When A Group of Great Girls Goes Bad: Basic Drama or Cultural Breakdown?

Girls rock.  Put a bunch together and it can be a great deal of fun, laughs and heart to heart conversations. Except when it isn’t.

Sometimes groups of girls have problems getting along.  They fight, gossip and hurt each other’s feelings.  At times it feels like a uphill battle while at the same time a downhill freight train with no intention of stopping.

I’ve been working personally with specific staff members and girls this year from a variety of schools and camps.  And even though I’ve been doing group coaching for a long time, I always find it an eye-opening study of girls culture, friendship and positive mentorship. Most recently, the leaders of an organization had asked me about one group of girls, in particular, who seemed to be in an endless fight. This daily argument not only was causing internal havoc in the group but was also exhausting the staff and leaving them with questions, concerns and a whole lot of frustration.

After a meeting with the girls personally, I realized that the problem was not, in fact, day to day fighting.  Rather, it was a much larger cultural problem that had festered like a toxic wound at the heart of the group.

Does this sound familiar to you?  It can be exhausting to deal with the day to day issues that emerge in such a group because there never seems to be an end.  That’s because the daily problems are a symptom—not the cause.  The question becomes; are you dealing with the root of cultural turmoil or are you trying to band-aid the daily indicators of that turmoil?

Here is a way to determine if you have a deeper problem than the standard daily grind:

  1. Same thing, different day: The girls always seem to be fighting about something. Complaining, arguing and gossiping are typical.  Someone always feels left out, picked on, stepped over or disregarded.
  2. Similar themes keep emerging: Not only are the girls fighting all the time but they are fighting about the same things.  What kinds of themes emerge?  Being left out.  Cliquiness. Looks.  Attention.  Boys.  Material goods. Meanness. In the case with this one set of girls, they were arguing about  2 things– “bragging and ‘top this’ behavior” as well as the flippant way the girls dealt with each other’s feelings.  Upon sitting down for our meeting, girls talked about feeling frustrated, awkward and depressed when others talked about money, clothes and trips they got to go on each year.  They also divulged that they felt horrible when other girls said something “mean” and then called them “sensitive” when feelings got hurt.
  3. The problem never feels solved: Staff are arduously attending to day to day spats and fall out but feel like they are on a proverbial hamster wheel.  You hear from staff that “this is a particularly tough group,” they “can’t get through to them,” and they’ve “tried everything” but aren’t getting anywhere. As you can imagine, it there is a larger, cultural issue, dealing with individual daily fights doesn’t get to the heart of the matter.
  4. The staff, teachers or counselors are fed up, deflated & defeated:  Not only are the staff articulating frustration, they are starting to check out.  When arguing ensues, they step out, turn away, or try to check it off as quickly as possible so they can move on.  Follow up feels fruitless or “inviting more of the same” so it doesn’t happen. This is not out of laziness but rather lack of knowing what to do differently to get a better result.  You hear from them that the girls “don’t respect them,” “don’t listen,” and “apologize but don’t mean it.”
  5. Every girl feels hurt: Even though some girls are more popular than others, in a group where cultural breakdown has taken place, there are a great deal of hurt feelings.  Most girls, at some point, feel left out, gossiped about or disregarded.  In a young teen group I recently had the pleasure to work with, a group dynamics exercise was the perfect catalyst for an honest discussion about how they felt when a part of the group and when ostracized or alone. And when they really got honest, they were able to admit that they both felt this way and were the cause of others feeling this way. These were awesome girls but their best was being squelched by negative, recurring behavior that became an part of the group culture.

When working with groups in which cultural breakdown has clearly occurred, honest discussion is necessary.  Only then can we identify the hidden problems, isolate the instigators, set ground rules for respectful behavior and allow the girls an opportunity to authentically apologize and be accountable for their actions going forward.  Such honest discussion can’t be a one-time thing but rather done periodically with frequent follow up with a trusted, well-regarded mentor.

And one final thought—when you manage negative behavior, it’s also helpful to encourage positive behavior to take its place.  Instead of focusing on faults and failures, what strengths does this group have?  What individual assets can the girls highlight in one another?  How can they have a hand in developing a positive and powerful group of girls in which everyone feels respected?

While problems are still going to occur—as this is not a utopia—we must provide the girls with the skills to deal with them.  How can we encourage them to be inclusive rather than exclusive?  How can we support them in speaking up while still being kind and open-minded?  It takes more time and more effort but in the long run, teaching these life skills and following up on their effectiveness can transform the culture of the group and in turn, the girls themselves.  And when the girls are transformed—the culture of the groups they are part of in the future will be better for it.

 

 

 

“I hate you!” Six Tips to Help Parents Deal with Their Child’s Angry Words

tantrumgirl-300x199“I hate you!”

No…your child’s body has not been taken over by aliens.  You do not need to clean out your ears. That’s right.  You heard it correctly.

Any person who has ever said that “words will never hurt you” never had their child say “I hate you” to his face. You know.  It has probably happened to you.

Being a parent is tough sometimes, isn’t it?  You know in your head that your child does not really hate you.  But when he utters those words…it’s hard not to feel a surge of sadness, frustration, hurt or anger.

