Welcome to the Workshop

Welcome to the Workshop

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Building Forts - On The Inside

Warning, this is a loo-oooong post!

Poppet has been obsessed with fort building lately. Every available blanket and cushion goes into the structure of these things.
Here's a shot of this morning's effort.

These fabric forts remind me of the inner forts Poppet has also been attempting to build. She's a sensitive girl, of the thinker/worrier-persuasion and has become increasingly saddened by the lack of empathy her peers display when they play together. Many of the girls in her age-group have a particularly selfish and dominant streak, whilst also being quite passive aggressive and manipulative. It doesn't help that there are only half a dozen girls in her grade, slim pickings indeed!

image via pinterest

The girls she prefers to hang with are in a different class, and no matter what we say or try all of the girls seem to simply follow their own classgroup outside for lunch. They are a bunch of lemmings. It just doesn't occur to them to seek out the others. And so this tricky group of kids has been the bane of our existence this year. To date, we've spent an enormous amount of time role playing, reading and discussing with our girl. She responds particularly well to the written word (I will list some helpful books at the end of this post) and to stories from our own childhood struggles. We've had conversations with our teacher, and principal (both of whom acknowledge this is a particularly challenging group of girls) and the social worker has been involved in trying to help this class to play more respectively.
There's been some improvement. I am of the opinion that the school could do more, but you can only push so hard. As with many schools, their anti-bullying 'policies' seem not to be worth the paper they're written on. This can leave the children to fend for themselves in a fairly tough and confusing environment. I don't expect the school to interfere with every little problem, but I think more guidance and listening would be immensely helpful. Work in progress...
At the end of the day, we can't control anyone else, and these children will no doubt continue to behave the same way. It's pretty safe to assume their parents aren't sitting at home writing blog posts, trawling the internet and inhaling bullying books at the rate I have been over the past year. They probably think their kids are just fine. In fact, I have known some parents over the years who have admitted they would prefer their children display bullying behaviour rather than be a 'victim' of bullying. Frankly, I find this attitude astounding.

image via amazon

Probably the most useful book I have read (not quite finished) is "Little Girls Can Be Mean" by Michelle Anthony and Reyna Lindert. You can also click here for more information regarding the book and the authors, both of whom are mothers of young girls. This book has reminded me to observe my girl's behaviour, to connect the dots between her displays of temper or anxiety to possible issues at school. Tips for girls and activities we can do together are dotted throughout the book and we will begin working on them very soon. I'll keep you posted.
Poppet has been extra clingy this week and rather cranky. Her bedroom is upstairs and there are times when she will refuse to go up there by herself, NEEDING my company. Of course, my initial reaction is to get frustrated, to tell her that at 8 years of age it is ridiculous that she is unable to go upstairs alone.
On the other hand, why not go up with her if it makes her feel better. She is only 8.

But what is really going on?

This morning she was easily frustrated and teary, and instead of rushing her along with our routine I took a moment to lie down with her on the bed. After a few minutes she told me that school has been very trying of late, that her friends always dominate their games and rarely let her choose what they will play. She feels powerless and unimportant. I just let her get it out, told her I could imagine how frustrating, confusing and upsetting it must make her feel. Once she had calmed down we discussed her options. She struggles with assertiveness and often considers it rude to stick up for herself so we role played a few conversations which might work. I reminded her too that the friends she makes in Elementary School are unlikely to be her forever friends. It can take many years to find your 'group' and at the moment she needs to focus on having fun, but expecting less empathy from some of her peers. There's a good chance they won't like it if she says 'no' and she will have to be ready for their reactions.

image via pinterest

Poor girl, in some ways it would be easier if she was being directly targeted. This constant squashing of her identity wears her down. I am reminded by the book to simply 'hang' with her more, to celebrate her small achievements and assist her in recognising her own strengths. I get very routine focused (control freak?) and generally forget to have fun. Poppet needs to be able to exert some control at home, to choose our activities and be in charge. My own agenda is usually my default position, so it's fair to assume she's feeling equally powerless at home. I will try to do better.
Setting boundaries is her next big challenge, and that is most definitely a work in progress. I can think of at least a dozen of my own friends who complain about their inability to say 'no', and I have been no exception. If at all possible I would like to spare Poppet a lifetime of anxiety and self-doubt over friendships gone awry. I am seeking to build her confidence, to help her find empowerment. I would hate her to wait until her 30s to finally find her way, like her mother. None of this surprises me, to be honest. Poppet is a great deal like me and at times I feel like I am re-living my own childhood. With teenage years a little ways down the track, I am hoping to head "them" off at the pass as much as is humanly possible.
This is some fort we are trying to build, and bits of it crumble from time to time. But we will persevere until it is done. Until the troops give up their assault and find weaker quarry.
We must succeed. It is as simple as that.

image via pinterest

The following books are all awesome in their own way. I will try to separate them out into fiction and non-fiction and some other groupings which might be helpful.

I will also mention here that we are extremely lucky to be living within close proximity of Another Story Bookshop. The staff of this bookshop know their books, and specialise in social justice and equity. The kids' book section is unbelievable. Possibly my credit card is helping keep them afloat (they have a great cookbook section too, oops). If you're in Toronto, it is worth a long visit.

-Who knew that the American Girl books would be so awesome, but they are. They speak directly to Poppet's age group and she loves them. We have...

"The Feelings Book Journal"
"Stand Up for Yourself & Your Friends"
"A Smart Girl's Guide To Friendship Troubles"

-Great fiction books...

"My Secret Bully"
"Confessions of a Former Bully" both by Trudy Ludwig.
"Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon" by Patty Lovell
"Our Friendship Rules" by Peggy Moss and Dee Dee Tardiff
"Weird" by Erin Frankel
All of the "Scaredy Squirrel" books by Melanie Watt are great for assertiveness and confidence.

-Helpful workbooks...

"What To Do When Your Temper Flares"
"What To Do When You Worry Too Much" both by Dawn Huebner, Ph. D. Excellent for anxiety!

-Relaxation and mindfulness...

"Take The Time, Mindfulness for Kids" by Maud Roegiers
"Just Because I Am, A Child's Book of Affirmation" by Lauren Murphy Payne, M.S.W.
"The Important Book" by Margeret Wise Brown
"Butterflies In My Stomach & Other School Hazards" by Serge Bloch

-Also good are...

"Cyberbullying" by Lucia Raatma
"Bystander Power" by Phyllis Kaufman Goodstein and Elizabeth Verdick.

Quite a list! Feel free to share titles your kids love, or you've found helpful.
Good luck with your own daughters!


  1. Great post and lots of great suggestions on books. As a mother of an 8 year old girl, who is very happy, caring, sensitive, empathetic and just loves to be around friends...I see how her peers are and we have discussions all the time of what a good friend is. She actually has more friends who happen to be boys and just one really good friend that is a girl, but isn't in her class. I just worry and want her to be happy. We actually have a couple of the books that are on your list, but we will read some of the others. Thanks!

    1. I agree it's worrying and hard to stand back. Just ensure her sense of self is strong and she knows you're there when she needs you.
      Thanks for the comment!


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