Taming a wild child
February 8, 2012 4:05 PM   Subscribe

Help me tame our 7 year old daughter before she makes all of the boys in her second grade class cry.

I got a concerned email today from our daughter's second grade teacher that our daughter is behaving aggressively towards the boys in her class -- chasing them, hugging them when they don't want to be hugged, and generally being physical and aggressive towards them in ways that invade their personal space and are, y'know, NOT COOL. Obviously, Mrs. Mosk and I are concerned and appalled and want to put a stop to this pronto. I am reaching out to the MeFi parenting community to ask for pointers, techniques and resources (such as links, books and DVDs) -- this is new territory for us as parents, as her older brother never acted this way.

Some background: Our daughter is very smart and very verbal. She reads voraciously, well above her grade level. She thinks strategically. She can be very sweet and funny (!), but she can also be very aggressive and more than a little physical. She's also strong, with powerful arms and a kung-fu like grip from constantly playing on the monkey bars -- seriously, the girl has deeply calloused palms and will make a fine gymnast someday if she chooses to pursue that. She's at least as strong if not stronger than many of the boys in her class. Like many 7 year olds, she listens selectively, and often has a strong personal opinion about how the world should work. She has some impulse control issues, though she's slooooooowly maturing and is better this year than last year. She also has an exaggerated sense of fairness, and will complain bitterly when she senses that something is even a tiny bit "unfair". Apart from her reading ability and her vocabulary, I think she's a "typical" 7 year old girl, but I also think she's capable of running rings around the boys in her class. She has two loving parents, a loving older brother (age 11), and a stable home life. We try hard to be good and fair parents -- our home has rules, which she tests and which we enforce. She craves attention, and we try to give her as much as we can. In general she receives at least as much attention as her brother, but she will often demand more.

My gut instinct is that she's somewhat bored in school, and this acting out is an expression of that, although we have also seen her act this way towards her brother, so I don't think the physical aggression is exclusively a school thing. I think she sees that this sort of behavior makes her the center of attention, and I suspect she likes this. I also think she's intrigued and a bit fascinated by the power she feels when she is making other kids react to her physically. She definitely enjoys driving the action in most situations. I don't *think* she's a bully, at least not yet, but her behavior may be heading in that direction, and we want to get a handle on it now before it escalates any further.

Both her teacher and her school are very good, the school is vigilant about bullying, and we will work with both to correct her behavior at school. But obviously, school is only part of the problem.

As her parents we could simply come down on her like a ton of bricks -- that's definitely one option -- but given the way her mind works I don't think that's the best approach to get her to change her behavior. And while she reads and thinks at the level of a tween or an adolescent, she's still just a 7 year old, and has a lot of emotional growing up to do.

I am hoping some other MeFi parents can point me towards some resources for taming my wild child before she makes any more 7 year old boys cry. Sorry for the length, and thanks in advance for your suggestions.
posted by mosk to Human Relations (36 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
If she is invested in the concept of fairness, that is a good thing.

How does she think that concept relates to the idea of one person being mean to another person? Does she see that chasing other kids, unless it's a game that everyone has agreed to, is a form of being mean?
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:10 PM on February 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Have you talked with her yet about people's rights to control their own bodies? I think it's really important to teach little girls about body autonomy from a young age so that they understand that they don't owe anyone physical contact. But I also think you should stress to your daughter that just as she has the right to choose what kind of physical contact she wants, so do other people. That means asking for permission before touching someone, unless you're 100% certain that they welcome your touch. Framing it that way may help connect it to both her desire for power and control over her own life and her sense of fairness, since everyone has the same rights and responsibilities.
posted by decathecting at 4:13 PM on February 8, 2012 [19 favorites]

Best answer: although we have also seen her act this way towards her brother, so I don't think the physical aggression is exclusively a school thing.

It's always a good time to talk personal boundaries -- you can tie it into a whole 'it's important not to touch others when they don't want to be touched' -- not animals, not people, etc. And that others aren't allowed to do that to her. For example, maybe she doesn't want to have her hair brushed sometimes, maybe if she tries to hug the family cat it leaves, etc. but as Decathecting says above - it's an important lesson for girls anyway.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:16 PM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Something that helped my brother with impulsiveness and impulsive physicality in particular, was getting involved in martial arts. Dance can help, too: there's a lot of "control your body so it does only what you want it to do" and "think about what you do before you do it" stuff that you learn, while you (bonus) get tired out.

Gymnastics class might also be an option - anything that involves coordinated movement. Watch out for teachers who are too competitive, and be aware that gymnastics (and cheerleading) involve rather more physical risk, in terms of broken bones and the like, than jazz and Tae Kwon Do. Organized competitive sports (soccer, etc.) might help, but it's not really as automatic, and they don't tend to do the small muscle control stuff that can help a kid learn to hug gently and the like.

If you think she's capable of sitting still and listening, and won't drag on about practicing too much, music classes can also help.

