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Working with mean girls and their targets

Date: October 2nd, 2014
By: Polly Bath

Watch this video [2:28] for my tips on “mean girls” as well as the children who are on the receiving end.

Polly Bath: I’d like to address a behavior today that we’re dealing with with very young ages, primarily little girls. We know that all children can be really mean to each other at any time, but when we’re working with first graders, six and seven‑year‑olds, little ones that are mean, we often refer to them as “Mean Girls.”

[“cat” growl]

Polly: I’m not talking about something that we have to make sure that we are reporting, and we have certain things in place and policies in our buildings when behaviors like this escalate to a point that they have to be dealt with in a much more severe way. We’re talking about those six and seven‑year‑old little girls that create havoc with one another because they get so much attention from it.

Girl 1: They’re talking about me and I just know it.

Girl 2: Get out of my way. I’m the queen around here. [laughs]

Girl 3: Did you see her hair today? Really? [laughs]

Girl 4: You know that teacher likes me better.

Polly: Now, I can’t make these kids be nice to one another. But what I can do is to really look at how much attention the child who’s being mean is getting from that behavior, and then figure out what I can do to help deflect that attention away from her AND build the skills of the child who’s receiving that bad behavior.

The first thing I can do is to really encourage the receiver, meaning teaching the child how she might be able to respond to the mean girl.

Once I’ve been able to teach the girl who’s receiving some of those mean comments and behaviors how to build her own internal confidence and respond in a way where she realizes that she doesn’t have to internalize this and doesn’t have to feel bad about herself, then I can shift my attention to the mean girl and really try to address what’s the function behind her behavior so I can give her some other skills, because we don’t want this behavior to continue to escalate, because we know what the outcome can be as children get older.

When you’re facing six or seven‑year‑old little girls that are being mean, remember, build the skills of the children who are having a difficult time receiving that behavior. That deflects the attention away from the child who’s giving the behavior. Then, we can get to what her needs might be.