It’s a jungle out there

Sometimes (as in, at least once per day) Lizzie and I get on the phone and philosophize. Both of us are usually in the middle of housework, and as we wash dishes or chisel cheerios off the floor, we talk through the big issues. She tells me about her new three-pronged approach to dealing with whining (complete with a great analogy for driving the point home), and I tell her about our discussions regarding how to give the stink-eye to the 8-year-old boy who tried to hug you at recess. Profitable discussions all round.

And both of us have girls. Lots of girls. Amongst the cousin clan at large there are 10 girls under the age of 10. Which means we think about little-girl issues a lot, and we discuss girl issues a lot. Girls are tricky stuff. There are all kinds of issues and nuances to little-girl interaction that are just plain not there among the little boys. Much goes on beneath the surface in the world of little girls. Complicated, high level stuff!

First of all, if you have two or more girls playing together at any given moment (sisters, homeschool play day, school recess) you are almost guaranteed several things. The first is that there are dirty deeds going down. The second is that if you’re not entirely dialed in and concentrating hard, you’ll miss the whole thing. If you and the other mothers are chatting off on the sidelines drinking your coffee, and you never ask your daughter about what she and other little girls were doing over there under the trees, you’re probably missing some big-league stuff. Basically, in any group of little girls there is likely one or more of them who is honing her manipulation skills to a high art, learning to wield “hurt feelings” with power and agility. If it’s your daughter who is filling that role, you have one thing to work on . . . and if it’s not your daughter, then you have a different thing to work on. Gossip rears its ugly head at a surprisingly early age as well. Third graders are entirely capable of the full-tilt, malicious back stab.

What this boils down to is that we ask our girls questions. Lots and lots of questions. Here’s a general idea of our after-school conversation.

Whom did you play with at recess?

What did you play?

Whose idea was it to play that?

Is she the one who’s usually in charge?

Did she exclude anyone when she set up the game?

Who was not playing with you?

Why weren’t they playing?

Was it because they didn’t want to, or because they weren’t included?

Were they not included for a good reason or a bad reason?

Did anyone get angry?


Did anyone say anything rude about someone else?

Did anyone say ugly things about their brothers or sisters?

Did you say ugly things about your brothers or sisters?

Did you stand up for your sister the way you were supposed to?

Did you look out for the lonely girls the way you were supposed to?

Did you ignore the boys the way you were supposed to?

Did you tell the bossy girl to knock it off the way you were supposed to?

Did you do that cheerfully or fussily?

When the girl with the potty-mouth said that, did you laugh, or did you tell her not to talk that way?

Did you do that cheerfully or fussily?

Did you handle the fussy boy the way Daddy told you to?

It’s incredible what a round of questions like that will turn up, and I can almost guarantee you that the answers will give you at least one very complicated ethical problem to work through, not least of which is how much credence you give to your own daughter’s rendition of the situation.  But if you don’t ask the questions and wrestle your way through the answers, you’re basically leaving your daughter to fight her way through the jungle on her own.

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37 thoughts on “It’s a jungle out there

  1. First of all, thank you for this! I am a 5th grade teacher and this is so true and so helpful. I don’t have my own children yet but I will be looking this post up again when I do!

    Second, can you ask Lizzie to share her whining attack? I would love to read it.

    Thank you so much…as I prepare to be a wife this blog has been an inspiration.

  2. Wow! I don’t think I’ve ever been so thankful to just have one boy! 🙂 These are wonderful questions and I pray that the Lord gives me this same depth of discernment if He gives me a daughter to raise!

  3. This is great! I’m going to add some of those questions to my after-school snack and snuggle conversation with my daughter.

  4. I have three daughters, ages range from just about 17 to 6. And oh boy am I grateful for my boy! I’m grateful for my girls too, but sometimes they’re just too complicated, even for me. Your conversation is similar to mine. I especially like “did you ignore the boys the way you were supposed to?” 🙂

    One of the best talks I’ve heard about mothers and daughters was your mom’s “Growing Into Wise Women Together.” It’s really good stuff for those older girls.

  5. Wait, what? Why are they supposed to ignore the boys? Do you mean “boys that tease” or “boys in general”?

    I would also like to read about the whine attack, please. =)

  6. This is very helpful. Even though two of my three girls are ‘grown’, these things can be translated to be relevant to them as well.

    I remember talking to one of my daughters about the personality differences between boys and girls. One thing she commented was, “Girls can be soooo mean!”

