Friday, November 12, 2010

How do I deal with my daughter's 2nd grade drama?

Ms. Dorothy-
_____ is in the middle of a "bff" triangle and today one of the little girls made a fist and told her, "Shut your mouth or I'll shut it for you!" I am HORRIFIED. And I can't help but wonder where on earth a 7-year old little girl heard that in the first place.
I emailed the teacher and she said she'd take care of it right away. Seriously though, where does a kid learn that stuff?! And what do I say to my daughter about all this?! 
- Mom of a 2nd grader 

Oh, I'm so sorry to hear about this, and I'm really glad you let the teacher know. You would be amazed at how much escalation can be avoided by having the teacher step in right away!

None of us wants to believe that we have exposed our young children to harsh language or expressions, but even cartoons are filled with horrifying ways of dealing with problems. It is not at all uncommon for children to resort to trying out techniques they've heard or seen when confronted with a challenging and novel social situation.

It is evident that your daughter's friend was frustrated, and that she wanted to resolve the problem with words, but knew that physical solutions were an option. I'm sure that you, and your husband, felt exactly the same way when you heard about this! We all know there is a hierarchy of conflict resolution techniques, and it often takes facing a challenge to discover our true character.

How awful the parents of that other girl must feel to realize that when confronted with such a test, their daughter evidenced the basest of reactions. How fortunate your daughter is that her parents chose to seek additional information and help from the teacher rather than just acting rashly when they were faced with a test of their own problem solving skills.

When toddlers bite, it is seldom because they come from bad homes, are underfed, or have been taught that this is a good way to get what they want. It is usually because they are trying to express something they don't have the tools to express and their frustration is all in their mouths, so they demonstrate their frustration with their mouths.

When young children struggle with defining their friendships, there is often a lot of drama, and sometimes horrifying things are said, or done. What a great opportunity this is for your daughter to learn about the ways the adults in her life see her, value her, and handle real problems.

Remember that if you want your children to be resilient, you must both give them the tools to handle the unexpected, and trust them to use the tools independently. What you model is important, and so is your belief in their abilities.

Talk to her about her feelings rather than yours. Invite her to identify what it felt like to be spoken to that way, and if she thinks she has ever been as frustrated as the other girl was. Ask her if she can think of other ways that girl could have handled her anger. Wonder with her what could take someone to such a hard place and help her to feel something other than hurt and anger toward that other child.

Encourage her for finding a positive way to get support with an overwhelming situation. Recognize that she was not just seeking your help, but your reactions to help her define how she should feel. The less you let this overwhelm you, the more she learns about her ability to handle a problem, and the more strategies she will have when it comes up again.

And, make no mistake, it will come up again. You are an adult, and you just faced a huge challenge! This is a part of life, and knowing that we have tools, and believing that we know how to use them is the key to facing challenges well.

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