I can vividly recall a moment in my childhood when I was subjected to "relational aggression," though I'm certain it didn't have such a fancy name back then.
I was sitting at the table in my Grade 3 classroom next to two girls who I considered to be my friends. It was Hotdog Day (remember that?) and the girls were busy transforming little tinfoil pouches, which had been used to hold the hotdogs, into pencil cases. On that day, for whatever reason, those girls decided that it would be fun to leave me out. They said that I was "not allowed" to turn my hotdog holder into a pencil case. And, just to be sure that I was getting the message of exclusion loud and clear, they put their heads down under the table to talk about their pencil case-making strategy.
The craziest thing about all of this—other than the fact that they actually thought it was "cool" to transform hotdog packaging into an accessory—was that just the week before, and likely a few weeks after, these girls were, for all intents and purposes, my friends.
And while 33-year-old me can't understand why I let such immature and blatantly mean behvaiour get to me—nine-year-old me felt completely left out and totally hurt. That wasn't the first or last time that something like that would happen to me, but remarkably the image is still as clear in my mind as if it happened yesterday.
These days, according to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, the term being used to describe this type of behaviour (most common amongst girls) is relational aggression. It's being defined as "using threat of removing friendship as a tactical weapon" or behaviour involving the formation of cliques and/or the act of intentionally excluding others.
In other words it's the stuff of "mean girls."
According to the article—Little Children are Already Acting Mean by Sumathi Reddy—this behaviour is showing up in children at a much younger age (or at least it's being noticed more now).
The article says: "I think it's remarkable that we're seeing this at younger and younger ages," said Laura Barbour, a counselor at Stafford Primary School in West Linn, Ore., who has worked in elementary schools for 24 years. "Kids forget about scuffles on the playground but they don't forget about unkind words or being left out."
She's got that right. I certainly haven't forgotten what it felt like to be left out—even after 24 years.
Back in Grade 3, I'd like to think I was emotionally mature enough to cope with what my friends were doing to me, or at least to understand, on some level, what was going on. But the fact that this behaviour is beginning when kids are as young as 3 or 4 is more shocking to me.
But this article isn't wrong. Reddy writes: "Children still in kindergarten or even younger form cliques and intentionally exclude others, say psychologists and educators who are increasingly noticing the behavior and taking steps to curb it."
Just a few months ago, my daughter who is only 4, experienced this very thing in her preschool classroom—and it really upset her. For about a month, she'd come everyday talking about the little girl in her class who was, in her words: "being mean." But they were friends. My daughter liked this girl and wanted to play with her. I actually found that my daughter would be picking out her clothes in the morning or choosing a toy to bring to school based on what this little girl might think or say about her choices. I was shocked to see all of this going on in my kiddo's head. "She's only 4, how is this possibly starting already?" I'd ask my husband. And what could I do or say when my daughter came home reporting: "That girl told me I couldn't go to her birthday party because my parents were going to lock me in my room." Seriously? Why does a preschooler know about being locked in her room and why is this something she was threatening my daughter with? How was I even supposed to respond.
The other incidents seemed more typical. "That girl wouldn't play with me today." Or "That girl said I had to be the baby when we were playing house but I wanted to be the mommy." Still, all of this was adding up and really getting to my kid. She would talk about it on the way home from school, before going to bed at night, and again in the morning over breakfast.
I tried to give advice that would be helpful. "When that girl is being mean to you," I said, "Try to be really nice back. Maybe she's just looking for attention or love. Give her a hug and perhaps the meanness will stop." Otherwise, I advised, "don't play with her. Go play with the boys instead!"
According to this article, parental involvement is actually really important what it comes to helping kids cope with this stuff.
"A 2012 study in the journal Early Child Development and Care found that parents of preschoolers believe children should seek out adult assistance for physical aggression but not relational aggression, which they think children should work out on their own."
Thankfully, I did bring this up with my daughter's teacher and got some advice/input from her. Luckily, this whole thing has since blown over and it seems as though all the kids are playing nicely again.
Still, I'm sure that was just a taste of what's to come—especially since I have two daughters. This is something I'm really going to have to watch for. In the meantime, I believe the best thing I can do is teach my daughter to love herself and feel good enough about herself that this sort of stuff doesn't hurt so badly. I believe that self-esteem is the best weapon against meanness. In fact, self-esteem is also the best way to prevent "mean girls" from rearing their heads. The better our kids feel about themselves, the less likely they'll be to go after others.
