Question: My daughter has several friends in her fourth-grade class who seem to love drama.
They pick on one another a good deal and my daughter usually ends up lashing out verbally when she’s the victim of the day. Because the other girls know it’s easy to get her goat, she seems to now be the victim of the year.
I’m trying to teach her to keep her feelings to herself and to keep her cool when the other girls pick at her. We’re not making a lot of progress because I get tearful reports almost every day.
I feel torn apart because I’m friends with a lot of the girls’ moms. We’ve made a pact to let the girls work it out themselves, but knowing that my daughter is taking a lot of abuse is tearing me apart.
Now my husband is getting mad at me because he says rivalries among little girls is just part of life. Any advice?
Answer: You’re doing what a typical mom does today when she sees her child suffering "social injustice" — trying to explain how to deal with the slings and arrows of young girl peer dynamics to a child who is too immature to understand and deal with it rationally.
You’re obviously talking yourself blue in the face, beating your head against a brick wall and shouting into a hurricane, among other metaphorical self-abuses too numerous to enumerate.
By now you have surely said all you can possibly say about this problem.
Your daughter is intelligent. She could probably repeat, almost verbatim, the advice you’ve given her.
The problem is that you are telling her, in effect, that she should think like and act like an adult, something a child her age is incapable of doing.
It’s now time for you to take your own advice and stop reacting emotionally to your daughter’s sob stories. Every time your daughter comes home in tears, and you sit down and agonize with her, you are inadvertently adding fuel to the fire. She believes she is a victim and your emotional involvement in this drama is giving her reason to continue acting like one.
I’m going to recommend what I call The Final Conversation. Today, when your daughter comes home from school, sit down with her and tell her that you’re going to talk with her one last and final time about her girlfriend problems.
The ensuing exchange should be as comprehensive as possible. Get her to describe what the girls do to her. Encourage her to describe how she feels when they victimize her and how she has been reacting to them. Repeat the advice you’ve given her in the past.
When the two of you have covered all the bases, say, "Now, you’ve told me everything and I’ve given you all the advice I have to give. The fact is that there are some problems that parents can’t possibly solve for children, and this is one of them. So because I can’t give you any more advice than I’ve already given, we are never ever going to talk about this again. If you come home and you feel really bad about what’s happened in school, you need to go to your room and cry or do whatever you have to do until you can move on."
Make no mistake about it, she will try to get you to re-engage with her social travails. It’s vital that you stay removed.
The next time she comes to you in tears, you should say, gently but firmly, "I’ve said all I have to say about this. I’m not going to repeat myself, and that’s all I’d be doing if I said anything more. The place to cry about this is in your room."
She is not going to like it when you stonewall her, but your detachment is going to help her learn to stand on her own two feet where this is concerned.
The obvious solution is for her to find other friends, but she won’t do that as long as she has your shoulder to cry on.