How should we deal with mistreatment by 1st grade friends?
August 30, 2018 9:43 PM   Subscribe

Our 1st-grade daughter's closest friends are a groups of boys, who verbally and physically mistreat her. How do we address this situation, and how can we get her to respect herself enough to not allow this kind of behavior?

Our daughter's six and a half. She became friends with a bunch of about five or six boys last year in kindergarten. She's a tomboy and has always preferred playing with boys over girls.

The kids call themselves "the team," and during last school year they all got along about 70% of the time. The other 30% they bullied her and other kids in the team. The leader and his closest buddies will randomly kick people off the team, and they all teased her because she's a girl. (She has also participated in excluding some of the other boys.)

We've repeatedly told her she needs to respect herself and not let people treat her unkindly. Last year we had her play girls softball and over the summer had her in a girls-only camp to try to get her to include more girls in her friend circle. (We have no problem with her being a tomboy but we're concerned that she'll be lonely in a few years when boys start not playing with girls.)

At a school function last night I saw the team leader kick her. I confronted him and asked him if he kicked her. He said he did. I asked him why and he said because she said mean things. I told him pretty firmly never to do it again.

Today in after care, he kicked her again, supposedly because she "told on him" last night. Two of the other boys on the team also hit and kicked her.

Our family is friends with all of the families involved, and we've talked to them about the bullying before. Some of the other kids have also experienced it from kids in this group so our daughter is not alone in this. (We don't want to stop being friends with the families, and she probably wouldn't stop being friends with the boys anyway.)

We're planning on talking to the kids' parents about it again, but I also feel like we need to also talk to the school principal and the head of the after-care program.

We also really want to find a way to help her develop more self-respect. We have been telling her for over a year how she should say "no", walk away, tell an adult, stand up for herself, find new friends who treat her better. She's six; she blows us off most of the time. We'd like to think some of it is sinking in but she just keeps going back to them. Would counseling be appropriate?
posted by kirkaracha to Human Relations (29 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe it is because my kid goes to a relatively small school, but I am shocked that there isn't already involvement by the school.
Kids regularly kick other kids at aftercare with no consequences? This kind of bullying goes on?

You gotta talk to the school.

(Also fwiw, there is a tomboy in my son's crew. They are in 4th grade and the friendships aren't going away. That family also has their daughter involved in Girl Scouts for more ties with girls in school.)
posted by k8t at 9:54 PM on August 30, 2018 [15 favorites]

When I had a friend being emotionally abusive to me, my parents forebade me to play with her. After a year I realized she was shitty and they were right. They taught me boundaries.

You need to take this more seriously. If your daughter is both being bullied and bullying others, that's something there should be consequences for. In this case, no playing with her friends for a serious amount of time. And yes, their parents need to either take it seriously or stop being YOUR friends.
posted by emjaybee at 10:01 PM on August 30, 2018 [55 favorites]

Speaking as someone who, at your daughter's age, was frequently abused and battered by classmates, it wasn't "lack of self-respect" that caused me to "allow" it; there just wasn't much I could do to stop it. Adults refused to get involved because apparently kids are supposed to settle these things for themselves, which they're often not able to do because, well, because they're just little kids.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:28 PM on August 30, 2018 [131 favorites]

You are (rightfully) calling the boys out on their behavior here but ignoring their claims that you daughter is also treating them badly. This is a poor idea for a few reasons. It weakens your case with the other parents if she truly is also bullying them, it teaches your daughter she can act badly and you'll ignore it and it isn't teaching the kid group as a whole to trust adults. You need to get to the bottom of why these kids act this way and are allowed to act this way at school, THEN take appropriate measures. Including breaking up the band if necessary.

I physically fought a lot at that age and I wasn't stupid, I never let adults see me. But I also didn't get treated like I was inherently the victim because of my gender like you seem to be doing to your daughter. My parents were rightfully suspicious and usually did get to the bottom of it and that was better in the long term. We kids did sort it out as long as we knew justice was swift and impartial.
posted by fshgrl at 10:31 PM on August 30, 2018 [17 favorites]

I have a 2 year old, so take this with a grain of salt, but could you practice with her or work with her to find ways to handle it? Maybe after doing some listening to figure out what it means to her? "I saw Joe kick you the other day. How do you feel when that happens?" (In a very neutral and just-curious voice)
posted by slidell at 10:34 PM on August 30, 2018

As a kid who was bullied, and the parent of a child who was bullied, I'm horrified that you're framing this as a matter of self-respect. She's six. Six year olds aren't really known for great emotional regulation, conflict resolution skills, and self control. It's one thing to exclude kids--it's shitty, but all kids do it sometimes, and they're allowed not to play with everyone all the time. But it's another thing entirely for kids to be kicking or hitting each other, and that's a thing that you, as the responsible adult, need to deal with.

