I have two sensitive girls–well, one in particular–and I’m not sure that I’d have it any other way. Still, kindness and empathy have this flip side, and so I have to teach them not to take every slight as a horrible insult, and to grow slightly thicker skin when the boy who is the third biggest troublemaker in class tells you your artwork is ugly.
I usually try to give them vaguely cheeky, if insightful and age-appropriate responses to use, so they feel more empowered.
In preschool, when I was horrified to learn that mean girls had already started to infiltrate their lives in small ways, they learned to say “talk to the hand.” (What? It’s funny coming from a white three year-old, 15 years after it lost its coolness factor!) If a girl said “you’re a poopyhead….” Talk to the hand.
I was pretty proud of myself for that one, even if every childhood expert author would sit me down and give me a good talking to. But unfortunately, our little trick stopped working when they got a little older so I’ve been forced to get creative again.
Last night I heard about one seven-year-old boy in particular who crosses the line frequently from teasing into the mean stuff that makes you wonder if he’s got some big brother at home beating the crap out of him every night. But then, I was informed, it may appear that this boy “is in love with me” as one of my girls suggested. They weren’t quite sure–because the boy who told her about his affections is the second biggest troublemaker in the class, but sometimes the first biggest, so it’s hard to know if he’s telling the truth or causing trouble.
It was decided, after some assessment of the facts, that he was telling the truth. Yay. Because I’m so happy my little girls are already expected to understand why boys torture you when they like you.
I tried to talk to them about boys and crushes and immaturity. About brain development and self-expression and why some kids can’t sit still and uh, then I lost them completely. I clearly did not major in child psychology in college.
So I told my girl to repeat after me:
I understand that you’re a boy and boys mature more slowly than girls and so you do not have the words to express your true feelings about me so instead you’re acting in ways that will make me pay attention to you. And I forgive you.
Then I told them to walk away.
Not surprisingly, they couldn’t quite commit the whole thing to memory.
But there was something about the ending–I forgive you, then walk away–that they really liked. I mean, what second grade bully would even know how to respond if he tells you your short story sounds like a dog pooped it onto the table and then ate it and then pooped it out again and you respond, “I forgive you,” stealing his chance to have the last word?
So we adapted it to something a little quicker, with just a wee bit more fun to it. You know, 10% less Jesus and 10% more New Yorker.
“From now on,” I told them,” If someone says something mean to you, just say have a nice day, smile and walk away.”
We practiced. We practiced more. I said silly/mean things to them and they responded, HAVE A NICE DAY! and walked into the other room and rolled with giggles, ready to head back to school in the morning for a chance to try it out.
I think we could be onto something here.