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Confessions of a Former Mean Girl

Her name was Jackie and we were cruel to her.

She lived in a small, weather-worn house across the street from our school. She wore the same out-of-style clothes every day. They were stained and frayed. Her hair was never combed, and her homework was rarely done. For these crimes, a court of spoiled and selfish fifth-grade girls sentenced her to a year of hard time as the target of jokes, disdain, and teasing.

I was on the jury.

Decades later, I look back on those playground moments with a great deal of shame and embarrassment. I think the worst thing we did to Jackie was the plot to make her think we were going to let her in our group (dubbed “The Magnificent Seven” by a teacher) all the time knowing we were going to ostracize her a few days later. The plan was to tell her how rich we were, how we vacationed in amazing places, and how our parents drove multiple expensive cars. Isn’t it amazing we want to be your friend, Jackie? You must be special!

Our plan worked perfectly.

How Can I Tame My Son’s Rude Jokes?

Dear Mama Drama:

My ten-year-old son is always cracking jokes and thinks he is extremely funny. The trouble is that his jokes are usually at the expense of someone else. When people respond negatively to him, he acts like they are overreacting and too sensitive.

I think he has some sharp wit beneath the rudeness, but I don’t know how to tap into it. Most of the time he comes off acting like a jerk instead of being funny.

~Unamused Mama

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Dear Unamused:

Ten-year-old boys often use humor to engage socially and, as you relate, they don’t always understand the line between funny and rude. Children (and some adults) also use inappropriate humor to humiliate others in order to feel better about themselves or attempt to elevate their social status. This is also bullying behavior. Additionally, some children do not read social cues well and misinterpret (or miss altogether) the facial expressions and body language of others. Other children don’t understand the basic rules of friendship.

I suggest you start by spending some time assessing what may be behind your son’s behavior.

If it is related to his self-esteem and trying to elevate his social status, spend some time talking with him about how he sees himself. What are his strengths? What are his challenges? How does he think others perceive him? What words would he use to describe himself? If his responses are overwhelmingly negative or overly grandiose, help him to develop a more accurate positive self-perception and find different ways to fit in and feel good about himself.

If it is that he does not understand the line between funny and mean/rude, you’ll need to teach him this directly. Try out different jokes with each other and the family, clarifying which ones are funny and which ones aren’t and why. Watch age-appropriate comedy shows together and take note of times when that line into meanness is crossed or is right on the edge. You may even find a local acting or improv class that can help him hone his wit while losing the rudeness.

If your son truly is not reading the social cues others are giving him and understanding the rules of friendship, help him to learn these. Books, games, and role-playing are fun ways to teach feelings, how to read facial expressions and body language, and the ins and outs of friendships.

A fabulous book that can help your child see the perspective of those on the other end of the joke is Just Kidding by Tracy Ludwig. Two great resources for understanding your child’s friendship style and how to help him are The Unwritten Rules of Friendship: Simple Strategies to Help Your Child Make Friends by Natalie Madorsky Elman, Ph.D., and Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D. and Nobody Likes Me, Everybody Hates Me: The Top 25 Friendship Problems and How to Solve Them by Michele Borba, Ed.D.

Sometimes social and emotional issues feel beyond a parent’s skill and understanding. If this is the case, seek support from your school counselor, social worker, psychologist or an outside mental health professional.

Lisa Vratny-Smith


Federal school discipline guidelines reflect Colorado’s ‘baby steps’

The Obama administration released new federal guidelines Wednesday to address discrimination in K-12 school discipline policies, an issue on which Colorado already has taken some halting first steps.

Casting the initiative not just as a policy discussion but as a legal issue rooted in civil rights law, the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Education cited national data showing a correlation between race and higher rates of discipline.

It outlined several steps aimed at keeping kids in school and ending what some critics have dubbed the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

“A routine school disciplinary infraction should land a student in the principal’s office, not in a police precinct,” said Attorney General Eric Holder.

The federal guidelines suggest ways to create safe and positive school climates with social and emotional supports. Those include providing cultural awareness training to school employees, clearly defining school resource officers interaction with students and collecting data on the actions of law enforcement personnel to ensure they are not biased.

Colorado has been working on the issue of school discipline for the past few years, as complaints about “zero tolerance” policies and racial concerns that echo national trends prompted policy and even legislative change.