  7. I’m interested in hearing more! My second-born, four-year-old daughter has just started coming out with tears and “you hurt my feelings” every time we tell her to do something she doesn’t like. I was thinking I had a few more years before the manipulation/drama queen kicked in.

  8. Thank you so much!!

    I have 3 boys and 1 girl and have noticed that while my boys are physical and noisy – therefore taxing in a physical sense, my girl is definitely more dramatic and is more emotionally taxing for me. Already at the age of 5 1/2 she definitely knows how to manipulate.

    At first I bragged that she knew how to “handle” her brothers, and I was glad that she would speak up to them, but soon could not ignore that her heart was not where it should have been.

    It is a daily struggle, but one so worth fighting.

  9. I was a Third and Fourth Grade teacher for five years before I stayed home to raise my children. I have often told people that whenever you are in a classroom of students (especially girls) you have to assume a sub-culture and there is much going on beneath the surface. Thank you for the questions. My daughter will be three in December and I think we could already benefit from a discussion prompted by these questions. Maybe today when she gets up from her nap.

  10. “…not least of which is how much credence you give to your own daughter’s rendition of the situation.”

    I think this is a big part of how a mom deals with these situations. If moms start letting their own emotions get involved in their daughter’s daily roller coaster rides, perhaps reading into them their own past relational struggles, then resentments, offenses, withdrawals, and lasting feuds will be the result. We must keep in our mind that we are all sinners – that confession and forgiveness are the only way back to each other in this life, and that has to start young.
    Each time my daughter come home from school with “stories” (which is all the time!), I have to calm down and think, “This is an opportunity for me to train her for life – for every situation that will happen in her relationships.”
    I have to teach her from the scripture the way God has taught us to love and serve our neighbor.
    My 10 year old daughter does not know how to love her cousins, let alone her friends, without constant, patient (Lord help me) instruction. And I can’t expect her to know! (I mean look how hard it is for adults, let alone kids!)
    Thanks for this Rebekah.

  11. I don’t have any girls, but I am one and have been a teacher of many of them–and this is such a great reminder for teachers too! Boys are always the first to get into trouble at school because their disobedience tends to be loud and obvious. However, about 3-6 months into the school year you can begin to see the girls’ disobedience, and once it comes out you realize that some serious, but quiet, nastiness has been going on for a very long time! Keeping a sharp eye out for pettiness in the first few weeks, will save a teacher from digging our roots of bitterness down the line.

  12. Wow. I feel like you have eavesdropped on one of our DAILY after school conversations. Sometimes I wonder if my girls get tired of me playing detective with the peppering of questions and expecting great detail in their answers…..and it is so nice to see that other mothers ask the SAME questions on a daily basis.

    Fighting the battle with you all…..

  13. Oh, can I relate! Four of our five are girls. The other evening the two older ones were having a spat and as my husband was dealing with them they both burst into tears…he held firm until they had left the room and then he just had this deer in the headlights look…I just had to laugh. We’ve often said that even though our son has autism he is still much easier than the girls.
    Something I found very helpful was Mrs. Wilson speech on dangerous women that she gave to our senior class last year. It’s could to keep in mind what our goal is…to raise God honoring dangerous women…instead of only seeing the here and now.

  14. Thank you for this! However, I think most of these questions apply just as well to any children. Not all boys are the rough and tumble type, and even those kind need to be encouraged to have good relationships with those around them and be responsible friends. Boys need to be taught to look out for the underdog and not gang up too. I grew up with four brothers and one sister and there was plenty of under-the-water stuff between the boys that had to be talked out. Now I have a son and a daughter (and a baby) and they are quite often playing with my youngest brother. Questions like these help them (even though they are so young) learn to be thoughtful of each other.

    I do think, though, that women are especially responsible for bring peace among relationships. In Proverbs the woman is the one who sets the tone of her house. The wise woman’s husband is honored in the gate while the foolish woman’s husband is cowering on the corner of his roof! And I bet the kinds of words each one said were largely responsible!

  15. Just like your other article on raising little girls – “A Spirite Rider” this article got copied and saved into the “Parenting” folder on our computer. LOVE your articles, they are so encouraging and helpful. God bless you, keep this great stuff coming.

  16. Howdy everyone! I seem to have confused people with the “ignore the boys” thing! This could be a three volume treatise I’m sure, but I’ll try and and whittle it down to a brief comment (and maybe we’ll just do a separate post on it some other time).

