When I taught Montessori school, I had one negative rule for the three to six year olds I spent my days with: You cannot talk about your birthday party at school. Simple, and honestly, reasonably effective. Why? Because statements like the one above were the ultimate in threats. It was like screaming, in Facebook language, “I’m unfollowing you, unfriending you, and I’m blocking you!”
And, so it goes. These kids get older, and the social exclusion tactics get more subtle. Or just more mean.
My youngest is a sixth grader. She is a free spirit. That may be the understatement of the week. She’s her own person and has had run-ins with kids since her years in primary Montessori school when one sweet girl would play the three other 5 year olds off of each other, never seeming to anything wrong herself. The other girls were caught up in daily arguments over who got to work with “Special Girl” while “Special Girl” basked in all of the extra attention.
In second grade, we were at a private Montessori school on the west coast. My daughter’s class was made up of first through sixth graders, a not-unheard-of combo in Montessori classrooms. But, when Annie did harder work than the older girls, and was not the cute, compliant younger darling that the older girls had come to expect, Annie was shunned. In fact, we had to pull her out because the older girls had begun harassing her. There was some sticky-tack missing. The stuff that you use to stick posters to walls. The older students had a habit of removing this from posters and student work that was stuck to the walls so they could play with it. It was some kind of status symbol. Anyway, when some was missing again, rather than give back their stash, the made Annie lift up her skirt to make sure she wasn’t hiding any of it. Talk about your last straw!
Don’t get me wrong. Annie’s always had lots of friends in and outside of school. But I wonder if she’s not just some kind of magnet for the unhappy kids who like to manipulate others. This year, a new girl moved into Annie’s school. Annie was excited because, after all the moving we’ve done, she knows what it’s like to be the new kid. She hoped to take the new girl under her wing, show her the ropes, and be her friend. Nope. New girl immediately sniffed out that Annie cared, and then turned on her. So far this year, Annie’s had her undergarments mocked, her funny stories upstaged, her semi-friend stolen, and has had to suffer instant messages from the new girl telling Annie all about how “new girl” and “former friend” are having “sooooo much fun having a sleep over!”
So, it’s pretty clear these girls won’t be attending Annie’s birthday party. But, now that these girls can find you anywhere, how to you help your kids avoid getting caught in their webs? We have tried giving Annie the language to deal with these kids, and strategies for how to avoid them. It’s just hard because Annie can see what they’re doing to her and other kids, and when something is not right in the world, she wants to make it right.
It reminds me of an recurring story on a 90’s television show, Sabrina, The Teenage Witch. A former friend of Sabrina’s boyfriend, Harvey, moves back to town. He is immediately wary of Sabrina and frequently comments on how weird she seems. While no one knows she’s a witch, this new boy seems to be hell-bent on catching Sabrina doing magic. She tells her aunts, with whom she lives, and they explain that there are witch hunters among the population of regular people. Witch hunters look for witches, and this boy, who’s name is Brad, doesn’t even know why he’s focusing on Sabrina since he doesn’t know witches still exist. But, Brad continues to find fault with Sabrina, pick on her, and generally bother her. He always seems to be there when she’s vulnerable.
I’ve used this analogy to explain to Annie why some people seem to be focused on making others unhappy. It’s a great analogy. But it doesn’t help when someone’s feelings have been hurt.
Maybe though, just maybe some of what we’re talking about at home is sinking in. She actually has started to hang out with different kids. I don’t want Annie to grow jaded and angry. I just want her to put up a fence. Because, listening to these stories is breaking my heart.