The school should know. The head of the after-care program should know. If your "friends" aren't actively disciplining their kids and intervening when their children are kicking your kid, they're kinda crappy parents, and also crappy friends. Every adult in the area should be ready and willing to intervene if children are being violent with each other, because kids aren't stupid, and whatever they're willing to do in front of you, they'll do worse when you're not around.

I'd also actively advise against trying to appear neutral to your daughter about this. She's being hurt by people she likes, and you're just sort of oh, shrug emoji? I learnt early on that my parents felt it took two to tango, so anything being done to me was at least partly my fault--so I stopped telling them about it. I'm 37 and to this day don't tell them anything negative or stressful that happens to me because I don't trust them not to tell me that well, if you stood up for yourself, if you hadn't aggravated them, if--. Stand up for your kid.
posted by mishafletch at 12:07 AM on August 31, 2018 [95 favorites]

Dead God, please stop telling your daughter the reason she gets bullied is because of her lack of self-respect and because she “lets” it happen. Being victim-blamed by her own parents at the age of six is not going to make her suddenly able to shut this down single handed, but it could add exponentially to the harm this does her, by making her feel that when people mistreat her, it’s her fault. Self-respect has nothing to do with whether or not a bunch of six-year-olds are bullying one another.

Right, sorry, off my high horse now. I was a tomboy and I don’t think you need to try and social engineer who she plays with, in relation to gender. Might be worth trying to offer her other options than The Team to get away from the bullying, but not because of the boy/girl thing. Friendships shift around over the years for lots of reasons, she’ll make new and drop old of her own accord. My friends in school were mostly boys until I was about 9, then it was a bit of both for a while, then mostly girls from around 11. It just evolved.
posted by penguin pie at 1:24 AM on August 31, 2018 [95 favorites]

The self-respect talk for a 6 year old sounds rather inappropriate. I'm not sure if you meant "stand up for yourself" but it still sounds a bit victim-blamey and also pretty high concept for such a young age.

These friends are not good friends. They are not treating each other as good friends should. I don't understand why you want them to stay friends?

We have been telling her for over a year how she should say "no", walk away, tell an adult, stand up for herself, find new friends who treat her better

Dang, that is a lot to ask of from a 6 year old. Seriously. Mayyyybe having her do one of these things and practicing with her in a safe environment, but telling her to do all these things in the heat of the moment, does not sound realistic or kind.

She's six; she blows us off most of the time.

I'm sorry, she's six. I don't think she's blowing you off, she doesn't know how to do these things. She wants to remain friends with these bullies because she thinks they are her friends, regardless of getting hurt in the process. Plus, it sounds like she is learning bullying behaviours from them that could potentially turn on her other classmates. I am with the other posters, I think you guys need to get way more involved in separating her from these so-called friends until you talk to the school and the other parents about how to stop this unhealthy group dynamic and stop putting the onus on her.

If she is sad about not seeing her friends anymore, you can explain that you understand she's sad but that they were not treating her nicely and she needs to hang out with people who treat each other nicely. And help her find new friends! There must be other boys and girls you an introduce her to. She won't become best friends with them overnight, but she definitely won't find new friends hanging out with this group.
posted by like_neon at 2:00 AM on August 31, 2018 [29 favorites]

A first grader should not be expected to deal with this on their own. Her part in this should be to tell peiple "Stop!" if they're doing something that makes her feel bad, and then go find an adult if that doesn't work. Anything more complicated than that is not age appropriate. Autonomously handling a pattern of abusove behavior coming from peers who she considers her "friends" is a level of social judo that frankly most grown-ups aren't capable of.