Oh, and if you don't go to church, you might want to consider it, or something like it. A UU Sunday School class is going to be 95% "respect other people" and at most 5% spirituality, for instance, and there will be more adults backing up your message of "don't behave like that, behave like this instead," which kids often really need.
posted by SMPA at 4:16 PM on February 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

Is there any chance there are some gender dynamics at play here? Nobody would complain about little boys doing some "rough-housing" after all. Even if it occassionally ended in tears, I don't think they'd worry about it too much. I would want to investigate more to see the exact behavior, maybe talk to some of the "victims" parents to see if her behavior really crosses the line.

Otherwise, sounds like you have an exuberant, very physical girl on your hands! Maybe you need to tire her out more? Maybe she just has a need for more physical contact and exercise that she's not getting? Could you try martial arts or swim team?
posted by yarly at 4:17 PM on February 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I think it is very valuable for both boys and girls to be taught that, "No means no." I would start with that. Obviously you've had to tell her No about something before, right? So explain to her that when people say No, it's important to respect that, so that they will in turn respect your own No. I realize this is tough, because she's 7 and you don't want her to turn around and say "No!" when you ask her to clean her room or do her homework.

So you might want to try explaining to her how the other children are feeling. Role-play with her to work on her empathy. Ask her how she would feel if she asked a friend not to do something, and the friend did it anyway. Wouldn't it hurt her feelings? How would her feelings for that friend change--it would be hard to trust that person again, wouldn't it? Ask her, "Do you want to be the person the other kids trust, or the one they don't want to be around because she won't listen to them?"
posted by misha at 4:19 PM on February 8, 2012

Best answer: yarly: "Is there any chance there are some gender dynamics at play here? Nobody would complain about little boys doing some "rough-housing" after all. Even if it occassionally ended in tears, I don't think they'd worry about it too much. I would want to investigate more to see the exact behavior, maybe talk to some of the "victims" parents to see if her behavior really crosses the line."

As a Mom of boys, I assure you that were the situation reversed, other parents would complain! And putting victims in quotation marks makes it seem like you are blaming the other kids, which is just not cool.
posted by misha at 4:21 PM on February 8, 2012 [17 favorites]

Thirding martial arts - because it's inherently a contact-based activity, a reputable school will spend a lot of time with the kids talking about negotiating contact, when it's appropriate, etc. It'll also give her an outlet for all that energy. If you're interested, drop me a memail and I'll get some recommendations for women-focused schools in your area.
posted by restless_nomad at 4:24 PM on February 8, 2012

"victims" is because so far they only have reports from teachers, not parents or kids, so I personally would not immediately believe the teacher.
posted by yarly at 4:32 PM on February 8, 2012

Response by poster: I don't want to thread-sit, but to add a few details to the above description:

She's been taking weekly piano lessons since September and seems to be invested in learning and practicing -- she's up to 25 minutes of practice per night, and she seems to be enjoying that. So that's helped, and it's given her a challenge to tackle, and she's proud of the progress she's making.

Because we are both working parents, we have a "one child per sport season" rule in our house. She played AYSO soccer in the fall and enjoyed it. Her brother loves baseball, so he gets to play Little League in the spring. We can't manage the to-ing and fro-ing of more than one child's sport at a time. I wish we could, but it's just not possible.

Regarding religion, we are pretty active in our synagogue, our kids are in the religious education program, and yes, they stress fairness and good behavior. I think she understands all of this abstractly, but yeah, this is something we are still working on.

I like the idea of introducing her to a martial art. That's a really good idea, and I can see how that would help with a number of issues -- thanks for that! Not gonna mark that as a best answer yet, but I like it and will discuss it with Mrs. Mosk.

Also - my wife and I have both stressed that "no means no", and that you have to respect it when someone doesn't want to be touched, hugged, or kissed. Believe me, we have made this point a number of times and have gotten in her face about it. But she is stubborn and can be very determined when she decides to be. She can also be stoic in the face of consequences; she's a tough nut to crack, and we sometimes joke (between ourselves and out of her ear shot) that she will make a fine dictator someday.

Finally, the email from her teacher was very specific about the improper behavior that she engaged in, and this behavior would be improper regardless of the sex of the child. We want her to own her actions, and she needs to learn to keep them in check.

Keep 'em coming!
posted by mosk at 4:36 PM on February 8, 2012

Martial arts can certainly help.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:37 PM on February 8, 2012

Best answer: I think it's very important -- although maybe contrary to your inclination -- to model boundaries at home. Very smart, very verbal, precocious kids get used to the limelight at home. School winds up being the great melter of special snowflakes, and they don't know how to share the attention. Start setting her straight at home by taking her off center stage if she occupies that position. You will be doing her a favor. Go out for scheduled grown up time, discourage interrupting no matter how precocious, don't let her dominate dinnertime or the television ... You get the idea. It's a place to start, anyway.
posted by thinkpiece at 4:43 PM on February 8, 2012 [14 favorites]

It's not clear what sort of consequences you're referring to when you say "She can also be stoic in the face of consequences." Are they disciplining her at school? Have the teachers given her a stern talking to, or made her stand against the wall or anything? That sort of thing always got me to stop whatever annoying thing I was doing at that age, and a lot of your description of her sounds like how I was in middle elementary school.
posted by wondermouse at 5:14 PM on February 8, 2012

Best answer: Does she have a sense of actual fairness (it's unfair if somebody is disadvantaged) or merely a sense of seven-year-old fairness (it's unfair if I am disadvantaged)? Keeping the answer to that in mind will be useful while formulating strategy.
posted by flabdablet at 5:16 PM on February 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Have you asked her why she behaves this way towards the boys? And when I mean ask, I mean genuinely ask out of curiosity as opposed to asking in a shaming, why on earth are you doing this kind of way? It might help to get some insight (albeit, the 7 year old version) so that you can determine how to address the problem.

