I often have the opportunity to work with children, and frequently hear stories from elementary age girls about the ongoing turmoil that arises out of the changing nature of friendships at that age. It seems that there are generally at least one or two girls in the group who view friends as possessions which are not to be shared.
They do not seem to understand that a person can have more than one friend and like them equally. They seem to fear a loss of the friendship if someone else comes along. Consequently they are continuously jockeying for position, and may even begin to play one friend against the other by spreading gossip. Unfortunately this ongoing mini-soap opera consumes much of the girls’ attention, and school becomes an emotional roller coaster.
This must have some biological origins, because it is not common among males. Perhaps men needed to band together for the hunt and could not afford to alienate the other men. Men could have their differences, but then it was on with the co-operative task. Females, on the other hand, cannot work (or play) together if they are angry or upset with one another. Some females never get past this playground stage, and create the same kind of dissention in the office or the neighborhood as they did at recess.
When I am working with six to ten year olds, I encourage them to set an example in their group by modeling acceptance of all students. I teach them to suggest that everyone be allowed to participate in their games. I further advise them to refuse to say, or listen to, anything negative about another person. If someone starts to gossip, they can gently tell that person that they do not want to speak badly of another. It is amazing how even one person with this attitude can change what is happening in the group.
One of my little clients started making a point of inviting a more isolated student to join the group, and soon the rest were following suit. If girls grow up practicing this kind of “interpersonal ecology”, they will become women who can relate well with other women. If a woman is genuinely open and accepting of others, she is not likely to get into overt or covert conflict with others.
Perhaps the reason that women have been slow to develop more evolved interpersonal skills is because they have not had clear role models. They may have observed Mothers and Grandmothers gossiping about, or criticizing others behind their backs. As Mothers, teachers, aunts or grandmothers, it now falls to us to teach little girls a new way of relating. It is rewarding for us and for them to see the power they have to create more positive environments in which to grow. We just may be tempted to do the same with our adult friends.
Copyright © Gwen Randall-Young, All Rights Reserved. Contact us if you would like permission to reprint.
Related MP3s Available:
Thinking for Yourself (Empowerment for Youth)
My Special Friends (for Young Children)
Conflict Resolution in Relationships