We learn self respect when we are treated respectfully. When we are little and still learning how to people, however we are treated is what we learn as "normal." If these so-called friends are treating your daughter poorly, she is learning that poor treatment from peers is normal and OK and to be expected. She doesn't have another model to go by. So what you need to do, if your conversations with these boys' parents don't result in a prompt and complete correction of their behavior, is to tell them that their children are not allowed to play with your daughter anymore. Then you go help her find a nee friend group with some nicer kids who treat her correctly and show her the respect she deserves. That will show her a better way and give her a model of what acceptable treatment feels like.

She's six. You both can and should be controlling this stuff for her. It's all about giving her an environment full of positive behavioral models. That's how we learn when we're little.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 2:52 AM on August 31, 2018 [28 favorites]

Imagine you're getting kicked and punched by your male friends. Imagine you went to a counselor, or to the police, with this problem. Imagine if they said to you, "Respect yourself! Stop letting this happen to you!" --- I imagine you'd be mighty pissed at the counselor/officer for disrespecting you, insulting you, and victim-blaming you. If your daughter was able to understand and use the concept of self-respect, I guarantee that her first response would (and should) be to get blazing mad at you for the way you're handling this.

Look. She's 6. She's doing the best thing a kid her age can possibly do in this situation: telling a trusted adult whose job it is to stop the violence. Like, this is dream-scenario stuff here! She did exactly and perfectly the one right thing she needed to do!!

But in response she gets shamed and blamed for not living up to your unrealistic expectations of her (don't "let it happen"? tell a teacher rather than her parents?? jeez!) . This is why she's "blowing you off." She's learning not to trust you, with good reason. It's not because she's 6 - I mean, come on, age 6 is when kids are at PEAK parent-pleasing mode... you're saying 6 as if it were 16!

When your child comes to you with a problem, you are being given an incredible gift: it's a sign of her trust in you that you will respond in an appropriate manner.

At age 6, your only response to the problem of "My friends are hitting and kicking me" should be,

(1) "OMG, are you hurt? How do you feel?"
(2) "Thank you for telling me. What those kids are doing is not okay, and I am going to speak to your teachers and we will make this stop,"
(3) "Hey, kid, it's been two days, did those kids hit you again?", and "Hey, kid, it's been a week now, how's it going with your friends?" , etc.

If she was 10 years old, you would change the wording of (2) just a little bit: "Is it okay if I speak to your teacher about it, because that's the best way to make this stop," and then wait for permission before talking to the teacher. If she's reluctant, you'd gently finesse the situation into helping her feel safe enough to give you permission. All other steps remain the same.

If she was 13, you would change the wording of (2) to "How can I help you stop this? Do you have ideas?" and then hope to god you AND HER SCHOOL have built up enough trust with her that she suggests talking to the teachers about it. If she insists on not telling the teachers, you roll with it temporarily and go to (3). If it happens again, then you reiterate to her that it's your job to protect her, and say, "We need to tell the school what these boys are doing. Let's talk to your school counselor together and work out a way for you to feel comfortable doing that."

Ages 16 to adult, you would stick to (1) ALL THE TIME and very occasionally/subtly go to (3) , and never ever anything like (2) unless she indicates that she wants your help. The #1 priority with older and adult children is to retain their trust in you as a safe person that they can talk to while still retaining their autonomy without you barging into their decisions with guns blazing.

Notice how at no age or life stage is it ever appropriate to say, "Have some self respect! Don't let those boys kick you and punch you!"
posted by MiraK at 2:55 AM on August 31, 2018 [139 favorites]

I have had these type of talks with my seven year old son starting when he was three and going through some friend issues then. I don't get the sense you are letting your daughter down from your account. I also talk with my son about when to move away from friends and when also he is not being kind. does your daughter seem happy and well adjusted otherwise? I mean of course the kicking has to stop but otherwise at that age I think they are all still working on self control. My son is also a kid who prefers playing with girls so I am working with him on self-esteem and standing up for himself to kids who tease him about that. I think that as long as you continue to listen to your daughter and help her figure out solutions she will be fine. I think child dynamics are a mix of working with the adults involved and giving kids tools to work things out themselves.