More generally, I was a lot like your daughter at that age and what I remember vividly is just a feeling of not fitting in and trying to do that almost physically. It wasn't a strength-showing move, more so a "I'm awkward and I want to fit in but I have no idea how to go about doing that." I also was dealing with somewhat marginal self-esteem (despite outward appearances to the contrary) so that might have also been a coping mechanism.

Maybe it's also a need to compete and a physical sport, particularly against boys, might be right up her alley - understanding that that competitiveness has a time and place. Piano lessons are awesome, but the only person you compete against is yourself, and for a girl like her, that might not be the funnest part of the exercise.
posted by Leezie at 6:03 PM on February 8, 2012 [7 favorites]

Square peg, round hole. If your daughter is precocious and frustrated at school, it isn't surprising that she's acting out. Sounds to me like she could achieve greatness if only she had the right environment. Why don't you just put her into a school that's more appropriate for her?
posted by exphysicist345 at 6:15 PM on February 8, 2012

Best answer: She may be at a loss as to what her place is amongst peers. It sounds like most things come very easy to her. Perhaps social interaction does not and, placed with something she isn't immediately good at, she freaks out a bit and acts out.

It might help to give her a purpose on the playground - a small challenge that she must accomplish, in secret, before recess is over. Here are a few suggestions:

1) Stats- tell her that you are doing research for a friend and ask her to count how many girls are wearing bows in their hair on that day.
2) Social - Challenge her to learn at least 3 facts about one girl.
3) Helpful- She must perform one act of kindness every day.

You can switch things around, get creative, turn it into a game, something she will excel at. The challenges could help her to feel more in control of the situation and help her connect with her classmates a little better.
posted by myselfasme at 6:27 PM on February 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I have my own 7 year old with her own particular challenges but I just quickly browsed through this great book. The book has lots of suggestions for strategies to deal with different challenges when kids are having trouble. You'd have to read it to see what makes sense. Is she short-fused/easily loses her temper? Does she feel powerless at school for some reason? Does she have trouble making girl friends? Does she need help feeling empathy? The books covers these different areas and what to do. As Leezie mentioned, she might not know how to connect so she's trying to find her way.

Also, on another note, since you mention that she loves to read, I bought this book for my daughter and she seems to really like it. (I just kind of slipped it into her bookshelf with some new books). It has some pretty good advice for navigating girl friendships, making and keeping friends, being empathitic, etc. I like it because it's not ME telling her the things that I think she really needs to know. It's geared toward older girls but I think it's pretty sweet and friendly. It may skew towards shy girls but if your daughter is wondering why she's not connecting, it's a good start.
posted by biscuits at 6:44 PM on February 8, 2012

Best answer: I read this question to the almost eight year old littlepeagood, who "How is there a girl who is just like me?"

And she said two things: "In the Clementine books, especially the one where her teacher is going to go to Egypt, she says that you have to know what the problem is before you know the solution. So, you know the teacher's problem, but you don't know the girl's. Ask her first."

So, really ask her. (On preview - right on, Leezie!) She may have a solution herself.

Then she said, "Ask her if the boys are bugging her first, and if that is her offense."

littlepeagood, who also has calloused palms and who broke her arm falling off the beloved monkeybars two months ago and who can kick every fourth grade boy's butt on the equipment, is a similarly physical kid, and she also prefers playing with the boys and has problems with winding up and winding down. We have had/have this issue. I work in her school, and I see it every day.
posted by peagood at 7:14 PM on February 8, 2012 [5 favorites]

What consequences are there for her undesired behavior?
posted by blargerz at 7:23 PM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Have you asked her why she behaves this way towards the boys? And when I mean ask, I mean genuinely ask out of curiosity as opposed to asking in a shaming, why on earth are you doing this kind of way? It might help to get some insight (albeit, the 7 year old version) so that you can determine how to address the problem.

I'm not a parent, but I have nephews (and honorary nieces) in this same age range, and what Leezie is saying here is what struck me as your first step, too. Especially as you note in your question that you are "concerned and appalled" by the situation. I guess the "appalled" just jumped out at me, because while it's certainly true that it's necessary to be concerned by her disruptive behavior, somehow "appalled" seems somewhat out of proportion to the situation. (And I don't intend that to be dismissive of the boys who are being affected by her behavior.) I say this not so much to nitpick your wording, but rather to gently suggest that when you talk to your daughter, it may be important to not convey (either overtly or more subtly) that you are appalled/ashamed by her, but rather that you are interested in understanding more about what she's feeling behind how she's behaving. Judging her angrily is not going to help her learn the self-regulation skills she needs to develop here, I don't think.

