Contributor, parenting expert and preschool teacher Brandi Davis of Child and Family Coaching shares her thoughts and insights into the secret lives of the four year old girls, the minefield of their relationships with one another and how we, as parents to these future women of the world, can navigate.
We have all heard about the fournager and the torrential ‘tude that comes with FOUR. The eye rolls, the backtalk, the ignoring – GAH! But there is something else that comes with 4 and those deep female friendships. You see best friends forming, groups of friends bonding together, including, excluding, manipulating, hugging and tears. It’s like a tiny version of The Housewives Of Pre-K County. The feelings for friends are strong, and the heartbreak when they are left out is equally mighty. So what can you do and what should you look for in mentoring your 4-year-old girl through their new world of female friendships?
Ok, fasten your seat belts, this is gonna be a bumpy ride. Begin by talking about what friendship is and is NOT. I know, ridiculous. What’s to talk about? You hang out, have fun, go home. What more could there be? They’re kids, what’s the big deal?
Here is the big deal: The tears, the tantrums, the attitude and arguments. The, “You are not my Best Friend today” and “No, you can’t play with us”. Those jaw dropping power plays do happen. It can be difficult and devastating to navigate the complex world of friendship for these little ladies, when there is so much new and negative things being thrown at them. They are worried that if their friend plays with another friend they will lose that friend. While they can play in large groups, playing in groups of three is confusing and nerve-racking. What if Amy is more fun than me? Will Emily like her better and not be my Best Friend? If she plays with her too long she won’t like me anymore. Talking to kids about friendship can help prep them for these types of interactions and calm anxieties. Talk about how you can have many different friends. Sure, there may be a friend that is special to your child, but no one is obligated to play with one person all of the time. Be clear that your child AND their friend can play with others as a duo or solo. 4 year olds are territorial, and they often check in with their friends, asking about their friendship and love, and sisterhood, and best friendness. This can be stressful for the friend who is doing the checking as well as the friend who is being checked on. We want to teach that friendship is about support, kindness and fun. It is about respect and thoughtfulness. Not ownership and insecurity.
Watch out for the darker side to these friendships. A little dramatic, but it’s true. There can be a rush, a sense of power or validation when Emily is seeking Laura’s attention, but Laura denies that attention. Even the best small women dabble in this, trying to make their friends jealous by choosing to play with others, hold hands with others, all in full view of the jilted buddy. Sound excessive? Nope, I have witnessed it again and again. No need to panic. This does NOT mean that your child is an itty bitty b*tch, she is just trying on personalities to see what feels right. She is learning who she is and who she wants to be. It is our job to point them on the right path by keeping lines of communication open. We shouldn’t just punish unwanted behavior, we need to talk about it. Grown ups, monitor what your kids watch and read. Many kids shows are terrible models for friendships. Take a good look. Some of those cartoon fairies and princesses are NASTY.
All of this being said, you want to give room and space for your child to problem solve. See how they handle the situation and, if your child DOES need help, step in and mentor, don’t fix. As much as you want to destroy that tiny mean girl who made your angel feel bad, that will not teach either child a life lesson. Also, keep in mind, YOUR little angel probably did the same thing to someone else the other day. It is all part of growing up. Help your child express their feelings, and needs for space or company. Help them find other friends if a solution is not met. Lastly, give them skills to use when you are not there, to carry throughout life.
Yes, this is alllllll about girls. There is a difference. We like to think that boys and girls are the same and in this time of gender fluidity it may seem off-target to generalize. And, of course, each child IS an individual. But, it is important to know what to watch out for and there are some behaviors that are fairly consistent to each gender. Not every time, but when speaking en mass. And yes, boys have deep friendships, and they argue and hurt each other’s feelings, but the magnitude to which girls feel and run into dramatic conflicts with friends can be surprising to some. Young boys get mad and move on. Young girls, on the other hand, seem to hold on the the betrayal longer, or keep up the mean girl act after the confrontation has ended. We all think we have time before we have to deal with this phenomenon, but cliques, “alpha girls”, and friendship frustrations begin early. Yup, that’s the secret. Now that you know, what will you do to mentor positive female friendship skills?
Brandi Davis, ACC, is a certified Parenting Coach, Parent Educator, and Author of O.K. I’m A Parent Now What? She can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and be sure to catch her parenting podcasts on iTunes. The goal of Brandi’s practice is to bring respect, calm communication, teamwork, and FUN into the home or classroom. To discover all that Child and Family Coaching can bring to your family stop by www.childandfamilycoaching.com.