I don't get the sense from what you wrote that you are not being open to your daughter coming to you. I am speaking too as someone who was called 'weird' throughout her life but had enough resiliency and self esteem from home to figure my own way through and have various friend groups. my parents were always available to talk and I knew they had my back but I learned to navigate a lot of dynamics on my own.
posted by biggreenplant at 4:10 AM on August 31, 2018 [3 favorites]

How is your daughter handling how the "team" is treating her? Can you talk to her about why she is with them and how she feels when they kick and hit her or say bad things? Does she also do these things and why? I ask because my eldest was a tomboy of sorts and in elementary school she was in with a group of 6-7 boys and 1-2 girls and none of them, including my daughter were especially nice to each other. I think mine was older, maybe 8 but we were pretty clear what we expected from her and what was acceptable and was not and the school knew what was going on and while words are hard to police, school involvement got rid of the physical contact mostly. And one day these children got in a food fight and the whole team was punished, including my daughter (Who proclaimed innocence) She was so embarrassed and mad for being punished (in her view unjustly) she no longer had anything to do with that group again. LOL She went to the same schools with most of them right through graduation and into college and still has nothing to do with them.
I have two girls spaced years apart, only the oldest (the tomboy) was obstinate and occasionally defiant and she is a follower of sorts and she followed the wrong people sometimes.
posted by ReiFlinx at 4:11 AM on August 31, 2018

Stop victim-blaming your daughter with all of this “self-respect” talk. It’s horrifying. You should focus exclusively on modeling appropriate behavior for your daughter, and on intervening when necessary, not on shaming a 6yo for “letting” herself be bullied. She’ll develop her self-respect as she matures and learns what types of social interactions make her happy and what types don’t.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 4:40 AM on August 31, 2018 [6 favorites]

I would absolutely engage the school. "This is what we're seeing; are you seeing it too and what do you think should be done?" If they're blasé about it in this day and age, I would escalate or consider switching schools entirely.

What's her version of the story? That would be my next step. If she's participating in it/thinks it's no big deal, I'd take a time out from the group and work with her on appropriate behavior. If she's upset, I'd also take a time out and consider enrolling her in martial arts. Either way, time out.
posted by snickerdoodle at 4:44 AM on August 31, 2018 [2 favorites]

We have been telling her for over a year how she should say "no", walk away, tell an adult, stand up for herself, find new friends who treat her better.

Well, that's clearly not working. FWIW, I work with kids who have emotional issues, so I have some expertise here and to be blunt, you are handling this badly in so many ways:

1. Your daughter is stuck in a really shitty group dynamic and needs your help getting out of it. She's engaging in nasty pack behavior which is apparently okay when she does it, but it's not okay when the pack members are mean to her.
2. The concepts of self-respect and vague allusions to being kind are meaningless to a kid her age, and it's really problematic that you've been allowing this to go on for a year.
3. Telling her she needs to respect herself and not allow this Lord of the Flies bullshit to continue is victim blaming. Stop doing that. You're the adult; make it stop.
4. Being a "tomboy" is completely irrelevant, as is your concern about her missing out on female friendship. That has nothing to do with any of this.
5. When you literally saw another kid kick her, why did you ask him if he did? Worse, why did you ask for his reason? There's no reason for anyone to kick anyone else, but in this conversation you just showed the kid that there can be acceptable reasons to hurt people.
6. She's not blowing you off; she's learned that your response when she comes to you is ineffective and blames her for other kids hurting her.

So what you essentially have here is a shitty group dynamic that is fairly typical for little kids. They join forces, ostracize kids within the group with no rhyme or reason and act like little sociopaths until they either outgrow it, get bored of it, adults get them to stop, or they act like assholes their whole lives because it becomes a learned behavior that gets them peer attention.

Since she's 6, your job right now is:

1. Get her away from those kids because it's a really unhealthy and clearly dangerous dynamic.
2. Of course you talk to the school and you get your kid away from those kids.
3. This may mean changing the afterschool program which are notoriously lax in oversight.
4. Get your kid involved in other activities.
5. Keep an eye on her interactions with new friends because she clearly has learned some dysfunctional friendship behaviors which you're going to need to step in and stop.