Just from my own memories of how I related to boys at that age: I remember chasing boys/getting a little aggressive with them because A) I wanted attention from them, but B) I perceived myself (already, at that age!) as not conventionally cute/pretty enough to garner attention that way (mainly due to being so tall), so I felt I had to do it almost by being "one of the boys," in a way. I think I was kind of mimicking how I saw boys interacting with each other in terms of rough housing, being into "boy" things, etc. I wonder if something similar might be going on with your daughter, especially as you describe her as being very strong/physical, which may make her feel different from the other girls in her class that she perceives get a different type of attention from boys?
posted by scody at 7:52 PM on February 8, 2012 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Oh my, so it's slightly embarrassing to admit, but I kind of did the chasing thing as a girl around her age. And I was absolutely not a bully. In fact, I was low girl on the totem pole in school. I was bookish, socially awkward, and generally picked upon. I could not throw, kick, or hit a ball to save my life. So it was really a case of pent up energy and nowhere to put it and no real understanding of what was going on in my tiny little mind or body. It was kind of like a Border Collie seeing a sheep. The boys would run from me in an "OMG cooties!" way and their running triggered the CHASE part of my brain. And, yeah, I mostly chased boys because the girls didn't run. They'd pretty much stay still and make fun of me. So I went after boys because they were the ones who would engage with me. If I'd had the option of a dog or chicken or something I totally would have gone for that instead, but there was an unfortunate dearth of those on the playground. Can't say I hugged them, but I also never really caught any (see again my unfortunate lack of physical coordination) so who knows what I would have done if I did. I'm just saying this because while I don't know your daughter, it might be a whole lot less sinister than you think. Even as a kid I hated bullying and injustices and was incredibly sensitive about all that kind of thing. I've grown into an adult that is the same. I just needed to move my body and didn't have a better outlet or the social graces to understand that there were any. So have a talk, but take it easy. And maybe get her a Border Collie. Lord, I would have loved one.
posted by troublewithwolves at 9:33 PM on February 8, 2012 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Ohhh, the fairness thing plus the precocious thing. A deadly combination. When I was in kindergarten, I was almost thrown out of school for very similar behavior, and the school-ordered shrink diagnosed me as having an 'overdeveloped sense of justice'.

I wish I could say I had an easy answer- my bad behavior ended slowly, and was mostly gone by middle school, but there was no magic bullet.

If she's anything like I was, she looks around her and sees people who are wrong. They're mistaken about a fact, or they have a wrong opinion, or they're behaving badly, but either way they are WRONG and that is INFURIATING- because, goddamn it, I'm right and they're wrong and why why WHY don't they just realize that?! And there's nothing she can do about it... except lash out physically.

Getting into an advanced learning class helped, partly because it showed me that I was not in fact the Smartest Kid Ever and thus the final authority on any topic. But frankly, what finally 'cured' me, or rather made me start trying to cure myself, was the realization that my peers feared and disliked me because of my behavior. Once I figured that out, in grade 4 or 5, I started the process of shaping myself the fuck up.

Maybe this doesn't help as far as giving specific advice- my parents were at a loss with me at that age- but maybe it will help you get inside her head. At the core, I think it stems from a desire to do good- she just doesn't understand that her actions affect other people.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:22 PM on February 8, 2012

Best answer: I disagree with exphysicist. Precociousness or boredom may be an issue but it is valuable for bright children tO learn boundaries and social skills too. Being bored is not an excuse for bad behavior, no? If you think your daughter is not being intellectually stimulated by school, deal with that. But don't use it as an excuse for behavioural issues- which is not to suggest that you will. But as a teacher, I can tell you that with younger students this comes up inappropriately at times and it really inhibits anyone's ability to resolve behavior/socializing issues in a way that benefits the child.
posted by jojobobo at 10:27 PM on February 8, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you all so much for your replies, suggestions, and anecdotes - they are very much appreciated!

I was pretty upset when I wrote my first post, and in my haste to frame the question before leaving work I left out a sentence that probably would have steered this discussion a little differently: the reason why I was appalled at our daughter's behavior was that in her email, her teacher mentioned that the boy she made cry also complained that earlier in the week, our daughter had hit him in "his private area" with a dry erase board. This is Not Good. The teacher -- whom we genuinely respect -- described in even tones what the boy had told her, and then calmly told us that we needed to work on this behavior with our daughter NOW. I'm sure if I included that it would have colored the conversation. Sorry for the omission; in my mind I had included it, but in fact I had not. Anyway, this is why I was taking things so seriously.

When I got home my wife said that after school our daughter was also very aggressive towards her brother in the after school drama class they attend, for reasons that aren't clear or important. Unfortunately her aggression culminated with her "playfully" throwing a metal milk bottle at him. Ouch! The drama teacher intervened at that point and gave her a time out, and my wife had a pretty stern followup with her when she picked her up.

