Mean Girl Behavior in Elementary School

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Helping elementary school students learn how to socialize properly is a major part of any teacher's job. This lesson focuses on the concept of mean girl behavior in elementary school.

The Social Worlds of Elementary Students

As a fourth grade teacher, Ms. Andrews knows that one of her biggest jobs is helping her students navigate the complex social terrain of elementary school. Sure, she puts a lot of energy into her curriculum, but she also knows that learning to be a good friend and to coexist with others is a major aspect of child development.

Over the last year, Ms. Andrews has become increasingly aware of meanness in her classroom, and she has noticed that the so-called mean girl behavior she used to associate with middle school is actually present in her school as well. Ms. Andrews endeavors to learn more about this behavior, what it means, where it comes from, and how to help students work through it.

The Concept of the Mean Girl

Ms. Andrews believes firmly that there is no such thing as an actual mean girl, but there is certainly mean girl behavior. Mean girl behavior in the elementary grades usually involves some or all of the following:

  • Excluding others from play or conversations, often in deceptive and tricky ways
  • Talking about other people behind their backs, even if being sweet to their faces
  • Forming cliques with the explicit intention of leaving others out
  • Making fun of others, often for superficial reasons like their physical appearance or clothing

This kind of behavior can be incredibly hurtful to its victims, who often have no real understanding of why they are being treated this way. Further, Ms. Andrews notices that mean girl behavior appears contagious; sometimes, she feels she cannot keep up with who is being mean to whom in her class!

Helping Girls Avoid Mean Behaviors

Part of helping girls avoid mean girl behavior, Ms. Andrews learns, is understanding what causes it in the first place. When elementary school girls are mean, it is often because they feel insecure about themselves or their friendships. Ms. Andrews tries to help by holding workshops to boost her girl students' self-esteem and by building in plenty of time for collaborative work and play so that girls can strengthen their relationships.

Ms. Andrews also talks openly with families about the behavior she sees in school so that families can support their daughters in treating themselves and other girls with integrity.

Finally, Ms. Andrews makes it clear that she will not tolerate mean girl behavior, and she talks openly with her students about the ways this kind of behavior can affect others. When she sees real meanness and exclusion, she institutes firm and immediate consequences.

Helping Victims of Mean Behaviors

Another aspect of working with mean girl behavior is helping victims, or targets, of this behavior to regain and maintain their self-esteem or concept of themselves as strong people. To do this, Ms. Andrews gives them a chance to process their feelings in art and writing. She helps all of the students in her class access and learn more about their own strengths and what they value about themselves and each other.

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