Q: I have a daughter in 4th grade and I find myself getting caught up in her “girl drama” that goes on at school. I feel like it’s happening to me and all my rational thinking goes out the window. Do you have any advice for how I can handle this better?
A: Many people associate “girl drama” as a behavior that doesn’t occur until middle school. As young girls develop in elementary school, social cliques and conflicts become more dramatic. Girls become more independent in their relationships with their peers as they enter their intermediate elementary years. They start competing and rejecting each other, forming cliques, and having a best friend becomes part of their identity. This best friend may change from month to month, and the consistency of their feelings about one another changes just like the weather.
As parents, we want to protect our children and put an invisible bubble around them to shield them from anything that can make them suffer. While conflicts are not new to girls this age, the outside pressures that girls face now have created more complex issues than ever before. For example, technology and social media influence, lack of social skills, bullying, the need for belonging, and the desire for perfection all can become factors leading up to girl conflicts. One thing we have to remember as adults is that their world is not what ours used to be.
To help prevent getting caught up in what probably seems to be at times an ongoing and overwhelming reanimated tale of what happened during the school day, set “drama” boundaries in your home. You can’t control what happens when she goes to school, but you have control of your home environment. If the drama that gets brought into your home is more about gossiping or what others are doing, then shut it down. Don’t allow the negative talk about others to occur. On the other hand, if it is about your daughter’s own feelings allow her to share how it is making her feel. This will help her work through the problem and will keep an open line of communication between the two of you.
It’s important that you keep yourself separated from her situation. Transferring your emotions to her situation does not help. You are her first role model in ways of handling social situations. When she comes home upset about the conflict that has taken place during the day, encourage and model positive social reactions. This may be hard to do at first, especially when you feel it’s happening to you. If you feel yourself getting too emotionally involved, take a break from the conversation. Always remember, you can be an active listener without taking part. When you can emotionally remove yourself, then you can rationalize the situation as her conflict and not yours- one that she can learn to solve independently with your guidance.
Q: What can I do when nothing works for my 6-year-old son? I’ve done everything you can think of? I think this boy will be the death of me.
A: Parents can learn very quickly that what works for one child doesn’t always work for the other. Depending on the situation, it can be tricky figuring out what works consistently even with the same child. To be able to change the behavior, you have to understand the reasoning behind it. Children’s behavior is goal-oriented whether they realize it or not. They are either trying to obtain something or avoid it. Think about the setting that the behaviors mostly occur. What is going on right before? Is there anything that you notice that could be a trigger and if so, can it be avoided or changed?
As adults, it can be hard to think about our own behavior and how it can be part of the problem. Think about how you are feeling when these behaviors occur. What do you do most often in response? What does he do? Kids can feed off of our feelings and responses. If we choose to get loud and yell, they too may get louder and start to respond in the same manner, or just the opposite can occur, it can shut them down. If we aren’t getting the response we want, then we have to change what we are doing. Since there isn’t any specific information on the types of behaviors that are occurring or things you have tried, here are some examples of purposeful misbehaviors that may help you find some solutions.
Attention-seeking This behavior can occur when a child feels it’s the only way to get noticed. This can leave adults feeling annoyed, especially when in the middle of doing something or talking to other people. To correct behaviors that are for attention, try to ignore them. Attention, whether positive or negative, is still attention and sends the message that this approach gives them that on demand. I know ignoring them can be hard, but give it time. If he is used to you giving in after ten minutes, then you know you have at least ten minutes of ignoring to do before the behavior stops. It may get worse before it gets better. Give your attention to positive behaviors. If you have other children, try doing something with just him and making a big deal about it.
Power Struggle If you’ve ever felt angry or challenged by his misbehavior, then there could be a power struggle. He may feel as if the only time he counts is when he is dominating you when you do what he wants. This type of behavior can get to the best of us. When we as adults react in this manner and reprimand, it can intensify the situation because the child wants to win and be the boss. To correct these types of misbehaviors, try withdrawing from the conflict. Be friendly. Redirect his efforts into constructive channels. Give him choices and let him have some ownership in decisions. An example would be giving him the choice to pick up his room or turn off the TV.
Inadequacy Sometimes when trying to get them to do something and they won’t, it isn’t a power struggle. If you’ve ever heard him say, “I can’t do anything right.” or “I’m no good at______.”, then he could be feeling inadequate about something. This can leave parents feelings hopeless, discouraged, and feel like giving up. Try encouraging his efforts made. Don’t give up or criticize, as this could set him back in even attempting to do things. Being patient is key because as we know, on average it takes one month to correct a behavior for every year it’s taken place.
The most important things are to make sure you follow through and are being consistent. I can’t stress this enough. He may be just six years old, but he’s old enough to realize whether or not what you say has any merit to it. Hang in there!
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