So by the time I spoke with her she was already fairly contrite and subdued. I asked her if she knew why she acted the way she did today, and she didn't have an answer. This wasn't an "I don't care" shrug, but more of a genuine "I don't know," which makes me think there is a large element of missing impulse control in her behavior. This actually makes me feel better -- I obviously don't want her lashing out at people because they aren't dancing to her tune-of-the-moment, but learning impulse control is part of being 7. Of course there's likely more going on here, but as I said, I feel a bit better that she didn't know why she was getting physical, as opposed to having some plan or goal in mind and seeing physical contact or coercion as a means of achieving it.

I sat down and looked her in the eye and I spoke with her about respecting people, respecting their boundaries and their bodies, and how "no touching other people without their permission" meant just that. She listened very seriously to what I was saying and cried a bit, and was obviously affected by all that had happened today. We concluded with her agreeing to write apologies to the people whose feeling she had hurt -- the boy, her teacher, and her drama teacher. And to apologize to her brother. And I told her that that if we had any more incidents like these we were going to pull her out of the drama class for the remainder of the session (it just started, she really likes it, and we're not bluffing, so this is a good nuclear option if it comes to that). As for consequences for more minor behavioral issues, we're going back to immediate 5 minute timeouts in the hall -- she's a very social creature and *hates* timeouts.

She wrote the letters before bed, and drew very nice pictures with each one in which she was modeled friendly behaviors with each person. That was her idea, and they are very sincere. It was both sweet and effective.

Going forward in a positive way, we are going to get her some martial arts lessons (or dance, gymnastics, or swimming -- just something regular and active). Martial arts would be right up her ally and would give her a healthy way to have contact with other kids and be aggressive while also learning to control her aggression and her strength. We haven't talked about this with her yet to see if she's interested, but we will likely wait a few days until we're on the other side of the current situation.

Anyway, I need to wrap this up as it's late and I'm beat. Thanks again for all of the good advice. To those that memailed me, thank you for your advice and I'll reply as soon as I can. And I wish those of you with kids lived closer -- it sounds like our daughter would have some pretty fun play dates if you did.

posted by mosk at 3:16 AM on February 9, 2012 [6 favorites]

I realize she's only 7, but have you had her evaluated by her pediatrician for early puberty? (I started menstruating at 9 years and 10 months.) Hormones might be driving her behavior.
posted by Carol Anne at 6:32 AM on February 9, 2012

Best answer: From your response, and her answers, it sounds like she's well and thoroughly frustrated by the time she gets to throwing things or acting out physically.

Instead of asking her why she's behaving that way, can you find out what's happening just before then? She is not acting alone in any of this - what is contributing to it? If you have to ask the teacher, do so. Sometimes when we have playdates, and we're sitting down for a snack, I'll try to get her friends' perspectives. Then I learn about the kids she has the issues with, and can make specific suggestions.

In our house, her behavioural response and an "I don't know" like that is often a code for "It's too big to get my mind around it and tell you about it all, so I'll just shut it down so I can stop feeling bad about it sooner." You're doing a lot of clean-up, and a lot of corrections and what you're doing makes other people feel better - but what can you do to help your daughter know herself, and learn when she has to release a little steam so she doesn't blow? Some of her behaviours just sound a bit wound-up, which affects impulse control. It's always easier when kids are comfortable.

Is there a problem with her schedule? When it comes to after school clubs, my kid really needs a snack and a brief run around after a long afternoon of class before more stuff in a classroom. Afternoon recess here is only ten minutes, after all. Does she need to remember to eat something to have better energy before drama class? Does the Drama class provide a physical exercise break before they get down to work? These are all things that affect the behaviour of kids that age in our after school clubs, and we've had to find ways to encourage better behaviour by figuring what was triggering the unwanted behaviour.
posted by peagood at 8:12 AM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Hi, I'm Castlebravo and I was a boy chaser in elementary school. For me, it was a form of primitive flirting. I liked these boys (which confused me, because I also thought they were gross), I wanted attention from these boys, but at that age kids view the opposite sex as a totally foreign species with nothing in common, so teasing/chasing was the only way I could get boys to react to me, to make myself known. It peaked in first and second grade, lessened in third grade, and I had stopped by fourth grade, largely because the rigid boy/girl divide was starting to loosen up by that age and I began to develop real friendships with boys in my class. She might desire to be friends with boys in her class, but the social structure of that age group simply won't allow it so she's pursuing interaction in other, less acceptable ways.

Regarding hitting boys in their groin- girls really do not have any idea how much this hurts; they have no point of reference for this. They think it's just a somewhat more sensitive spot, and can be an opportunity to quickly overpower someone who would normally be stronger than them. Also, it's treated as a source of comedy in a lot of children's entertainment (dude gets hit in the groin, makes a funny face, falls over, everyone laughs) so girls tend to develop a cavalier attitude about this. Being female myself, I'm not really sure how to convey how much this hurts to a 7-year-old girl, but some in-depth explanation about how terrible this feels to a boy, might help.

