Bullying in Pre-K

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PSP parents discuss bullying in Pre-K aged, 4-year-old children.

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ORIGINAL POSTER:

 

“I would appreciate your feedback and perspective on perhaps a hot-button issue: namely, "mean girls". My daughter is in Pre-K at a public school in Brooklyn. Her class has more boys than girls in it, and the girls are by and large a nice and diverse group. However, in her Pre-K class - and especially the other Pre-K classes at her school - there are a few mean girl ringleaders. These are girls who set the tone for the day, they decide who they are going to be nice to that day, and those whom they will ignore. It is typically an alpha and a sidekick. These girls, again, are in Pre-K; roughly 4 years old.

As the mom of two girls, I am pretty shocked and dismayed by the behavior I am witnessing and hearing about from girls in Pre-K. So, my question is this: is there any action that can or should be taken? I think it's clear that talking to the teachers about the situation is appropriate. But what can you do if the situation doesn't change? Is speaking to the parent(s) of the mean girls appropriate? Is that over-stepping boundaries? Of course I always encourage my girls to avoid anyone that is not nice to them, and seek out friends and classmates who are. But I just find it so disheartening that mean girls often dominate the tone of the class.

Any feedback or thoughts are much appreciated."

 

REPLIES:

 

TALK TO THE TEACHER ABOUT IT; DO NOT TALK TO THE PARENTS:

“It's terrible that your daughter has to deal with that! The best course, I think, is the one you mentioned in passing: talking to the teacher about it. She might already be aware of it and working on it, in which case you can share information and coordinate efforts; or she might not have picked up on it yet. If that doesn't get results, I'd take it to the principal. The thing to remember is that schools deal with this kind of thing all the time, in all grades, and it's part of their mission to create a safe space for each child to learn.

Our school has a team led by the assistant principal dedicated to fostering a healthy culture and preventing bullying in all forms--as a starting point, that helps create awareness of what's okay and what isn't, and helps kids understand that it's all right to speak up when they're not being treated appropriately. When things do come up, the school takes action, often through the guidance counselor, to mediate and address the conflict. If necessary, the principal gets involved directly, which can include bringing in the child's parents. I imagine other schools have more or less similar mechanisms of their own to handle these situations--the point is that it's part of their job, and you should be able to count on them to do it right. (If they're not responsive, I'd consider changing schools--it's a pretty important reflection of their priorities).

It might take time--these situations can be hard to root out--but I think that's the best way to work through it. What I wouldn't suggest is talking to the other parents. No parent wants to hear that their child is mean or a bully, and no child, when confronted, is likely to say, "Oh, sure, I've been terrorizing my classmates all year." It's all too likely to devolve into she-said, she-said, with each parent backing their own daughter. It's not so much a matter of over-stepping boundaries, as just being unlikely to be effective.

Sadly, there are mean people everywhere, of every age. I think the most important thing to focus on is letting your daughter know that she's being heard, that the grown-ups in her life are working hard to help her, and that she doesn't have to accept this kind of treatment. One of the worst parts of bullying can be when you suspect that you somehow have it coming or don't deserve to be treated any better. The more confident she feels, the less it will affect her--maybe she can be a new leader for the other oppressed girls in the class.

 

ANOTHER MEMBER SUGGESTS TALKING TO THE PARENTS - KNOWING IT IS RISKY:

"That’s so sad! I couldn’t help but think— if my 4 year old daughter was acting like that- and was being a mean girl- I would absolutely want to know so I could talk with her about it. By approaching the parents, you are taking the risk that they might not respond well, but if you’ve prepared yourself for that possibility and know not to take it personally, I think you should say something. You may find the parents really upset this is happening and really grateful someone told them before it got to a point where they felt less able to intervene and get their daughter to approach her social interactions in a different way. It could backfire- but I think its worth it. As a parent, I’d absolutely want to know."

 

TALK TO THE TEACHERS; AND ANOTHER CONFIRMATION TO NOT TALK TO THE PARENTS:

"Well, I have witnessed the PS 10/Bishop Ford pre-k kids playing and saw this one girl being really really mean and I was absolutely astonished. the teachers did not seem to notice. Talk to the teachers. They will probably be fairly useless (teachers, sorry to offend, but that's been my experience), but maybe you can talk about ways to foster an inclusive atmosphere and expectations of that for the entire class. I would not talk to the parent, unless it is specifically something truly awful done to your child, and then put it like you want to help the girls have a conversation about something that happened. FYI, it only gets worse, and there were mean girls in preK 7 years ago when my kid was that age.

 

ADDRESS THE CODE OF CONDUCT:

"I had a discussion recently with my daughter's pre-school teacher as we are still in touch even though my daughter is 11 years old.  I called to specifically discuss this issue of Mean Girls.  It is happening in pre-k. Mean Girls are a direct reflection of something going wrong at home, home training, etc. Soon, if the behavior continues to elementary or middle or higher, it will be in violation of the Code of Conduct.  Then you will see changes.  I am willing to bet if they are bitches now, they'll be bitches then. An article ran this week in the Huffington Post about Mean Girls.  It was insightful and likely easy to find."

