂

  6. I think you're right, Tela, about younger children, but now that we're heading into Kindergarten, it's starting to take on more of an "I want to hurt the other kids' feelings" type of vibe. I know, because I'm seeing my own child try it out. It's almost like she's trying on a little power trip, seeing what she can get away with. And I, too, remember fighting with the neighborhood kids. I also remember feeling pretty crappy a lot of nights when people decided to throw their weight around and be nasty. I know we can't shield our kids from experiencing this kind of thing, but… you know, I hear about bullies and I sort of think we might have less of them if more grown-ups stepped in and demanded that their children be a bit more friendly. Call me idealistic, but we don't expect kids to know how to make dinner or drive a car or do complex math. Why should we expect them to just naturally know how to behave in social situations? Adults are there to guide children, when possible.

    And don't get me started on the parents who take their hitting, kicking, pushing bullies to a park and then just go AWOL while little Junior terrorizes everybody else. Oy!

  7. A Mother's Nature says:

    Even as a toddler my little one is experiencing this. I have taught her to be gentle (signs and words), nice and when it is i someone we know well, hugs and kisses.

    Yet, we have a few friends whos little ones hit when they are frustrated and dont get what they want. It is hard to watch and personally if a parent is not on top of that with their kids, then I step in, and say thing like "That's not nice, we do not hit/push/spit". If the parents do step in, I still take my girl aside and look at her telling her things like, "that wasn't nice, are you ok?, he shouldn't have hit you". I do this not to rub it in or make anyone feel badly, I do this so that my child knows that the behavior is not nice or acceptable.

    Loved this post. Thank you!

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