So how do I help my daugthers grow up with a healthy dose of self-confidence? How do I help them realize that the words of "mean girls" shouldn't be taken personally; and that they are loved, no matter what?
I'm sure it was because of my parents' unconditional love and unwavering support that I got over those incidents in my own childhood and became a stronger person because of them. Not all kids are so lucky.
There's no better feeling than that of giving to others—I've always felt that way. I love shopping for presents, I happily give things away whenever I can, and I'm always on the lookout for unique gifts that will bring a smile to someone's face. I'm the first to pass on clothes that no longer fit, or baby gear we're no longer using. I love to share with relatives and friends; it makes me feel really good.
I've been modeling this behaviour for my daughter since she was little. As such, she's picked up on it, quite naturally. She's always wrapping up pretend presents and giving them to us. She creates a constant stream of artwork that she proudly presents to her grandparents, her great grandmother, her aunts and uncles, her dance teachers, her school teachers, her swimming teacher, anyone who she thinks is deserving. She helps me select and wrap gifts for relatives and friends, she happily makes birthday cards and holiday cards to accompany those presents, and she's always happy to see someone's reaction when they open her gift.
At the same time, like most kids, she loves to be the recipient of gifts. And, she gets a lot of them! Which is also a good time, I believe, to teach generosity. You've been given so many beautiful birthday gifts, now let's find some toys you're no longer using and donate them to kids who don't have as many toys as you do. And gratitude: When someone gives you a gift, it's so important to say 'thank you' and act appreciative, no matter what the gift is.
In partnership with Leger, an independent research firm, Minute Maid created the Minute Maid Moments poll which showed, among other things, that despite obvious time constraints, Canadian parents are dedicated to instilling generosity in their kids from a young age, both through what they say and how they act.
It also showed that Canadian parents are in overwhelming agreement that raising caring and generous children is one of their top priorities. I am certainly among those parents.
In a follow-up to this poll, Minute Maid wanted to help Canadian parents come up with fun ways to teach generosity to their kids. To do so, they partnered with the Canadian Living Test Kitchen to develop a series of recipes that are perfect for gifting.
It's one thing to shop for a gift, wrap it up, and then have your child present it to the recipient; but, it's even more powerful to get your child involved in the process of giving—from saving money for the gift and buying it themselves to creating a gift that's made from scratch.
Since I wanted my daughter to be part of the entire process, I cleared my schedule for the morning and we got to work. I chose Minute Maid's recipe for Carrot Cake Bars with Cream Cheese Icing (printed below)...because...well...YUM! (see the Minute Maid website for more recipes that are perfect for gift-giving!)
And my kiddo and I did some baking.
While the bars were in the oven, we talked about who we might give these treats to (all the while I prayed that our creation would be pretty enough to gift!). When the bars came out of the oven they smelled delicious. I was so inspired, and figured that my kitchen was already a mess anyway, that I decided to bake some muffins too and use up the rest of the grated carrot. After I made the cream cheese icing and iced the bars as instructed, I decided to get a little creative with cookie cutters and turned some of the carrot bars into heart-shaped cakes. The recipe turned out perfectly and deliciously!
Once they were plated and ready to go, we decided to give some to 'Poppy' (my dad) who loves carrot cake, and some to 'uncle Allan' and his family because they just had a new baby. Some would be saved for daddy to enjoy after dinner.
And, each plate of treats would be accompanied by artwork—of course!
Here are some tips for raising generous kids:
Generic gifts are fine, everyone likes books and candles, but spending a bit more time shopping for something that has significance or making a gift yourself, always makes the recipient (and the giver!) feel extra special. If you're buying something as a gift, have your child create a hand-made card to accompany it.
Bring flowers to someone to brighten their day or make a gift 'just because.' Have your kids send mail to relatives or friends they don't get to see that often. Take the time to do little things, not just on special occasions, but all year long.
Being thankful and appreciative of gifts is as important as giving gifts yourself. Ensure your kids understand how important it is to say 'thank you' and/or write a thank you card when they've been given a gift. Take a photo of your child with the gift and send it to the giver, or have your child record a short 'thank you' video that you can send via email.
