My daughter was having a hard time going back to school this week because she didn’t want to face the one girl that had started being mean to her a few weeks before the holiday. In fact, during the break she would keep mulling and analyzing what had happened between them, why it did and what she could do about it.
I have to admit that part of me was excited for this upgrade in our usual conversations as I was fascinated to hear the conclusions she came to and see how much thought she was putting into it. It clearly affected her in a marked way, but I’m the type of parent that believes that these are exactly the type of difficult social situations that help kids grow emotionally.
So the story goes that this one girl — let’s call her Mary — wanted to play with the girl my daughter, Camila, was playing with at school. Camila made the mistake of whispering into her BFF’s ear that she didn’t have to go if she didn’t want to. Mary got upset and made up that Camila had said that the BFF shouldn’t play with her — and then she proceeded to tell other kids and the teacher’s assistant.
And that’s what hurt Camila the most. She loves being loved by all. She’s got excellent conduct in school, because she really likes being praised for being good and following the rules. So, in her eyes, Mary tainted her reputation with a lie and for weeks she just could not believe that someone could do that to her. She was so upset her teacher would think she’s a mean girl.
As upset as my girl has been about figuring out this situation, it turns out that these are the early stages of girls just getting into the tangled web of gossip.
When we hear the word “gossip” it tends to bring up a negative connotation, but according to an article on Psychology Today, gossip can have a positive effect on kids. Author Ellen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D. says that gossip “…can help children figure out peer group relationships. Talking about others helps kids understand what behaviors are or are not valued by peers, who is or isn’t getting along with whom, and who is or isn’t trustworthy.”
I was surprised to see the study mentioned in the article found that most gossip that happens between fourth grade girls is not mean; it’s just social talk about what others are doing, sharing and the like. Only 7% of the actual comments from the surveyed girls were meant to hurt someone socially.
While gossip can and does have a positive side, it’s our task as parents to make sure our kids understand where to draw the line between healthy gossip and spreading bad rumors, and when it’s unacceptable to talk about someone behind their back in a way that may hurt their feelings, reputation or have others turn against them.
The situation my girl was in definitely felt like a threat to her because it would, in her mind, change the way people perceived her. It was the first time she felt how much harm misplaced words could do and through feeling that, she understood she has to be careful with her own words. In essence, a lesson of the difference between positive gossip and harmful rumors.
I listened to her a lot and asked lots of questions to let her sort out the emotions. She mostly kept asking, “Why would she do that to me?” and “Why is she being mean to me?” I kept reminding her that we have no control over what others say or how they act, but that we can definitely be in control of how we react to them. I also suggested kindness and an open heart … and moving on to play with girls that were not being mean to her.
The first day back to school from the holiday break was this week. When she said goodbye to me she was so nervous, but kept repeating she would just walk away from Mary and be kind. When I picked her up, she was ecstatic that Mary was not being mean to her anymore and all was good and happy in her first grade world — at least for now.