Nearly a year ago,

Read more: Federal school discipline guidelines reflect Colorado’s ‘baby steps’

5 ways to help kids pay attention in the classroom and at home

“Mom!” said 7 year-old Mason when his mother cursed at the driver who had just cut her off, “you’re in your amygdala. You’d better get back into your prefrontal cortex.”

Such utterances have been made by school children in Steamboat Springs ever since Kristen Race, PhD, began training that district’s teachers in her Mindful Life Schools program (other school districts in Colorado and around the country have received training, as well). In addition to trainings for educators, Dr. Race also offers workshops for parents  in how to create peaceful classrooms and homes through the simple act of cultivating mindfulness.

The children learn early on the brain science behind the program. When we are stressed, our response are more likely to come from

Mama Drama: Strategies for a Successful New School Transition

Dear Mama Drama:

My eight-year-old daughter is starting a new school this year and I need some ideas to help her with this transition. Last school year was difficult as she struggled with feeling unsupported and misunderstood by her teachers and she often refused to go to school. She also had some difficulties with bullying behavior from her peers, particularly on the playground.

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Understandably, she is anxious about starting a new school year with teachers and peers she doesn’t know. Any ideas you have are greatly appreciated!

~Protective Mama

Dear Protective:

Your daughter will benefit greatly from you being proactive as well as protective. There are many things you can do together to make this new school transition smooth and positive for her.

First, talk with your daughter about her specific worries regarding the new school both with peers and teachers. Make a list and problem solve strategies together. Getting worries out of our head and having a plan for how to handle them can significantly help in decreasing anxiety.

Next, visit the school. Principals and secretaries come back several weeks before teachers and students. Make an appointment for you and your daughter to meet with the principal and have a tour of the school. This is a great time to talk with the principal about your daughters concerns and for you both to ask questions regarding how learning and social difficulties are handled in the school.

If your daughter has an IEP, 504 plan, or other specific needs, be sure to let the new school know. Once teachers are back, contact the staff members who will be supporting these plans and arrange a time to review your daughter’s specific strengths, needs, and supports within the first few weeks of school.

Take your daughter to play at parks in the neighborhood or at the school playground. This will give her an opportunity to meet children from the neighborhood who will be attending school with her as well as to practice social skills with you there to support her.

Read books about bullying to learn new strategies and to help your daughter realize she is not alone in her experiences. Choose one or two strategies she feels comfortable with and role-play different situations so your daughter will gain confidence in using them. Some great books to read with you daughter are The Juice Box Bully by Bob Somson, The Recess Queen by Alexis O’Neill, and My Secret Bully and Just Kidding by Trudy Ludwig. Books you can use a resources to support her are Words will Never Hurt Me by Sally Northway Ogden, Nobody Likes Me, Everybody Hates Me by Michele Borba, and The Unwritten Rules of Friendship by Natalie Madorsky Elman and Eileen Kennedy-Moore.

If your daughter needs help with other social skills, talk with the school social worker, counselor, or psychologist about a social skills group that can support her in developing more effective friendship skills, assertiveness, and other social emotional skills that will help school be a positive place for her.

Finally, continue to be proactive by meeting her teachers and communicating with them regularly about both positive experiences and concerns that need to be addressed. Teachers need to hear what things are working as well as what is not. Most teachers are comfortable with emailing parents, which can make this less time consuming for all parties.

It can be tricky to find the balance between being supportive and being a helicopter parent. Encourage your daughter to address her concerns with adults in the building as much as possible, but be available to help her do so as needed. Trust your daughter to grow in these skills with your support, but also trust your gut about when to step in and advocate for her.

Share your new school transition and support ideas.


Mama Drama: Anniversary Advice Round Up

Mama Drama is celebrating two years with Mile High Mamas!!

We’ve rounded up all of the drama Lisa has covered during that time into a variety of categories to make it easier for you to find that special nugget of information or advice you need.

Keep the questions coming ([email protected]) and remember that we all have our share of Mama Drama, so contribute your advice, ideas, and tried and true strategies as we support each other through the journey of motherhood in this fabulous community of moms.

Be sure to bookmark this page for easy access and share it with all your mommy friends!

Developmental issues:

Articulation Angst – When to worry about speech concerns.