Kind words or helpful actions are just as powerful, if not more, than physical gifts. Volunteering at a local charity, helping a neighbour, or giving your time to others is what generosity is all about. Donating money or toys/clothing to those in need is always a great way to show kids the power of giving back.
Here's the recipe so you can bake these yummy Minute Maid bars...and help sweeten someone else's day!
Carrot Cake Bars With Cream Cheese Icing
1/2 cup butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp salt
Pinch each ground cloves and ground nutmeg
1 cup grated carrots
1/2 cup Chilled Minute Maid® Original 100% Orange Juice
Cream Cheese Icing:
1/4 cup cream cheese
4 tsp Chilled Minute Maid® Original 100% Orange Juice
1/2 tsp vanilla
1-1/2 cups icing sugar
In large bowl, beat butter with brown sugar until combined; beat in eggs, one at a time, and vanilla.
In separate bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking powder, ginger, salt, cloves and nutmeg. Stir into butter mixture; mix in carrots. Stir in Chilled Minute Maid® Original 100% Orange Juice. Scrape batter into parchment paper–lined 8-inch (2 L) metal cake pan.
Bake in 325°F (160°C) oven until cake pulls away from side of pan and cake tester inserted in centre comes out clean, about 35 minutes.
Let cool in pan on rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pan; let cool completely.
Cream Cheese Icing:
In bowl, beat together cream cheese, Chilled Minute Maid® Original 100% Orange Juice and vanilla until smooth; beat in icing sugar, one-third at a time, until thick, but smooth. Spread over cake. Cut into bars.
Hands-on time: 25 minutes
Total time: 1 hour 5 minutes
Makes: 18 bars
PER 1 BAR, RECIPE MAKES 18 BARS: about 188 cal, 2 g pro, 7 g total fat (4 g sat. fat), 30 g carb (trace dietary fibre, 23 g sugar), 37 mg chol, 101 mg sodium, 64 mg potassium. % RDI: 2% calcium, 5% iron, 16% vit A, 2% vit C, 9% folate.
This afternoon my own childhood collided with that of my children as we sat together on the grass in Davisville Park and watched Sharon, Lois & Bram perform live.
I can still remember sitting on my couch watching taped episodes of The Elephant Show on VHS. First there would be the closing credits of Happy Days, followed by...One elephant went out to play, upon a spider's web one day! I can still clearly envision episodes of this show, especially the one where the trio visited Toronto's Centreville amusement park (now my daughter's favourite place in the city). I saw Sharon, Lois, and Bram live in Ottawa at a concert which my mom tells me was where I contracted Chicken Pox. I grew up singing their songs and dancing to their music.
Until today my kids didn't really know much about Sharon, Lois, and Bram. We had one CD when Willow was a baby and would often sing A You're Adorable while trying to get her to sleep. Both kids have heard many of their songs, though, without knowing where they came from.
When I heard via Facebook that Councillor Josh Matlow had arranged to have the playground in Davisville park (one of our local favourites!) named after the musical trio and that they would be performing at the ceremony—I was really excited. Way more excited than my kid.
So we cozied up on the lawn with hundreds of other families from the community and my husband and I got ready to share a little bit of our childhoods with our kids. It was hard not to feel emotional when the three, now 71, 73, and 77, took the stage—looking older than I remembered but still so familiar—as though they were relatives I hadn't seen in years. Their energy was amazing and the songs came back to me as if no time had passed. My mom held my baby girl and sang along to the songs she'd taught me as a kid. It was totally surreal. Everyone was on their feet, especially the adults, singing along and doing all the actions to songs like Peanut Butter & Jelly, I Am Slowly Going Crazy, She'll Be Comin' Round The Mountain, and of course, Skinnamarink!
As Willow got ready for bed tonight we sat together watching old episodes of The Elephant Show online and I felt like I was going to cry. She said: "I really like Sharon, Lois, and Bram now!" And, so you see, some things and some people are amazing enough to transcend time. Thirty-some years later, a new Sharon, Lois, and Bram fan has been born.
Thanks Josh Matlow for making this afternoon so magical.
Watching Sharon, Lois, and Bram live with my kids is something I won't soon forget.
Love other great, classic children's music? Check out this interview with Raffi.