Naively, I thought things didn’t get tricky with girls until they hit their teens. I got it so wrong. It starts much, much earlier than that. The bitch gene, for example, appears to activate around age seven.
Every day, my little one – who’s in year 2 – comes home with a new tale of playground woe: “my friend dumped me and no-one else will talk to me because they’re all on her side”, “Donna was mean to me and made me cry”, “the other kids made fun of my lunch so I didn’t eat it” …
The eldest – now in year 4 – is having her own dramas. A girl in her class keeps giving her filthy looks and accusing her of stuff. I’ve asked to be introduced to the little miss. I want to say something like “Hi, I’ve heard so much about you! I can’t wait to meet your mum at parent information night next week”. I’ll announce it with a cheery smile and hope the subtext scares her into line without scoring me an invite to the principal’s office.
Do you think it would work? Is that wrong?
Sadly, I’ll never get the chance to find out, because my daughter has declined my offer with a look of sheer terror.
I just wish there was something I could do. Because I feel pretty bleak every afternoon when the kids tell me how their school day has gone.
I’m hoping things don’t go the distressing way they did last year, when this happened …
Sprog 1 came home from school yesterday, smiling brightly as she walked through the door. But when I asked about her day, she burst into tears. At lunchtime, her best friend told her she picks a new best friend every year, so see ya later. Holding her in my arms as she sobbed, my heart broke. I wished I could protect her from the slings and arrows of outrageous playground behaviour, but I can’t. Unless a situation escalates to bullying, her battles are her own. After soothing her sobs, I asked her to remember how awful it feels when someone says mean things. And I told her nothing would make me prouder than if she tried to always be kind. But I don’t like my chances. There’s something in kids’ natures that makes them do unto others as others have done unto them. The pack mentality is brutal too - if a kid is picked on, others don’t stick up for them (they might even join in), to avoid being picked on themselves. I expect the teen years will be even more challenging, with girls cranking the emotional torture up a notch. I feel so helpless, knowing the best I can do is remind the Sprogs what wonderful, worthwhile human beings they are. But trying to compete with negative messages from their peers will be hard. I just hope Sprog 1 listened to my plea and is brave enough to accept people for who they are, no matter the colour of their hair, the shade of their skin, the clothes they wear, the friends they keep. I meant it when I said nothing would make me prouder than having children who are kind. That leaves grey area around teen pregnancy, truancy, negative body image, alcohol poisoning, drugs. But – call me naive – I reckon there would be a whole lot less of the latter if there was a bit more of the former.
How do you foster kindness in children? I think we could all do with a few lessons in that.
PS That’s me in the second row, first on the left (I have no idea why are all the boys in jumpers and the girls in summer uniforms).