It happens

Parents are often surprised that it’s not uncommon for young girls to be involved in teasing, bullying and mean cliques even as early as first and second grades.

But… it happens.

Sometimes it’s one child that leads the group, controlling the rest of them.  One mom told me it was her daughter who experienced being on the “outs”, as the leader made the others not include her at risk of being out of the group themselves.

Bullying can include teasing about the way a child looks, dresses, sounds, acts but most often, in these younger ages, it centers around exclusion – a circle of girls excluding a certain child from playing with them at recess,  sitting with them at lunch, sharing secrets,  or not being invited to the birthday party the rest of the group is attending.

Most moms can probably relate to some of these situations.  There’s very few of us who got through our school years without experiencing some feelings of rejection at one time or another.

Often parents and educators brush it off as just the way kids are.  And it’s true – children do experience social situations that sometimes don’t go their way.  They don’t get invited to every party, their best friend of yesterday invited another girl to sit next to her at lunch today.  These are natural learning moments.

But when teasing/exclusion are an everyday occurrence, when a child is in tears often, when she says kids are mean to her, complains of headaches/stomach aches, does not want to participate in activities she once enjoyed, most likely something more is going on.

The important point for parents, however,  is to pay attention, not just if your daughter is being teased and bullied, but also if she is a child who is participating in the group that is bullying.

Research shows that helping a child recognize her/his own emotions from an early age significantly increases that child’s emotional intelligence.

Being able to articulate and have awareness of her/his own emotions transfers to also being able to understand and empathize with another person’s feelings.

Experts say developing emotional intelligence in a child is actually one of the most significant factors for that child’s success in their school years, their social relationships, in their total life happiness.

That’s one of the reasons The Parenting Place has chosen to offer the Active Parenting series, Positive Solutions, and Nurturing Parent classes quarterly.  In all of these classes, parents are encouraged to practice empathy, understand and accept the emotion a child is displaying behind his/her behavior, help the child identify what she/he is feeling, understand cues as to how others may be feeling, talk about their own emotions, model how they handle difficult emotions in a positive way,  make strong connections with their children and develop problem solving skills.

“I bet you can imagine how that feels” allows a child who understands her own emotions to be able to empathize with another’s – a key to stopping bullying.

I spoke briefly with a mom from Massachusetts who has 8-year-old twin daughters.  They belong to a mother/daughter children’s book group.  After reading the selected book, the group meets to discuss the characters, their actions, emotions, reactions to different situations.

This mom said it has made a huge difference in the way the girls relate to each other, to the adults in the group and to their entire sense of self.

Teasing and bullying is a practice that is found in all social situations, all schools and all neighborhoods.  Now, more than ever, it has extended even beyond these smaller groups to the wider circle of social media – texting, face book and e-mails.

On February 26th from 6:30 -7:30 PM at WTC, Lunda Center, Gundersen Lutheran and  Kohl’s  Cares  is offering a free event,  Together Against Bullying.  Family therapist Jeff Reiland will present why girls bully and how their bullying behaviors are different than boys – with strategies to reduce or prevent girls from becoming victims of social bullying.

To register for this event, call Gundersen Lutheran,  608-775-5387 or online at gundluth.org/kohls

If you would like to talk more about helping your child develop social emotional skills or want more information on the classes offered at The Parenting Place, give us a call at 784-8125.

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