We often don’t know what to do when our kids come out with these verbal lashings.  It’s unexpected.  Shocking. Isn’t this the little cherub that hugs you 20 times a day and can’t go to bed unless you’re there to kiss him goodnight?

When children are young, they don’t have the subtle language to beat around the bush.  When they are angry, they say it.  It’s normal.  It just doesn’t feel like it when it happens to you.

So…what should you do?

(1)  Look for the issue behind the words:  Your child doesn’t always have the language to explain his frustration.  When your child says “I hate you,” he might be having difficultly completing a task, attaining something he wants, or expressing a complex emotion like fear.  As parents, we must become a detective and figure out what our children are really trying to relay.

(2)  Help your child recognize anger:  This is the first real step in anger management.  If your child can recognize when he is feeling angry, he will have an easier time expressing and coping with the feeling rather than lashing out.  Ask your child, “what does your body feel like when you are angry?”  Help him to name it while it is happening, “I can tell by your face and your body that you are angry. You are having trouble turning your toy on.  That’s very frustrating!”  This will help to validate what your child is feeling and while also helping him to put a name to the emotion and the cause of the anger.

(3)  Give your child the right words: When your child is calm, talk about what happened.  Remind him of when he was feeling angry earlier in the day and what he said.  Let him know that when he says “I hate you,” it hurts your feelings.  Then ask him, “What can you say instead?” If he is unsure, give him the right words.  “When you feel this way, instead of saying ‘I hate you,’ say, ‘I feel angry and I need help, please.”  Help him to practice expressing his feelings so that when he is angry again (and he will be!), he can call on these skills.

(4)  Provide calming techniques: We all get angry.  Helping your child deal with anger in a constructive manner will be a gift that he can use for the rest of his life.  Introduce and practice some techniques when your child is open to listening (not when in the heat of battle!).  Counting to 10, singing a song, running in place, and talking to oneself, are some simple ways to calm down when angry.  One of my favorite techniques I use with young children is to “smell the roses and blow away the clouds.” This is a powerful way to teach children to take a few deep breaths.

(5)  Provide problem solving techniques: Let your child know that there are lots of ways to solve problems.  If something isn’t working, try something else!  You might say, “Could you help me put the wheel back on my truck?” or “maybe I should play with something else.”  Help your child think about solutions that are safe, fair, and likely to be successful.

(6)  Watch your own language: Regrettably, in this case, “monkey see, monkey do.”  If you use harsh language in anger or you say “I hate” towards objects around your own house (i.e. I hate doing laundry; I hate carrots; I hate when the phone rings during your nap time), your child will pick up on it and use it himself.  Unfortunately, such language might be directed at you!

Perhaps the most important thing for you to keep in mind while all this is happening is that your child doesn’t really hate you.  So take a deep breath. Sometimes parents, too, need to remember to smell the flowers and blow away the clouds.  After all, it is likely that clear skies are on the horizon.

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Note: Some of this article was originally posted in Bay State Parent Magazine, 2008.

 

 

“I hate you!” Six Tips to Help Parents Deal with Their Child’s Angry Words is a post from: Dr. Robyn Silverman – Child Development Specialist, Body Image Expert, Success Coach & the Creator of the Powerful Words Character Development System

 

Ask Dr. Robyn: How Can I Help My Child Show More Courage?

silverman_headshotCourage is the Powerful Word of the Month! How do we encourage our children to try new things? Meet new people? Stand up for what they believe in?  Dr. Robyn Silverman, child and teen development specialist, answers one reader’s question about developing courage in her child. Several tips are provided– which ones resonate with you?

 

 

What will you try with your children this month? How have you helped your children to show more courage?  Please share here or on our Facebook page— We’d love to hear from you!

Ask Dr. Robyn: How Can I Help My Child Show More Courage? is a post from: Dr. Robyn Silverman – Child Development Specialist, Body Image Expert, Success Coach & the Creator of the Powerful Words Character Development System

Dr. Robyn introduces the Powerful Word of the Month: Courage!

Happy March! The powerful word of the month is courage! Let’s help our children (and ourselves) face fears and challenges with determination.

Courage Quotes:

“A great leader’s courage to fulfill his vision comes from passion, not position.” –John Maxwell

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow.” –Mary Anne Radmacher

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” –Winston Churchill

“Clear thinking requires courage rather than intelligence.”–Thomas S. Szasz

“The important thing is this: To be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become.”–Charles Dubois

“To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose oneself.”–Soren Kierkegaard

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.” –Eleanor Roosevelt

“The rewards doesn’t necessarily go to the biggest, the brightest or the best.  It goes to the one who has the courage to keep trying until success is inevitably achieved.” — Dr. Robyn Silverman

“If we’re growing, we’re always going to be out of our comfort zone.” — John Maxwell

Wishing you a powerful month of trying new things, meeting new people, and courageously standing up for what you know is right and fair.

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Dr. Robyn introduces the Powerful Word of the Month: Courage! is a post from: Dr. Robyn Silverman – Child Development Specialist, Body Image Expert, Success Coach & the Creator of the Powerful Words Character Development System