In our Daddy Issues series, a father of a young daughter seeks guidance, hoping to raise a strong woman. He looks to feminism — and readers — for insight.
This week's Daddy Issues was supposed to be all about the mani/pedi for kids, a searching, probing, pondering rumination on the sexualization of early childhood, on color selection and on the dizzying aroma of ethyl acetate and the joys of a good foot rub. But every time I turn around, I read a new story about bullies or taunted a dying 7-year-old.
So that's where my thoughts have been recently, and I'd appreciate your help trying to figure something out.
Did you see that New York Times story the other day? The one about how "mean girl" behavior starts earlier than once thought, even in girls as young as kindergartners?
I had to laugh.
I read that story and thought, "Kindergarten? Try preschool."
My daughter was three when another girl in class started telling her where she could play and with whom, even going so far as to designate certain friends for her every other day.
The girl would grab her arm and say, "You can play with so-and-so today, but not so-and-so."
Aww, how nice: a personal social secretary.
As this pint-sized manifestation of early-onset bullying started getting out of hand, infecting a few others in the class, the teachers banded together and completely revamped the tiny tot curriculum; pretty soon all the kids were talking about feelings and calling each other "friends" instead of "classmates." It was a scene to behold, all these miniature Quakers with smiles again and muddy play clothes and adorable little speech impediments — a veritable City of Bwuduhwee Wove.
The outcome was fantastic.
But I still couldn't believe those first early weeks when Emmeline would collapse into my arms after school, sniffing out a few tears while trying to figure out what was going on.
"Why did she say that?" Emmeline asked me one day, her eyes wide and wet with tears, "What did I do?"
I was raised in a house of three boys. Emotional warfare consisted of a few shoves or punches and then a game of Nintendo. With a daughter, I knew I would someday encounter this "mean girl" behavior, but I was shocked — I mean literally left speechless — to see it happening with toddlers. Not long after all these school episodes, I saw the girl's mom at a park, and the mom quietly pointed out another kid, whispering, "That little bitch," before bemoaning that her daughter is already being bullied.
"Can you believe it?" she asked, "Three year olds!"
I wanted to say, "Can you believe it? Calling a three-year-old a bitch!"
One of my daughter's teachers pulled me aside one day and said to think about these kids as toolboxes. They enter school and social situations at an early age practically empty, but as the years go by we parents and teachers and friends quietly fill them up, offering the tools to deal with with new situations, such as losing a game or handling a bully.
I have no illusions that this won't happen again as she grows older, especially if she adopts my own brand of social crazy (see here). I don't want her to be bullied and I certainly don't want her to bully others, or even be among the crowd of silent onlookers — those kids on the periphery who look the other way, grateful someone else is bearing the brunt of a bully's wrath that day.
But what tools do I offer? Do you remember being bullied — or even bullying others — and if you were the parent of a young girl what advice would you offer her, what tools would you put in her hands?
Mike Adamick writes at Cry It Out!. And this concludes a Very Special Episode of Daddy Issues.
Image by Lauri Apple.