Mama Drama: School Anxiety Support…for Mom

Dear Mama Drama:

I was bullied in school and have a lot of anxiety for my daughter who just started preschool. I worry that the teachers won’t stand up for her and that she’ll be picked on, so I’ve told her to hit anyone who bothers or hurts her.

Her teachers say that she will end up in trouble instead. How can I help her stand up for herself if she can’t hit?

~Scared Mama

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Dear Scared:

Bullying is a real problem, but you can empower your daughter to stand up for herself without teaching her to hurt others.

Our experiences growing up have a big impact on how we view school for our children. It is easy to project these onto our children, but is more important to support them in creating a positive outlook about school so their experience can be better than ours.

Hitting it not a socially acceptable behavior and if used as a first response will lead to a great deal of difficulty for your daughter. Children who hit are often ostracized in school, as other students don’t feel safe playing with them. They are also more likely to have consequences that lead them to miss class time and learning opportunities.

Talk with your daughter’s teachers about your concerns and the reasons for them. Ask them about how they monitor the class, handle problems between students, and teach social skills. Knowing their strategies should help ease some of your fears.

Encourage your daughter to see the positives in school and in her classmates. Model noticing safe and friendly choices and ask her about the things she enjoyed in school each day. Make sure you are looking for the positives as well and not being critical or overreacting to typical interactions that happen in preschool. When you have questions or concerns, try to share those with the teachers out of earshot of your daughter.

Find resources to teach your daughter pro-social skills for problem solving and making friends.  The Mama Drama column on Bully Busting Basics describes skills to teach and books to read with your daughter.

The bottom line is that you don’t want other kids hitting and bullying your daughter and other parents don’t want their children hit or bullied either.  Teach your daughter to be strong in her social skills, rather than to be afraid that others will hurt her.

If you still feel overwhelmed by anxiety, seek professional mental health support to help you work through these issues.

Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column runs on Fridays with everyday mothering questions from readers and answers providing strategies to tackle these daily challenges. Send your questions and challenges to [email protected], and your Mama Drama could be in next week’s column! Lisa is also available for private consultations. All emails and identifying information will remain confidential.

Mama Drama: Bully Busting Basics

Dear Mama Drama:

My 5-year-old son is entering kindergarten and is the sweetest kid. He gets along with everyone but I fear he will be a target for bullying because he refuses to retaliate. What skills can I teach him to stick up for himself and as a mother, how should I react when kids are mean?

P.S. This happened right in front of me the other day (kids bullying him at Jungle Quest) and you’d better believe I FREAKED out on them as Mama Bear. Not my best moment but they stopped. Need tips. 🙂

~ No Bull Mama

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Dear No Bull:

School-Sanctioned Bullying: The Importance of Being Your Child’s Biggest Advocate

Since I’ve become a parent, I haven’t worried about whether or not bullying might happen…I’ve been flat-out waiting for it.  Because, frankly, bullying is nothing new.  We’ve all been through it at one time or another and while it isn’t fun, it’s reality.  But this type of bullying came in a way that I wasn’t expecting.  Yes, it was another kid.  But the shocking thing was…the school was giving him the tools to do it.

Your opinion: Bullying and where do you stand on discipling other people’s kids?

The media and blogosphere are abuzz in the wake of the suicide of Rutgers college freshman Tyler Clementi after his roommate secretly broadcast his encounter with another man.

This is an extreme and tragic example of cyberbullying and it makes me wonder 1) Do the two students who committed the crime have a history of bullying and if so, when did it begin? 2) What is our role as parents as it pertains to bullying and/or disciplining other people’s children?

My children are still young–ages 4 and 6. These issues are surfacing and I have been torn as to how to react. Does stepping in overstep our bounds when the boundaries are different with each person?

A few weeks ago, my son Bode had his second soccer game. His team played another that looked like they had been playing together from birth. Not only were their skills beyond their age but they were almost a full head taller. Undaunted, Bode’s team members played their little hearts out despite being pushed, shoved and kicked the entire game. One red-headed boy in particular on the opposing team was the instigator for much of it.

Following the game, they had a friendly kick-off so all the kids who had not scored during the game would finally have their chance. They stood in line to wait their turn and at one point I looked up to see Bode crying. And noticed the red-headed boy kicking the crap out of his calves and punching him in the back.

I didn’t think. Instinctively I