Really? Mean girls in the preschool years? Unfortunately YES it can start even there…according to an article in the Wall Street Journal Little Children and Already Acting Mean the concept of ‘relational aggression’ is discussed. In a nutshell, relational aggression can be equated to emotional bullying. It’s different than physical bullying in that there are no physical wounds, but that should not minimize or negate the pain and suffering inflicted. As I read the article, I immediately went back to a situation in preschool that could have served as the poster child for relational aggression in preschool girls.
It was a threesome of girls—a triangle…which was also mentioned in the article…why is it a triangle easily devolves into factions of 2 against 1? My theory of misbehavior in terms of relationships usually is based on older siblings modeling it, but in this particular situation, that wasn’t the case as the instigator was the oldest in her family.
Allison was bright and very verbal. She’d turned 4 years old and no longer wanted to play with babies…you know, those 3 year olds!! Kendall– a little gal, with a summer birthday, who was truly, developmentally Allison’s peer and HAD been a good friend the weeks before, was now persona non grata. This was very confusing and hurtful to her.
Because our school rules were clear—if there’s room for others to play, they play…Allison knew she couldn’t outright ban Kendall from playing in the same area, but Allison’s disdain was clear and audible. I’d hoped she’d tire of it all, but it didn’t appear that was going to be the case and she wasn’t responding to any of our “How would you feel if that happened to you?” talks.
All that “How would” “What if” talk is great proactively but when you’re in the thick of things, they usually have blinders on to what they’re doing. Re-visiting post whatever behavior you’re trying to modify/correct is always a good idea. Of course, being egocentric is natural for young children. Read about egocentrism and see other graphics like the one below which I think visually explains it perfectly!
A couple days later, Kendall came to me with the latest baby reference; I’d reached my limit.
I made a big announcement to the class: Kendall was 4 for the day!!! and began singing Happy Birthday. Once we finished singing, I sent her off towards Allison and told them to have fun playing. Allison knew something wasn’t quite kosher but she couldn’t put her finger on it… Later Kendall came to me very concerned, “But Teacher Karen, today isn’t my birthday!” I assured her I knew that, but since Allison was being unreasonable I was going to let her pretend to be a 4 year old.
I would employ the “Is this reasonable?” test with the preschool kidlets. For example: “You can’t come in here, you’re not wearing red!” (??!!) It may sound ridiculous to an adult, but a young child that’s a little unsure of themselves might back away. And for a completely unreasonable demand! I never begrudged kidlets the chance to flex their muscles to try and control situations, BUT I also wanted to make sure those children that are more reserved and/or soft-spoken found their voices and weren’t made fun of, taken advantage of and/or ignored.
Interestingly enough, the next week Allison’s obsession on being 4 and her discrimination against those younger than her was over! She was hard to keep up with sometimes, but always made things interesting…it was all part of the fascinating journey called preschool!
Yours in Play!