TLDR: Get your daughter away from this group. Keep an eye on her with others.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 4:48 AM on August 31, 2018 [71 favorites]

Speak to the teacher and to the supervisor of after school care, ask about their opinion and observations.
We had a somewhat similar situation in first grade, except the genders involved were reversed, in our case the girls kicked and hit my son, as well as the boys hit each other.
I made a nuisance of myself over this at the school but no regrets. And while it did not entirely stop the physical fights it raised enough awareness at school so they started special in class education on violence and, bullying .
I think it is important to communicate to my son i take him serious and whilst it was no instant changes at school we continue to talk at home about his options, what is acceptable and what is not, but i doubt that it is an issue of self respect, ifound listening to him, and encouraging him to talk and discuss what and how. For example say stop loudly, and turn around and walk away, find an adult, if they don't help find another one.
One question i found helpful was to ask in a neutral tone what happened before someone kicked him? Sometimes but not always he himself did some provoking, and then i ask gain what happened before? I find if i show genuine interest and patience it pays off to get the whole story. Also i will give him feedback about his and the others actions. He is now entering grade 4 and overall we have good basis for talking about stuff at school.
Teachers rarely have the time to discuss and simply reign in whatever is going on, i feel what i can teach him is analyse his own and others responses and teach him values and how to deal with conflict better than hit back first. Selfrespect i think is too abstract. But listening and asking and providing feedback does pay off at least for us.
posted by 15L06 at 5:37 AM on August 31, 2018 [3 favorites]

Your daughter is being physically assaulted by other children. Tell every adult involved what's going on, name the children who are doing it, and demand that the people in charge of this situation put a stop to it. And if they won't, pull your child from those groups and those activities and those friends. The parents ... if they won't discipline their children for physically assaulting your child, then they are shitty friends to you and not worth your time. DTMFA.
posted by mccxxiii at 6:02 AM on August 31, 2018 [9 favorites]

I nth everyone else in this thread and it is making me mad because when I was a 6 year old being bullied by boys, there was no fucking way I could fix that by "having self-respect." They outnumber her! They're boys (added difficulty)! She can yell "No! Stop!" all she likes and they're probably not going to listen to her! Adults need to step the fuck in and separate them and do their adult jobs of this. I don't get why it's so fucking hard for adults to stop 6 year olds from beating on each other, but apparently it's sooooooo difficult that she should be solving it herself? No. Teachers, the principal, whoever need to be separating them at school and you don't let them "play together" any more outside of school. Separation is the only way.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:03 AM on August 31, 2018 [19 favorites]

Chiming in to reiterate that "respect yourself and don't let other people treat you this way" is not the way to handle this with a six year old. Specific tools appropriate to her age are what she needs. It sounds like you're trying that ("say no, walk away, tell an adult") but if it's not working, then the answer isn't a vague instruction to respect herself more, it's figuring out what's not working. Is she trying those things and the bullying continues? Is she not feeling able to try them at all?

Working with her on those skills is part of this, and so is talking with her school about what's happening, and so is making sure that she knows you are on her side. Exposing her to situations where she can make other, nicer friends is also a good idea, but I wouldn't lean hard on pushing other girl friends. More friends of all genders will make your daughter's life richer.
posted by Stacey at 6:34 AM on August 31, 2018

I was bullied throughout my time at school starting at age six. Because I wasn’t very smart about it I got caught defending myself and then I was the one getting into trouble, also at home. When I pointed out that I had been defending myself I was then told to ignore the bullying and behave at school....

My mother could also be highly critical about well everything else. I don’t think she meant to be harsh but in terms of effect on me it really didn’t matter what she meant to achieve. These two things made me feel deeply insecure and unlovable, clearly I deserved to be treated poorly.

Having established that it was more important that I behave well than that I not be hurt I decided to stop telling my parents anything about really any part of my life and to do my best to avoid the bullies. This included not leaving the house after school and spending a lot of time in the school library to pass time during break after I left elementary school. I remember my mother wondering out loud why I was always so quiet and didn’t want to do more things...

My mother passed away some time in my mid teens and she was still wondering why I was so quiet and my father and I barely talk. Many years later, as adult I never imagined that my mother would be pleased about any of my achievements, I could only imagine her criticising my approach, methods or choices. And I still like to keep to myself.

Please help your daughter if you want to have any kind of meaningful relationship with her in years to come. You seem to want to help her, you’ve had a lot of advice about how (and how not) now.
posted by koahiatamadl at 6:38 AM on August 31, 2018 [12 favorites]

Elementary teacher here, I've dealt with situations like this many times. This situation is very normal. It's also not acceptable. The good news is that at this age, kids can learn new social skills! Your daughter would benefit from some coaching. Not lecturing, cajoling, or blaming - real, practical coaching to empower her.

