Girl Drama! Help!
This question comes from a mom of an 8-year-old girl who is dealing with serious girl drama in the third grade. Here daughter often comes home in tears and cannot seem to find a group she fits in with.
Let me start off by saying being a parent is hard and sending our kids off to school is one of the hardest things we do. School changes them. School is more about socializing than it is about learning to read and write. When I taught at an alternative school, I had a student tell me that it gave her immense anxiety to be in a room with thirty other kids for such a long time. She felt trapped. I never thought of it like this before but school can feel like a prison, especially if your child is struggling to make connections with others for whatever reason.
I would like to say that in a time when more and more people are questioning gender roles that there is no real difference between boys and girls but it's just not true. Mean Girls is a popular movie because we (women or those that identify as) can relate to it. That is because it is based off of a book on the sociology of girls called Queen Bees and Wannabes(amazon link). We all knew someone who was like Regina George in high school, but did you know this kind of behavior begins in elementary school?
So what are we to do?
First, keeping open communication with your child regardless of gender is important. I tell my kids that I am always hear to listen and will always be on their side no matter what. They do not have to be afraid to tell me if they mess up or they think someone else has. And being on their side sometimes means letting them know when they did something wrong. It doesn't mean I excuse all of their behavior. It means we look at each situation and try to understand what happened.
When a situation arises that has causes them pain or suffering like a friend suddenly deciding they are no longer their friend for whatever reason, we work first to understand. I say things like, "well maybe this friend is going through something difficult at home." "Maybe this friend just wants to play something different on the playground and since you only play on the swings she is finding a new friend." We continue exploring and talking. I want my child to understand that it is not their fault. We need them to understand that when someone does something mean to them or that they decide to no longer be their friend it is the other child's choice. Otherwise, our children can start to question whether or not they are worthy.
The other thing I started doing was talking with my daughter with around the age of seven about drama. No one ever gave me the tools or a crash course in drama and I wasn't prepared. I explained to Lucy that there will always be girls in her life that like to create drama. I defined drama as doing things to get an emotional response from others or get attention. She asked me why would anyone do this. I explained that some children do not get the attention or love they need at home so they are looking for it from others. I also explained that some girls have mothers that talk about others behind their backs or gossip and they are learning from those examples. I wanted her to have empathy for the drama starters but also be able recognize it when it is happening so she didn't get sucked in.
We bought the book, A Smart Girl's Guide to Drama, Rumors & Secrets from the American Doll series. This book does a great job of explaining what drama looks like. It gives scenarios and suggestions on what to do to diffuse the drama instead of getting involved. Some people may question talking about things like this at such a young age but it is better now than when your daughter is also dealing with hormonal changes in her body. At that point, the drama can be so overwhelming and confusing it can cause depression or anxiety.
When Lucy gets home and has had a run in with drama, I first have her recount all that happened. I ask when did it happen, who was involved, what did people say etc. We also look for Queen Bees. She is aware of the term and archetype and is on the look out. This year, she determined the Queen Bee just in time. The QB recently whispered in Lucy's ear that Lucy's best friend said she was annoying behind her back. Because Lucy is armed with tools, she asked the best friend to leave the area with her. When they got alone she told her best friend what the QB said. Lucy then said it's ok if you said it because I can be annoying at times. But the best friend didn't say it. I also told Lucy that she herself is not annoying. I reminded her that if someone chooses you as a best friend it is because they love to be around you. I also reminded her that QBs like to lie to force relationships apart. Lucy then realized that the QB has been inviting her to play with her on the playground. Then it clicked that the QB was trying to tear apart her friendship with the other girl.
Our jobs as parents is to help our children navigate a confusing social world. We are here to arm them with knowledge and tools to help them recognize and diffuse drama. The best thing you can do is start that open communication with your daughter. If she doesn't want to talk about what's happening, ask her to write or draw. If she is still struggling in school with making friends, go over how to make friends. Before my kids started school, we role played making friends. We taught them how to introduce themselves and invite someone to play. Also, if you can come up with an outside of school activity where she can make friends and get a self-esteem boost by learning a new skill or being a part of a team.
If these things don't help, it's time to speak to the teacher. Ask the teacher what he or she sees in the social dynamics and ask her to help your child make friends. When Lucy started third grade, I sent the teacher an email letting her know that Lucy's best friend has moved and she needs new friends. Her teacher was great about encouraging her to get in with the right crowd.
It is not easy being a child but you are here to help with that. Thanks for your question!