I agree that she might be helped by participating in a coed sport or extracurricular activity that allows her to burn off energy, have some healthy competition, and especially to interact with boys her own age outside of the heavily structured, gender segregated environment that early elementary school can be.
posted by castlebravo at 8:12 AM on February 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I offer my own experience as a kid, in case it helps you with your daughter. It sounds like I was very much like your daughter - fairly smart, intuitive, verbal, bookish, active, interested and curious. All good things. I was also *extremely* bored in school and it is hard to convey just how much that translated into me acting out in other ways. At some point my teacher made me a 'reading helper' which had me doing storytime with the other kids, and gave me a sense of purpose and a bit of extra attention.

I was also probably extremely ADD and could have used some specific techniques to control impulses and focus on some things, and not others. That sudden rage and frustration can be a marker of ADD. This is not to say she *has* ADD, but you might read some books about kids with ADD, to get a sense of specific examples and techniques. They might help even without a formal diagnosis.

Finally, as others have pointed out, I wasn't the quiet, cute shy girls that seemed to garner so much attention from teachers and boys. My body was a bit awkward, my mouth was a bit too fast, my energy a bit too high. More importantly, I truly believe that I was already having some gender identity issues. This isn't to say that I didn't have little crushes on boys, but as the girls became more and more 'feminine' and the boys became more and more 'masculine' it was really tough for me to figure out how I belonged. Most certainly, I was not a girly girl. But the boys knew I wasn't a boy and so wasn't allowed to play with them in quite the same way. I definitely chased boys around and tried to wrestle or get them to engage with me as I saw them engaging with each other. It wasn't always appropriate - I'd steal their hat, and make them get it, or make up weird physical games like "let's jump into each other as hard as we can!"

She may truly not know why she suddenly feels so frustrated and angry and explosive. The key will be helping her recognize when that starts to happen, even if -- especially if -- she doesn't know why. Help her express frustration in a better way, even if it literally just saying "I am so frustrated I want to explode." That's a step in the right direction.

So, two tasks at the same time:
1) Help her recognize and control these feelings, whenever and whatever the reason.
2) Unpacking why she is getting frustrated in the first place, which might mean everything from social awkwardness, to early hormones, to kid energy, to identity issues, to boredom, to low blood sugar.

Good luck, you sound like a great parent, and this is a super hard job!
posted by barnone at 10:14 AM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Wow. Your daughter sounds very much like how I was--the combination of bookishness and physical aggression and preference for boy friendships--except I had the "advantage"(?) of being extremely tiny so it never really seemed like I was a true physical threat to any of the boys I tortured. In first and second grades, I'd chase them around at recess, push them down, and kiss them. They called me "kissy girl." This is humiliating to recount. One of my mother's stories about me around this age is when she took my grandparents to see my soccer team (on which I was the only girl) play, and at one point, I socked a kid who was a head taller than me and made him cry.

I remember doing these things sometimes because I wanted attention and sometimes because I had a really bad temper.

I got sent to a guidance counselor. I'm not sure if it was because of this or because of other things. I also don't know if it helped. I eventually stopped though. Probably by middle school. Though I continue to torture boys in less straightforward ways as an adult. Maybe your daughter could go see a guidance counselor, and maybe that could help, or at least help you consider a next step. I also think martial arts sounds like it could channel some of that energy.
posted by millipede at 10:45 AM on February 9, 2012

I was also very much a roughhousing, bookish girl in elementary school - I was fortunate in that for some reason we got away with playing "tackle basketball" at lunch and I was just one of the guys, and the ones I got into fistfights with never really saw it as a problem. I am also just now connecting that this took place exactly around the time I got pulled out of sports to go to Hebrew school, and it went away entirely when I hit junior high and had after-school sports all year.

(And oh God, I would have loved martial arts as a kid, but my parents were never really willing to take me seriously about it, and there were probably no good options in the area for a girl (in the 80s) anyway.)
posted by restless_nomad at 12:03 PM on February 9, 2012

Best answer: Riffing off of barnone's post - I work with kids (lots of kids with disabilities, *and* kids without disabilities). I also have ADHD, and had a tough time with social awkwardness when I was younger - up to about age 14, when my executive functions started to catch up with my intellectual functioning/chronological age (I was the nerdy, awkard bookworm). I teach swimming lessons, and I definitely agree with many of the posters above that getting her involved in more sports could be a fantastic outlet.

There are some behaviour management strategies, often aimed at kids with autism and related disorders, BUT which are relevant to any child experiencing social difficulties (I am not diagnosing your daughter with anything! :) that you may find helpful. Here are two suggested strategies, part of a larger article, that you may find helpful. Implementing these strategies will involve you and your wife, your daughter's teacher, and any coaches/instructors/etc. becoming "detectives". Basically, behaviour has a cause/purpose, and the absolute first step that you must take in changing this behaviour is figuring out exactly what your daughter is getting out of it. Keeping a log, to be able to see patterns, can be very helpful.

