This morning I was chatting with a friend of mine who shared that she was concerned about some of the social stuff going on with her daughter at school. I said, "She's in 3rd grade right?", "Yes" - "Let me guess, friendship fighting, best friends one day, worst enemies the next" , "Exactly". Yep, that's 3rd grade girls alright.
How did I know? I don't have a 3rd grade daughter yet (that's 8 years away), but I've been a teacher for a long time. I've mostly taught in elementary schools and I've observed the change. Some girls start a little bit earlier, but I find grade 3 is a real peek time for this kind of behavior. Girls who were so sweet to each other at the end of second grade come back in 3rd with a whole new attitude. It's like there is a whole new social awareness happening. The way I see it, is that when kids were a little bit younger they accepted the attitude of everybody in my class is my friend. Now that they have grown up a little bit they are experimenting socially. They realize that there is a little more to friendship than just being in the same class, or going to the same ballet lessons. They are becoming more self-aware. They are trying out and finding out who they are. They see that they have some say in who they socialize with. It doesn't always come out in a great way. In fact a lot of the time it's just plain mean.
This is the age where it's not uncommon for a girl to come up to me (a teacher) on the play yard at school and say, "Michaela won't play with me", or, "Ashley won't leave us alone". Honestly, you can't make kids like each other. You also can't make kids play together. What you can do is teach them to be kind to each other.
These kinds of behaviors are normal, but need to be curbed as it becomes a type of bullying that is known as relational bullying. When your daughter first experiences it (either as the aggressor, or, the receiver) it is an opportunity (and an important one) to teach her about bullying. Yes, it really is bullying, it's just not the blatant physical bullying that we often associate with bullying. It is just as destructive and hurtful. And it is more common with girls than with boys. It does carry on to their teenage years (well depicted in the 2004 movie Mean Girls).
Some girls are more compliant, people pleasers, longing to be liked, have a friend and fit in. They will be more succeptable to being bossed around, being told by someone that they aren't friends with them anymore, or that they don't have the right kind of shirt/bracelet/fill in the blank to be part of a club. These kids need to be taught how to look for a good friend. A true friend is someone who you can trust (not who tells your secrets), will listen (not take over the conversation), who will respect you, who will be empathetic and loyal.
Then there are the more aggressive little girls. These are the ones more likely to be in charge, or fight to be in charge. They are more dominant and make more decisions about their free time/play time. Many girls fight for this power position. What these little girls need to be taught is how to look at life from someone else's perspective. They need to be taught feeling words. They need to have their energies guided towards leadership in a more positive role, perhaps on a sports team. They need to have opportunities to lead, as well as learn to step back and be led.
It's not easy. It's not easy to be that little girl. It's not easy to parent that little girl. It is an important time in your daughter's life. This kind of relational bullying is something that will continue on for years in her life, but you can help her deal with it today and learn how to deal with it in the future. To learn more about girls and relational bullying, I recommend the book, Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman. It is the book that inspired the movie Mean Girls. It is a highly recommended read for parents of girls. It will bring you back to your own childhood when that 6th grade sleepover turned into the nightmare you've tried to forget, opening those memories and giving you a tool to help your daughter through these years.