We can help even the youngest of our girls express their feelings and solve conflicts directly so they don’t need to use indirect forms of aggression. Here are some ideas to try.
Help them find the words to describe their feelings.
“Parents should encourage girls to describe what’s going on and verbalize their feelings,” says Jane Katch. If a conflict occurs, you might start by asking your daughter, “How did Mary make you feel?” or “What would you like to say to her?” If she says, “She’s always mean to me” or “I don’t like her,” ask her to tell you just what happened most recently and help her think of ways to resolve that specific problem. Once you help her understand that it can be resolved, she may be happy to move beyond the conflict and start fresh.
Intervene when girls get mean.
A study by the University of Washington shows that mothers of preschoolers were less likely to intervene in instances of relational aggression (when girls were mean) than physical aggression (when boys hit each other). “Calling girls’ aggression a ‘rite of passage’ or ‘girls being girls’ can normalize aggressive behavior,” says Rachel Simmons. “To protect girls and teach them alternatives, parents must take psychological aggression as seriously as they take physical aggression.”
Develop some flexible guidelines for dealing with exclusionary behavior.
Set some guidelines for how girls can play together so that they respect friendships without excluding each other. In Katch’s class, for example, there’s a rule that states “You can’t say you can’t play,” taken from Vivian Paley’s book of the same name — but she reports that kids still do say it. So Katch talks things through with them. “Talking about how the children can include everyone without spoiling their game shows the group the rules of good play. If a few girls only want to play with each other this might mean arranging for special time later between two girls, but not excluding anyone now,” says Katch.
Keep social problems in perspective.
Katch reminds parents not to take social problems too seriously with preschoolers. Consider your child’s overall emotional state. Did she get over it quickly and was she playing well and happily later in the day? Lyn Mikel Brown notes, “Young children take their cues from their parents. A child may not consider a social slight a big deal until her parent reacts strongly.”