Mean Girls in Kindergarten? Are You Kidding Me?

Samantha Parent Walravens realizes how early drama can arise among young girls, especially in school.

I have four kids – my boys are 15 and 13, my girls are 9 and 5. While my boys nearly drove me into the ground as toddlers with their endless physical energy and constant running around, the girls are currently winning the race to dig me an early grave with their ongoing girl drama and emotional highs and lows.

If I had to choose, I’d take the physical exhaustion of boys over the emotional exhaustion of girls ANY DAY.

I wasn’t expecting the girl drama to start at such a young age, however. This morning, my 5-year-old stopped me at the door of her Kindergarten classroom with tears running down her chubby little cheeks. She told me that she was scared to go to school, that her friends weren’t being nice, and that she wanted to go home.

Oy vey, I thought. Could the girl drama be starting so soon? She’s barely out of pull-ups.

I fully acknowledge that my kindergartener is no saint. She is the youngest of four siblings, so she has learned survival skills to help her to be seen and heard in a family of six. She’s got a strong personality (she’s been called a “force of nature” more than once), which is both her greatest strength and her biggest weakness. She makes friends with everybody and is always up for fun. She’s also had more time-outs than my other three kids combined. My husband and I have worked hard to keep her on the straight and narrow – to prevent her from becoming the stereotypical spoiled youngest child.

So, when she told me she was having problems with her friends, my first thought (which I kept to myself) was, OK, what did you do to those poor girls?

I listened to my daughter and comforted her about her friendship problems. I talked to the teacher, who was completely on top of it and promised to talk to my daughter and keep an eye on the girls.

Five minutes after I left, I called the school to make sure my daughter was OK. As stubborn and strong as she is, she is still my baby. She rarely cries about going to school, and I was worried. The teacher reassured me that she was fine and that this was all part of growing up – learning how to socialize and be a good friend. That’s what school is all about, especially kindergarten. But why, oh why, do girls have to be so darn complicated?

I grew up with two older brothers, so I always felt more comfortable around boys. In many ways, I felt like “one of the guys” through most of my grade school years. I wore my brother’s Levis and hung out with the neighborhood kids – mostly boys – almost every day after school. It wasn’t until late middle school that it occurred to me that boys were interesting for things other than games of Monkey in the Middle and flashlight tag.

 I didn’t experience “girl drama” until the 6th grade, when my threesome of best friends imploded. Two of us would inevitably talk about the third girl when she wasn’t around. Play dates were arranged with just two of the girls, leaving the third feeling sad and left out. It just didn’t work.

Girl cliques were very much part of the scene by 6th grade. The “queen bee” of our middle school did her best to instill fear in others, thus securing her position as head of the hive. I remember the moms getting together to discuss what to do about this girl, who was taking girls down left and right with her acerbic tongue and policy of exclusion. I was fortunate enough to not be part of it all, keeping busy with my schoolwork, ballet and orchestra. I had my friends, and the cliquey girls didn’t bother us.

While I am by no means an expert on girl drama, I have learned a few things about girl friendships from my years of being a friend, as well as from observing the friendship ups- and-downs of my two daughters. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

Groups of three, let them be.

Translated: friendships that involve a group of three girls rarely work well. I used to run with a group of three girls back in middle school, and one of us would always feel left out. There was a lot of talking behind the back of the third person who wasn’t around. With girl threesomes, expect tears and drama. Somebody is bound to get hurt.

School teaches kids socialization. 

School is not all about reading, writing and arithmetic. Teachers are there to help kids learn how to get along and play well. Ask your child’s teacher for help if she is experiencing friendship problems. Teachers are trained to deal with the social stuff, and schools are required to intervene if it becomes a bullying issue.

While “relational aggression” peaks in middle school, it happens in preschool too. 

Consider yourself lucky if so-called relational aggression (“mean girl” behavior or bullying) is manifested at a young age. This gives you an opportunity to nip it in the bud. With luck and some age appropriate discussions about friendship, you can coach your child about proper behavior and treatment of friends. Don’t hesitate to involve the teacher if it’s happening at school.

Teach empathy. 

Talk to your child every day and emphasize how important it is to think about how *everyone* feels. Is anyone sad? What can you do to make it better? How can you stand up for yourself when someone is being mean to you? How can you stand up for someone else? Work on her empathy skills. As my husband says to my girls, “Are you using your powers for good?” This will help your daughter develop a conscience.

With girls, emotions run high and logic is often nowhere to be found.

If you have a daughter, you get it. I don’t need to say more.

Most girls are both the instigator and the victim at different times. 

It doesn’t help to label your child or another child as a “victim” or a “perpetrator,” a “queen bee” or a “mean girl.” Most kids play versions of each role at different times. Rather than labeling or judging, do what you can to curb the behavior and remind your daughter what friendship is all about.

This piece originally appeared on ModernMom.com.

  1. Clarence Oquinn

    Small little kids are learning in a wide range of behaviors. But I see a kind of bad attitude in them. Morality is the missing thing now.

  2. Samantha

    Your point about morality is well taken. I do believe, however that girls in Kindergarten are experimenting with social behavior and learning how to interact with each other. The intention is not to hurt someone’s feelings. It’s a good time for parents and teachers to teach girls how to be a good friend, what friendship means. Nip the “mean girl” behavior in the bud before it gets worse.

  3. Samantha

    I like what you say about establishing empathy in kids when they are young. One way to do this is to talk to your child often about feelings, and emphasize how important it is to think about how *everyone* feels. Is anyone sad? What can you do to make it better? How can you stand up for yourself when someone is being mean to you? How can you stand up for someone else? As my husband says to my girls, “Are you using your powers for good?” This will help your daughter develop a conscience. Secondly, Be a good role model yourself. Your kids pick up on what you do and say. Model empathy and kindness. Don’t talk about or gossip about your friends in front of your kids. Be inclusive with friends—not exclusive.

  4. Dianna

    I run a program for 4th and 5th grade girls to strengthen them and create a sense of community in them before they hit middle school. We work on everything from shaking hands to goal setting but the establishment of empathy in our girls is the key I think to having them be healthy young teens and beyond. The program has grown leaps and bounds because parents see the impact and appreciate that it helps our girls build one another up vice tearing them down. Thanks for the blog!

    • Valerie Martinez

      I run an after school program for 5th-8th grade students. We have been dealing with girls bullying each other for the last month or so. Any program, lessons or feedback you can share will be greatly appreciated.

      • Dorothy Ponton, Community Engagement Manager

        Hi Valerie,

        I’m sorry you’re dealing with bullying behavior; that is always a complex issue for the girls on either end of the behavior. This video from our Executive Director, Simone Marean, deals with how parents can begin the conversation with their girls, and it can apply nicely to everybody who works with kids of all age ranges. Our Co-Founder, Rachel Simmons, wrote a book which addressed this in a range of ages, Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls. There’s also a companion book full of stories from the girls themselves.

        Also, check out the work of Michele Borba and Rosalind Wiseman. They’re excellent authors on the subject of girls and this kind of behavior.

Comments are closed.