Anyway, here is the article link, and here are two models/behaviour management approaches that I think might be helpful to you:

Situation, options, consequences, choices, strategies, simulation (SOCCSS). The SOCCSS strategy was designed to help students with social disabilities, including those with AS, understand social situations and develop problem-solving skills by putting behavioral and social issues into a sequential format (Roosa, 1995). This adult-directed strategy [emphasis mine] helps children and youth understand cause and effect and realize that they can influence the outcome of many situations by the decisions they make. The strategy can be used one-on-one with a child or as a group activity, depending on the situation and students’ needs.

SOCCSS consists of the following six steps:

Situation : After a social problem occurs [such as chasing and hitting fellow students when not playing "tag" or other games], the adult helps the child or youth to identify the who, what, when, where, and why associated with it. The goal is to encourage the child...to identify and review these variables. However, at first the adult assumes an active role in prompting and, when necessary, identifying answers to these questions.
Options : The adult and student brainstorm several behavioral options the student might have chosen in the given situation. Brainstorming means accepting and recording all child responses without evaluating them. Initially, the adult usually has to encourage the youth...to identify more than one option that could have been done or said differently.
Consequences : For each behavior option generated, a consequence is now listed. The adult asks the student, “So what would happen if you … (name the option)?”...
Choices : The options and consequences generated in the previous step are prioritized using a numerical sequence or a yes/no response. Following prioritization, the student is prompted to select the option that (a) appears doable and (b) will most likely help the student obtain personal wants or needs.
Strategies : A plan is developed to carry out the option if the situation occurs. Although the adult and child collaborate on the stages of the plan, the student should ultimately generate the plan to ensure a feeling of student ownership and commitment to use the strategy.
Simulation : Roosa has defined this practice in a variety of ways: (a) using imagery, (b) talking with another about the plan, (c) writing down the plan, or (d) role-playing. The student evaluates his personal impressions of the simulation. Did the simulation activity provide the skills and confidence to carry out the plan? If the answer is “no,” additional simulation must take place.

Stop, observe, deliberate, and act (SODA). Created by Bock (2001) to serve as a social behavioral learning strategy, SODA helps children and youth with AS, HFA, and related disabilities “attend to relevant social cues, process these cues, ponder their relevance and meaning, and select an appropriate response during novel social interactions” (p. 273)... [The author mentions using this in "novel" situations, but my opinion is that this can also be a useful approach in controlling impulsivity and developing social awareness in everyday situations, like recess.] The strategy, which utilizes the think aloud, think along model (Andrews & Mason, 1991), contains the following steps:

Stop : This step prompts the child to develop an organizational schema in which an interaction is to occur....
Observe : Aspects of the environment targeted for observation may include length of conversations, number of individuals involved in conversations, tone of conversations (i.e., formal, casual), strategies utilized to begin and end conversations, nonverbal language, and any routines that may be in place.
Deliberate : In this phase, the child...develops an action plan to use in the new environment. This includes deciding on a topic of conversation, identifying strategies that may lead to successful interactions...and analyzing how the child thinks he will be perceived by others if he does or does not follow the routine he has identified.
Act : At this point, the child becomes an active participant in the novel environment carrying out the strategies he identified in the deliberation phase. This stage serves as a platform for generalizing skills that were learned in another (e.g., therapeutic) environment.

Feel free to Memail me if you would like further information! Good luck to you and your wife - it's great that you are taking this situation seriously, and are trying to help your daughter. I bet she's sad sometimes about not being able to "intuitively" manage social interactions and figure out social cues - you guys are really doing something helpful and important by assisting her to address this issue.
posted by purlgurly at 12:35 PM on February 9, 2012

Best answer: "Your daughter sounds very much like how I was--the combination of bookishness and physical aggression and preference for boy friendships--except I had the "advantage"(?) of being extremely tiny so it never really seemed like I was a true physical threat to any of the boys I tortured. In first and second grades, I'd chase them around at recess, push them down, and kiss them. They called me "kissy girl." This is humiliating to recount. "

oh ye elder gods, ditto to everything above, including the guidance counselor and multiple rounds of "parental conferences". With a heaping side helping of "only child syndrome", plus being tomboyish and awkward and unpretty, and Generally Not Fitting In.

I vividly recall being like this at 7. And it may not be like this for your daughter, but in my case it was really complicated. Part of it was bullying, but you know, I have to own a bunch of the blame for that, because I had myself convinced that I was intellectually, morally and physically superior to all of my peers, and they hated me for it and were only too happy to try to knock some sense into my snotty little head.

My trigger for a lot of this was when my parents divorced, which meant a major social upheaval from a wealthy suburban private kindergarten in Silver Spring, MD to a poor rural grade school in the middle of nowhere southwestern Ohio.

In my case the one thing that helped was when my mom got me into a gymnastics program, which then morphed into figure skating, where I learned that girls could simultaneously look pretty, act graceful, AND kick ass. And it gave me friends who were on the same wavelength; albeit in another school district that I couldn't go to fulltime. I am fairly convinced that this was the only thing that helped me learn enough social skills to survive middle school.
posted by lonefrontranger at 12:37 PM on February 9, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you, all, for suggesting so many additional resources and solutions. I do appreciate your suggestions and the time you took to relate similar experiences, either your own or your child's.

