Chemistry and The New Girl in School: Formula for Relational Aggression
By Jane Balvanz, MSE, RPT
Professional School Counselor
Having or working with children makes us future-oriented. We want the best for our kids, so we’re always preparing them for what may lie ahead. We send them to school, so they can learn the skills necessary to become self-reliant adults. At home they learn ways of being modeled by us. And, anywhere they have friends or classmates, they are learning relationship skills in the here and now.
Two’s Company and Three’s a Whole Different Story
As the saying goes – two’s company and three’s a crowd – a triad of friends often has its troubles. Early on, this is because kids are just learning to negotiate one-on-one friendships. Adding one more to the mix is something they’re developmentally unprepared to do. Time and exposure to more kids will help them develop relationship skills in groups. Whereas some children have achieved this skill in preschool, it might take others until second grade.
Chemistry and Variables
When a new girl enters school, there’s always a shift in energy and relationships. This is true for any age. While this may be of lesser consequence to early elementary age girls, it becomes greater with age. There are more variables. Consider these: established groups, romantic interests, organized sports, clubs and organizations, sleepovers, competition for grades or other honors, long-lived friendships, established routines, and more. Add a new girl to the mix, and the entire chemistry changes.
The new girl has the possibility of becoming the target of relational aggression, but her impact is so much more. I’ve seen this play out a million different ways. There’s been the sophisticated, edgy new sixth grader who quickly became the leader of the pack. She ran the show and decided who was the odd girl out week-by-week. She hadn’t any seniority, but that didn’t matter. She ruled. Then there was the new one who was talented in dance and immediately dethroned the local Dancing Queen (DQ). DQ rallied her forces and made this new girl’s life miserable.
Change Behind the Scenes
A more typical scenario, though, is the addition of a new girl whose mere presence widely changes the dynamics of many relationships. Here’s an example. Mary is the new girl and has readily been accepted into Ellen’s group consisting of Nia, Sarah, Jenn, Guadalupe, and Alice. Mary’s presence loosens Ellen’s ties with Nia a bit. No one even notices and no one minds. Nia becomes closer to Fiona, a girl on her soccer team. Because of the new group dynamics, Jenn and Sarah drift apart. Though there’s nothing personal, Jenn finds another group more suitable to her. Keesha moves in and takes her place. Mary and Keesha immediately become BFFs and do everything together. So far, no harm, no foul, and the story could easily end here.
The Addition of One and the Domino Effect
What we’re dealing with is displacement from the addition of a new person. It’s like adding a new ingredient to soup. It changes everything. Contents shift. Some may like it, some not. So, let’s continue setting upright our line of dominoes.
Nia brings Fiona into the group. Guadalupe and Fiona have never liked each other, and tension builds. Guadalupe convinces Alice to triangulate against Fiona. Ellen, who hates conflict, leaves all the drama behind by seeking quieter friends. All the dominoes have fallen.
Does my scenario seem far-fetched? I assure you it’s true, and I even simplified so you could follow it. When you’re able to watch the same kids over time, you have the opportunity to watch how kids grow and change. You also see how one teeny addition to a system – one girl – can make a big change. Luckily, there was only one example relational aggression: Alice and Guadelupe against Fiona.
Helping Girls Learn to Adjust to Change and Avoid Relational Aggression
A new girl doesn’t mean automatic trouble, but her addition does mean change. Even in adulthood, adding a new person to a work or social environment creates some type of displacement and change. We learn to accept it and change, or we decide to leave that environment. Our kids need to learn how to do this, too. Here are some tips to help.
- Don’t try to make her every disappointment better.
- Do allow kids to make mistakes and learn from them.
- Don’t talk negatively about the girls your daughter hangs out with.
- Do let girls determine for themselves the strengths and weaknesses of their friends.
- Don’t offer gifts or rewards to help a girl through change.
- Do listen to and talk with a girl to process her feelings about change.
- Don’t join a girl’s pity party for herself.
- Do help her break down the problem into solvable or acceptable parts.
- Don’t warn a girl about every possible thing that could go wrong in a friendship.
- Do teach girls that friendships that don’t feel good need communication to figure out what’s wrong. Do teach her to leave friendships that feel one-sided with unequal and negative power.
© 2012 A Way Through, LLC
Bullying strategists Jane Balvanz and Blair Wagner publish GAPRA’s bi-weekly articles. If you’re ready to guide children in grades K – 12 through painful friendships and emotional bullying:For help with emotional bullying: http://www.GAPRAconnect.com
For the When Girls Hurt Girls® program: http://www.AWayThrough.com