    Life lesson #1: It’s never too early to start learning how to ignore the boys! This is an invaluable skill that will serve your daughters well in future life.

    Obviously, not all the boys are punks. But the ones who aren’t are the ones who are playing football or studying insects in the other quadrant of the playground so the point is moot. The boys who spend their free time harassing / bantering with / chasing / making faces at the girls are the punks who need the solid ignore. You know just who those turkeys are going to be in high school. You’re going to want your daughters to be above it then and not take any old attention that comes their way – so start training them now!

  17. Yeah…I was over there studying insects with those boys because all the girls but one were mean. The bug-catching boys at least left me alone.

  18. I want to echo the request for more on the three-pronged whining response. My two year old has been driving me bonkers recently with her whining to the point that I’m tired of hearing my own voice in response to hers! Sometimes she will ask nicely with a sweet “please” but I long for her to hear the difference between the whiny tone and her normal cheerful voice.

  19. I come from a loving Christian family of 6 kids, five of whom are walking with the Lord raising their kids. When I asked my Dad what to do about my not quite two year olds whining this is what he said. Its not that difficult. You already have taught him what whining is. When he whines for something you give him a swat right there and say no whining and then go back to what you were doing. If he whines again he gets another one. Under no circumstance does he get what he wants when he whines. If he starts throwing a fit because he got a swat you discipline him for that. But the point is not to get into a discussion about the whining. Whining receives an immediate response and a short response. That worked for us and it didn’t take very long.

  20. Being dominated by the boys around here, the thing that strikes me most is that they would ANSWER those kinds of questions with something more than a dumb-founded, “huh?” kind of look.

    My little girl is three, and being surrounded by big brothers, her emotional manipulations tend to center around getting them to do what she wants (especially after having hit up one or both of her parents for said thing and been refused). At least THAT ball-game is easy to call. I hadn’t dreamed of these playground scenarios quite yet!

  21. Love. This. I didn’t have sisters and I loathed catty girliness in school. I now have 3 daughters close in age, and their interaction astounds me. The range from bossiness to manipulative to best friends gives me whiplash. Thank you so very much for the help!

  22. rebekah-so right about “the boys”. I got a little chuckle out of that, but there is no doubt those are the ones you need to ignore for the rest of your life 🙂

  23. Liked the article, but was very disturbed by the comment from Laura. I actually read this yesterday, and it kept popping back into my head all day today. I just couldn’t let it drop without offering a different perspective. I do agree that we should not give in to whining and that it should be discouraged, but I strongly disagree with the method suggested here.The reason Laura’s method “worked” was, perhaps, because her son learned that he could not get his needs met, and he gave up. He was, essentially, broken. I guess that “works” in the short term, but that’s not at all what I desire for my children. I want my children to know that I care about their needs; that I empathize with them. I want them to feel that they can come to me, that they can rely on me, that I will be there for them. Isn’t that the model that we have in God the Father? Yes, I want them to learn the difference between wants and needs and to learn appropriate means to request what they need, but that comes through discussing those things with them and working together to meet their needs, not punishing them for asking in an undesirable manner. Again, would God punish us for praying the wrong way, or pleading for something that He doesn’t desire for us, or for complaining about a difficulty we are facing? I don’t believe so. I’m not trying to judge Laura, or her father, but I just don’t believe that this attitude or behavior are at all helpful to the development of the child’s confidence or conscience, and certainly not to the parent-child relationship.

  24. We’ve got a boy in our neighborhood that seems sweet on my girl. I’ve been having her practice the scrunched-nose-don’t-touch-me-stiff-arm move so she’ll be ready. Great post.

  25. Excellent. My 6 year old is coming home with stories galore. It helps to have a like minded mom with another girl involved to hash through the happenings with, so you are getting a bit of the bigger picture. Not that my daughter is completely untrustworthy, but they do get a skewed view of what goes on. One thing that is making me crazy is the daily pronouncements of “she’s my best friend” (or not). I think some of the girls are doing so in an innocent way, but the exclusion stings the girls on the outside. Sigh. I’m thankful that my next 3 are boys.

  26. Hello! I have really enjoyed Rachel’s book and have been following your Dad’s FOUNDATION for FATHERS with my husband (so excellent). We are very encouraged by what the Lord is doing through your family!

    I am VERY curious about the “three-pronged approach to dealing with whining.” Is there a book out, yet : )?

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