I'm busy at work today/tomorrow and can't really devote as much time to responding to this thread now as I did yesterday, but I'm reading all of your posts and will discuss them with my wife.

A few additional thoughts and notes on our daughter (for the sake of completeness and for whatever it's worth):

1. I don't *think* she's ADHD, but we can certainly ask her doctor, teacher, and other school staff that interact with her in the classroom if she presents as such. It's something to look at.

2. She's tall for her age and is growing like a weed. Her teacher mentioned that she might be entering adolescence early, and it's very possible that she is. She's overdue for her annual checkup, so we'll discuss this possibility with her pediatrician when we speak with her.

3. She has a circle of friends -- all girls -- and she seems to get along with them well, although there's occasionally some drama: friends to enemies to friends to enemies back to friends, etc. I don't think any of this is unusual. She seems interested in boys, but I'm sure the second grade boys have no idea what to make of her, except that they probably feel threatened by her. At the moment, her orbit seems to be well above theirs.

4. Sometimes I wish she was more of a tomboy, but she's very much a girly-girl, albeit a pretty damn tough one. She loves clothes and has a strong sense of fashion -- matching and coordinating clothes by color and style, playing a lot of dress up with her dolls, enjoying things like painting her nails (when we let her) and wearing lip balm, wearing hair bands and barrettes, etc. While our son could live in the same shorts and T-shirt for an entire summer, she doesn't like to wear the same outfit for an entire day. This is not a trait she inherited from either me or her mom, so go figure...

5. She's not socially awkward -- if anything, she's a social butterfly.

6. She is very headstrong and very stubborn. Once she has decided on a course of action it is hard to dissuade her from it.

7. She loves to be put in a position of authority, even if it's minor -- for example, she loves being the teacher's helper. And she loves attention.

8. Her favorite books (so far) are the Laura Ingalls Wilder/Little House series. She's read them all, multiple times.

I'm offering the above just to help round out her character a bit, and make her more real and less theoretical.

Anyway, thanks again for your suggestions.
posted by mosk at 4:37 PM on February 9, 2012

As for consequences for more minor behavioral issues, we're going back to immediate 5 minute timeouts in the hall -- she's a very social creature and *hates* timeouts.

And this is the point where I feel obliged yet again to wheel out 1-2-3 Magic for a troubled parent's consideration.

Kids will always test their boundaries; that's the only way to find out where the boundaries are. And if the immediate consequence for hitting a boundary is a parent calmly and evenly saying "That's 1", and the child knows from experience that persistence after "That's 2" is only ever followed by a timeout, then whatever obnoxious behavior is being tried on will generally stop dead without anybody having had to waste time enduring or enforcing an actual timeout.
posted by flabdablet at 5:09 PM on February 9, 2012

I'd like to expand a little bit too - it sounds like millipede and I maybe on the same page to an extent. It may help that I have exceptionally clear memories of being in grade school (painfully so, really) and so perhaps it might help for me to unpack some of this stuff with a more mature perspective now.

When I say "only child" syndrome, I want to be clear on the fact that up until I wound up in a public rural school, forced to interact on an age appropriate level with my peers, I was Everyone's Special Privileged Darling, and it did me absolutely no favors. I was told from the time I began to learn to read on my own (at 2 1/2) how smart I was, and how well-behaved (I was an easy kid early on before I started having trouble in school and acting out), and how "grown-up" I was. I thrived on the praise and became a huge attention-seeker because of it. And as an only child of young adults, I was thence by default made a part of my parents' social circle early on. So prior to school, I had only learned how to socialize on that weird child-in-an-adult-scene level of being a little performing monkey (which read to kids my own age as being a tiresome showoff smartypants). I was a little Hermione Grainger, except without even the basic empathetic social skills of wanting to help others with their homework, etc.

Now, adults absolutely love and reward this kind of behavior from kids. Kids my own age resented it, because nobody likes a smartass, especially an arrogant smartass, and because I was raised as a "mini adult" that's how I came off to them. The boy-chasing on my part was a desperate bid to try to regain (what I thought) was my rightful place at the center of everyone's attention.

I'm not saying you have to throw your kid to the wolves - far from it. She is your kid and you love her. But ask yourself this - do you constantly reward and praise the attention-seeking behavior? Because if you do, then the fact that the world does not necessarily revolve around her as one of twenty or thirty potentially equally bright but more, let's say, socially grounded seven year olds, is maybe to a degree what's causing this.

Like I said, it's probably even more complicated than that too, and there's not one set thing that's a contributing factor. I don't have kids, so I can't help as much with the path forward - my mom's not-very-helpful solution in the mid-1970s was to go to war with the school board, which only served to burn bridges and isolate me more.

I do think it's important to address this stuff now, and help her with coping mechanisms and learning things like empathy and sharing and the "what happens next" kind of consequential conceptualizations, because little girls especially will be ruthlessly horrible to the "square pegs" in the bin, and believe you me it's only going to get worse as she gets older.
posted by lonefrontranger at 9:05 AM on February 10, 2012

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