When you say, "don't let people treat you this way," you are implying that it is happening now because she is allowing it - it is putting the responsibility on her rather than on the bullies. It isn't her fault. But I think it's also important to send her a message that she isn't powerless in this situation.

A different way to talk to her about this would be to say, "let's make a plan about what to do if/when this happens." Saying "stop" is a good first step in the plan, but you really need to practice it with her to help her feel ready. Help her practice saying, in a very loud and clear voice, "stop kicking me! Leave me alone!"

Choosing to play with other kids is what we hope kids will do in these situations, but it sounds like she isn't choosing that and it would be worthwhile to figure out why, and make a very concrete plan with her about how to walk away from her "friends." Practice saying, "I'm not playing any more." You can tell her she is not supposed to play with these kids, but guess what? Kids who feel like they don't have any other options will tend to gravitate back to their bullies, and the teacher is not going to be able to hover over her every moment to prevent it. She has to really feel like she has a choice.

When it comes to asking the teacher for help, practice with her the language she can use. Practice saying with her, "Teacher, I need help. Brandon kicked me and he won't listen when I tell him to leave me alone." The more you practice, the more comfortable she will feel getting this help.

You can, and should, talk to the teachers about this. Ask them what *their* plan is for responding to these behaviors, and then follow up with them frequently. If your daughter comes to them in a timely way, as soon as incidents happen, they will be better able to respond.

If your request is that the teacher separate your daughter from these other students, ask about what that will look like, in the classroom, on the playground, etc. In my experience trying to keep kids separate doesn't really work, but it depends on the school. You can also ask the teachers to keep a closer eye on your daughter and on the other students in this crew. In that case you should check in regularly and ask what they've noticed.

When it comes to the parents of the other kids, you have to decide whether you want to have a difficult conversation with them about intervening in this behavior, or whether you just want to move on to new friends. Doing nothing doesn't seem like a good option. *If* all the parents can agree to work on this as a team, you might have a chance of turning things around with this whole group of kids. But that will require a level of attentiveness and supervision as parents that it sounds like has been lacking.
posted by mai at 7:09 AM on August 31, 2018 [37 favorites]

There was a similar dynamic in our 1st grade class last year, although my kid was not in that group, but he did occasionally get hit or kicked by the main instigator.

We involved all of the relevant teachers, the administration, and the parents. The parents all basically said "well, they're six, what're ya gonna do?". The teachers swore they were on it (they had the worst of it, it really was a huge disruption in class every single day). The administration dealt with the kids if they were sent to the office and had multiple meetings with the parents which all resulted in no changes at all.

Forcing our kid to change classrooms was not optimal because his core friend group was in that class. If he had been more intimately involved in the "physical" group we would have switched him out in a heartbeat. All we could do was tell him to stay away from that group, to tell the teachers if ever another kid touched him, and to tell us immediately if we saw him so that we could bring it to admin. Frankly, we were trying to build a case against the main disruptor, we wanted him removed from our classroom.

In the end, now that we've started 2nd grade, we've found that 4 of the 6 kids, including the main disruptor, have left the school. The mom of the main kid said the school "wasn't a good fit". The other families said the administration was ineffective. Meanwhile the remaining 60 families in the grade have no such complaints.

We really tried to work in good faith with the parents of the kids involved for about two months. But as it became clear that they simply were not going to stand up to their own children and say "This behavior is not acceptable, ever: you are not ever allowed to kick or punch anyone, for any reason, ever.", our attitude shifted only to protecting our kid.

If I were you I'd enlist one family from the group at a time, sit the kids down and spell out that their behavior isn't okay. Tell them that they need to stick up for each other if one of the other kids gets physical. Have playdates after school or on weekends and spell this out over and over again. Ask your kid every day if there was an incident. With the blessing of the other parents (with an "it takes a village" mindset) remind the kids at drop off that it's not okay to get physical and to make good choices. It should at least shake out out to who is going to continue to allow their kid to act this way and who won't. And then you will have to start to get the kids to stay away from those who don't treat them well.

Btw, this has zero to do with gender. It's not okay for any kid to kick or punch any other kid. Boy, girl, tomboy, what-have-you. It starts with the parents saying "this is not okay".

