Dear Diana, My 4-year-old daughter attends a ballet class with other girls her age. One of her “classmates” is rude, intimidating and is on the edge of being a bully. What would you do?
My 4-year-old daughter attends a ballet class with other girls her age. One of her “classmates” is rude, intimidating and is on the edge of being a bully. When the girls are told to line up, she runs and pushes all the others to get into the front. When the girls are told to change shoes from ballet to tap, she tosses other girls’ belongings to the side to find hers. We moms are in and out throughout the lessons, able to observe or provide help with changing. The mother of this girl has watched as her daughter has pushed others aside, and has done nothing. Other mothers have talked about what we should do, because our girls don’t want to be near her, for fear of being run over or having something mean said to them. I have never heard her say anything mean, but it is the other girls’ perception that she is intimidating, since she seems to have no boundaries. My daughter has started to say that she doesn’t want to go to ballet class anymore because of that one girl. What would you do?
Thanks, Ballerina Mom
Dear Ballerina Mom,
My heart actually goes out to the little girl who is pushing others, because she hasn’t been taught to wait patiently, or walk carefully through a crowd. She hasn’t been taught to think of others first or think of others at all. She is old enough to learn those skills and develop an awareness of the impact she has on others. She will be the one to lose friends, as you have pointed out. She will be the one who is excluded from parties and playdates, because neither moms nor other children want to be with her.
Children display behaviors that they see at home, so perhaps older siblings or neighborhood friends are teaching her by pushing her out of the way, and nobody is stopping or correcting them or defending her.
I can think of three reasons why her mom may not be stepping in. She may not know what to do about it when she sees it, she may not see it as problem behavior, or she truly may not see it when it happens. Neither blame nor judgment will help this little girl to learn, so the best thing to do is to come up with a positive game plan that will not offend the mom or intimidate the little girl. If not, it will be a shame, because this little girl eventually will be ostracized.
This little girl needs desperately to be taught manners and social skills, or she will, as you have said, be thought of as a bully, or as rude, and parents will not want their daughters to play with her. It could be a life-changing gift for you to gently help her learn some basics, which will help the other girls be more comfortable with her.
The first strategy you might try is to approach the ballet teacher and make her aware of what is happening in her class. She will not want to see her ballerinas drop out, so I think she could be helpful in directing the girls to line up according to height, age or alphabetically.
She can also address “personal space,” which they already should be learning about as a basic ballet skill. When the girls are changing, perhaps you could sit in between her and your daughter to help them both learn to touch only what belongs to them.
Verbally recognize what you see, as a way of teaching. Talk to both girls in a gentle voice with complements of how careful they are not to toss around other people’s things. Recognize and verbalize a new, positive behavior when you see her walk without pushing. Give her a wink and a touch, if you’re near her, and tell her it’s great that she walks across the room, or that you’re noticing she is finding things with her eyes, instead of her hands, like she used to do when she moved other girls’ things.
She may have absolutely no awareness that she has disrupted or frightened her classmates. Teaching outside of the event is effective, especially when you can praise any part of a new or desirable behavior. Tell her mom you’ve noticed how careful her daughter is trying to be when they line up.
Chances are that her mom has some awareness of how well-liked her daughter is or isn’t. Maybe all of you could stop for ice cream after a class. When others feel included and connected, they often become more thoughtful.
Diana Boggia, M.Ed., is a parenting educator in Stark County, Ohio. Send your child-rearing questions to Family Matters@cantonrep.com or The Repository, c/o Family Matters, 500 Market Ave. S, Canton, OH 44702. Find additional parenting resources, along with links to all of her columns, at Diana Boggia’s website, www.your perfectchild.com.