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(No) Bullies in Brownies — Good Parenting

Welcome to Good Parenting, our weekly online series on parenting advice with Annapolis, Maryland, expert Dr. Deborah Wood.

Headshot2011(No) Bullies in Brownies — Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

Thank you for posting helpful advice on the matter of girls and relational aggression and bullying. I am facing a dilemma and could use some wisdom to determine what to do regarding potential problems with a Girl Scout troop.

I am about to start a new Brownie troop of second graders. I just found out that there is an existing troop at our school. All the girls have been in school together since kindergarten. My dilemma is whether to merge the two troops. I just found out that a couple of girls with a history of bullying are in the other troop.

I have taught my daughter how to deal with bullying using your advice. Disagreements at my house, whether with siblings or playmates, have been used as “teachable moments” to the benefit of their social confidence. In fact, that’s why we have a good size group to start our troop. Because we have cultivated a close group of friends in our neighborhood with many play dates, I can see confidence in their friendships. But to expose them to a possible situation at Girl Scout meetings is different. On one hand I see how it could be constructive if we could improve the relationships. However, there may be problems if it doesn’t go well.

The merged troop of possibly 20-30 girls also might be too large. Keeping them separate may be better.

Thank you very much for your thoughts on this.

Almost a Leader

Don’t miss last week’s column Sharing a mood — Good Parenting

Dear Almost a Leader,

Working well together can be a model that the adults set.

Let’s start with logistics. If you have a possible total of 20 or more girls, two adults – you and the other troop’s leader — may not be enough. Do they have an assistant or co-leader? Is there a parent among your prospective troop who would step up as a regular volunteer?

I ran a troop of 16 Juniors, but started off the year with a meeting of all the girls plus at least one parent for each girl. After a joint discussion of what kinds of things the girls wanted to do for the year, the children went off to watch a TV show while the adults planned out the calendar. For every meeting or field trip there was an adult other than me in charge. They shared their interests, talents, and resources which helped the troop to complete many badges as well as service hours. We had to count on all the parents in order for the troop to run, whether as drivers, campers, even cookie sales managers. Being in grad school at the time, I couldn’t have managed the troop any other way.

Start your decision making by assessing the parent resources of the other troop as well as your own.

I could see this turning out very well for everyone if you have a good group of grown-ups working together on behalf of the children. Use Girl Scouts as a great resource for building secure friendships and honing people skills. Your troop meetings should have rituals to help the girls respect and trust one another. For example, it is traditional to end a meeting with a “Good Bye Circle” in which a silent “good thought” or “good wish” is expressed in each girl’s mind in turn as they pass a gentle hand squeeze around the circle. If the adults do a good job of organizing and facilitating meeting activities, perhaps in stations, the girls’ behavior should be well-controlled. The activities themselves can stress the kind of interdependence and harmony you are striving for. Some related badges include: Fair Play, My Best Self, My Great Day, and Making Friends.

A girl can even design a badge which could be related to dealing with social aggression or its inverse, social sensitivity.

Since compromise is a good strategy for social conflict, here’s an in-between idea. Start your troop on your own, introduce yourself to the other leader, and work toward merging the troops after a couple of joint meetings or outings.

Your community association (usually about 30 leaders of all Scout levels) may be able to facilitate introductions and co-operation between you. Even if you decide not to merge, plan to do a few things together under the auspices of the largest world-wide organization of girls — one in which we are sisters to every other Girl Scout.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy@jecoannapolis.com

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