Eta: the other parents of kids not in this group know what's going on. The longer you allow this to go on, the more you risk your kid's social situation; if she has a reputation for being physically rough, she's not going to get social invitations to the houses of kids not in that group. Start reaching out to those parents now and let them know that you're actively addressing the situation.
posted by vignettist at 7:11 AM on August 31, 2018 [7 favorites]

Note to OP: if the replies above sound rough and maybe hurt your feelings, I would just say that I have four kids, and would have been grateful for advice this specific Back In The Day. I probably have given my kids advice like you gave yours!

It's good you're paying attention -- better late than never -- so shake off the sting, talk to your daughter tonight and contact the teacher(s) involved right away.

Being a parent is hard, they still don't include a manual with the newborns, and we all deserve to get advice as good as that from mai, 15L06 and yes I said &c., above.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:16 AM on August 31, 2018 [13 favorites]

This sounds like a bigger culture issue at the school rather than just a few kids. I'd be pushing for an adjustment counselor to be doing some work in all the first grade classrooms to help shut this down before it goes any further.
posted by zizzle at 7:35 AM on August 31, 2018 [3 favorites]

Upon reading other answers... I’ve found that 95% of good parenting is being flexible. It can be disappointing (and sometimes a giant hassle) to have to be flexible about everything. Believe me, I know. The alternatives aren’t great, tho, if my number one priority is raising a happy and safe child.

The only way to teach your daughter self-esteem is to model it for her by setting firm boundaries around your family, this includes boundaries with your current school and your other parent friends.

(I’m aghast your friends let their children hit and bully each other - what’s up with that??)

posted by jbenben at 8:07 AM on August 31, 2018 [2 favorites]

Because your daughter is also participating in this behavior, I would really step away from cries of she's being abused and demonizing these other kids. She's being just as horrible to them as they are to her; that's probably why she doesn't want new friends.

It's crappy but not uncommon for little kids to get caught up in shitty behavioral cycles where they all take turns being terrible and on some level they all want it to stop but nobody knows how to make it stop. There's usually one kid who has become the leader and even THAT kid wants this to stop but already has friends by behaving a certain way and is fearful of losing his circle of friends if he says, "Okay dudes, cut it out."

So you should sit down with ALL the parents and ALL the kids. Keep it short and tell them they need to keep their bodies to themselves and to cut it out with the nasty words, or else they will not be allowed to play with the other kids. And then when a kid engages badly, do not let them play with the others.

Little kid bullying is really crappy but more often than not, it's just kids learning how to act with reciprocal posturing. They're all trying it out. Adults need to step in when the behaviors get mean.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 8:16 AM on August 31, 2018 [14 favorites]

I will not add to the advice within the peer group here except to add that the after school program should be on top of this.

But I will suggest that in addition, you enroll her in activities away from this peer group (even changing the after school set up if possible) so that she can be in a situation with a clean slate and a different peer group. I myself would recommend martial arts as a good program will teach respect for others as well as both de-escalation/anti-bullying and defence skills.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:52 AM on August 31, 2018 [2 favorites]

I am fully not understanding how you can expect a 6yo to "respect herself enough" to decide to not be friends with a group of families and their children, and instead walk away and become friends with other girls instead, or be sent away with the expectation that she become friends with others of your choosing that you send her away to be around, but aren't friends with yourselves.... if you yourselves don't respect yourselves and her enough to be doing the same, and you yourselves don't want to walk away from these people and stop being friends with this group of families and their children.
Your 6 year old does have enough self respect to blow off adults who are modeling a nonsense scenario to her, so she might actually have more self respect than you think.
posted by OnefortheLast at 12:07 PM on September 1, 2018 [3 favorites]

So you should sit down with ALL the parents and ALL the kids. Keep it short and tell them they need to keep their bodies to themselves and to cut it out with the nasty words, or else they will not be allowed to play with the other kids. And then when a kid engages badly, do not let them play with the others.

To me, this approach could be helpful for socializing outside of school, though overall I think direct adult intervention is needed during play time. They need to be shown what to do in place of their current behaviors and given positive reinforcement. For things going on in the after school program you need to get those facilitators on board with intervention. Or possibly switch your daughter to a different program.
posted by JenMarie at 8:15 PM on September 9, 2018

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