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4th Grade Cliques

Last year as my (then) nine year old found herself mired in the drama of the 4th grade cliques… which I remember being the middle school cliques. 4th grade is the new 7th, or so they say… but getting back on track…

In fourth grade, Halle ran into a “mean girl” situation in her classroom… and even worse, it was between two friends who couldn’t stand each other. They threatened each other, spread rumors about each other, and each tried to rally Halle to their cause, which was very distressing to my little diplomat. She had played an official role of “Peer Mediator” for younger students the previous two years, and very naturally fell into a role of trying to mediate a situation that was way over her head.  And because so much of the conflict was playground politics and lunchroom underground, it wasn’t visible to teachers & staff.

Halle had mentioned the bickering a couple times, but I didn’t pay it too much mind until the teacher brought it to my attention at a parent teacher conference in early October. She told me that Halle was not the instigator but was always in the middle, and asked me to help encourage Halle not to put herself there. I started to draw Halle out about the situation in casual conversation, and by Halloween realized there was way more going on than Halle’s teacher realized. I was very concerned that by trying to smooth things over with these girls, she was eventually going to draw their ire. I went back to the teacher a couple times on the DL because I knew she was feeling frustrated and at a loss trying to get a handle on the conflict between the two girls, and that it was disrupting the entire learning environment. Eventually, the conflict between the two girls subsided and became at least tolerable, but there was still a lot of shrapnel.

Later in the spring, I got an email from the teacher, wanting to explain to the parents a conversation that had happened in the classroom during their morning meeting. Basically, she laid it on thick, how the nasty and hostile behavior was affecting her and other students in the room. Later that night Halle was in a foul mood, and I put on my (figurative) yellow slicker, took her to my room and (taking my queue from [drum roll] Oprah), asked her why she was angry and I just stood back and let the… “shtuff” fly.

 It was very cathartic for Halle, & I hope it was for the other students as well. I was very surprised by some of the things Halle told me she has said to or about her classmates. I was very disappointed in her words & action, but heartened at the same time that she was so ashamed of those things and that she recognized putting others down hurts you as much as it hurts them. We talked about not knowing what goes on in other homes in terms of what people wear or how their hair looks, & that we can’t make ourselves cool by making fun of others.

I asked Halle if she would just walk up & punch a classmate in the stomach, & of course she said no. I explained that when you make fun of someone, you’re just punching them in their feelings & it’s no different from punching them in their stomach. She was completely devastated by the analogy. I encouraged her to not spend more time focusing on the ways she has hurt others once she’d made her apologies; but to look for ways to compliment and appreciate the unique traits that make them who they are instead.

Yes, I admit it… I gave her the Pollyanna speech about finding the good in people. And I think it did her good. I started hearing more from Halle about stepping away from the pack and asserting her values and opinions… and as often as not, her peers followed her lead.

When Halle was in kinder, she used to come home with gifts from classmates so often I thought she had a racket going. Time and time again I would meet the parent of a schoolmate (her popularity spread all the way to her brother’s third grade classmates, causing a lot of grief between them), and would hear a variation of, “Ohhh… YOU’RE Halle’s mom. We hear her name a LOT at home.” 

I jokingly called her the Pied Piper of MLK… Her power is subtle but strong 😉 and I was proud and relieved to see her use it for good.

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  1. September 10, 2009 at 12:01 AM

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