 

IF PARENTS ARE ADDRESSED, DO IT NON-THREATENING WAY

"How tough!!! I would want to know if it was my daughter that was being a mean girl.  I also suspect that if I were working through issues with my child (ie I was aware already) that I would feel fine - even glad - to have the opportunity to explain it to another concerned parent IF i was approached in a non-accusatory/non-threatening way. In fact, consider even explaining that ... "I debated whether it was appropriate to contact you and ultimately decided that I would want someone to tell me if my daughter was making another child feel bad.  Here's the situation"... Just a thought.  Good luck!"

 

WHEN TALKING ABOUT BULLYING, CONSIDER USING DIFFERENT LANGUAGE THAN "MEAN GIRLS" AND "BITCHES": 

"I hope I'm not the only one replying in sadness and shock to the "bitches now, bitches always" comment that was, not coincidentally, posted anonymously. I hate to think that I'm a member of a group that would allow a comment like this to stand - and I'm sort of disappointed that a moderator let it through. That word is misogynistic and offensive when applied to grown women, and utterly horrifying when applied to children. We are talking about 4-year-old girls. My daughter just started pre-k, and I could easily see her playing the role of victim or Mean Girl. This is a tough transition; a new school, much more crowded than she's used to, new kids, new teachers, new routines, and giant big kids running around everywhere. And these are children who are still learning about empathy, compassion, inclusion and exclusion, and what it means to be a friend. One thing that I am struggling with is the loss of control that I am experiencing, not over my daughter herself but over her influences. The world, very quickly now, is infiltrating the little cucoon of babyhood and toddlerhood and family that we've been slowly emerging from since her birth. I basically hate it, and I know my kid is struggling with it too. I see Mean Girl behavior as an unfortunate way that some girls cope with their negative feelings of fear, overwhelm, loneliness, inadequacy and the like, and it requires tremendous compassion and empathy to guide them in a better direction. I would hate to hear that my daughter was playing the role of Mean Girl, and that is something that I would want to address with her swiftly and very seriously. But we need to be the people that we want our children to become. And I definitely don't want my kid to grow up to anonymously call some 4-year-olds "bitches" to a group of thousands of people, or to let such a remark pass without comment."

AND ANOTHER POSTER AGREES:

"I have found the use of the term mean girls in this conversation and the implication that this is somehow innately female behavior just as offensive as the use of the word bitch. I understand how the OP feels and is trying to use a shorthand to get her point across, but am a little surprised no one had issue with it in any of these posts until the word bitch came up. I spend a lot of time in our playgrounds and help out at school during lunch/recess. I see at least as much variation within the genders as between them. Yet I constantly hear comments from parents, teachers, and others about how boys are one way and girls are another. This started as far back as when my oldest was a newborn. Still it never ceases to amaze me how accepted it is in this community of (over)educated people that every behavior they see in kids comes down to the presence or absence of a Y chromosome. I believe it's this acceptance, this expectation, and these endless comments that actually make the differences.

 

THE TEACHERS ARE THE PROBLEM; THE PROBLEM COULD RESOLVE ON IT'S OWN:

"It's really upsetting to hear parents writing off 3 and 4 year old girls so contemptuously. I haven't read all the literature but are we really at the point where "mean girl" behavior (at least, the kind that was reported in the original post) is automatically elevated to bullying status?  The initial post seemed to focus on the fact that the mean girls are dominating the tone of the classroom, and to me, if two pre-k teachers are not able to control the tone of a classroom with 18 3 and 4 year olds, then that is the real issue.  Of course, bullying or violence would be something else.  But a lot of what has been suggested would seem to me to reward the negative behavior with lots of attention, give it even more power, and perpetuate it.  I think there is a whole body of literature on positive reinforcement, and hopefully the teachers can use some of those methods to improve the classroom climate. When my daughter was first in kindergarten, she reported some mean girl behavior happening on the playground and in the classroom. The reports were more about how strange and confusing the behavior seemed to my daughter, as opposed to being hurt or angered by it or giving it power by internalizing it.  My daughter seemed to know, instinctively, that this kind of behavior is about the mean girl, and not a reflection of the target...So even though my first instinct was to defend my daughter and to encourage her to defend herself, I followed my daughter's lead and decided to just watch and see how it developed.  Eventually, the couple of mean girls wound up with mostly only themselves to play with (not because they were being excluded, but because the nicer girls had no interest in the mean games) and sort of neutralized each other.  Fast forward a few years and some of the mean girls have grown out of their behavior and are good friends to my daughter.  I'm sure it doesn't always work out that way, but sometimes it can.

 

 SUGGESTED READING:

"Hi. I found this article interesting -- it covers "relational aggression" from a developmental psychology perspective. Girls as young as 2.5 threaten to withhold friendship. The article also offers a few examples of what some schools are doing":
Very Little and Acting Mean: Especially Firls, Withold Friendshup as a Weapon; Teachning Empathy by Sumathi Reddy