Nice - and Angry - Little Girls

I couldn't figure out my ten-year-old niece. How could she be such a model child with adults--smiling, nice, helpful, cooperative--then turn into an acid-breathing monster when she was alone with her little brother. It made me furious. I wanted to wring her pretty little neck. I wanted to expose her. I wanted to reveal her "true" vicious nature to all the adults who had been so taken in.

I'm still not sure why my reaction was so strong. (Could my oldest sister have been that self-righteous, manipulative, and just plain mean?) It was on my mind for weeks. I kept watching my own boys and wondering. Yes, they got mad. Yes, they fought. Yes, they hurt each other. Yes, the older one took advantage of his seniority. But it just didn't seem the same.

Then I happened to see another little girl who is usually bright, friendly, outgoing and a general delight to be around, alone with one of her friends. I'd had a clue that she was having a bad day, but I still couldn't believe how nasty she was being. It finally occurred to me that maybe these were not isolated incidents. Maybe there was something about nice little girls and meanness that, in my predominantly-male-child environment, I hadn't been noticing. Maybe this was what they did with their anger.

I thought again about my boys. They yell, they tussle, they chase and pounce. They make hard physical contact with balls, beds, furniture, the floor and other little boys. Sometimes they use each other too hard, and I need to intervene, but it's all very much out in the open.

Few of these options, however, are available to nice little girls, particularly as they get older. They aren't even supposed to feel anger, much less show it. I suppose that, theoretically, that anger could be evaporated by concentrated doses of pure saintliness, but I doubt if this is common. It's easy to see how it can all go underground, get concentrated and come out in acidic, vicious little spurts, and how its covert nature makes it hard to name and respond to.

What can we do about these nice little girls in our lives? The first step, it seems to me, is to give up our investment in their niceness (delightful though it may be) and to assume that they are angry. Maybe not all the time (hopefully not all the time) but more often than we'd like to believe. Then we need to get clear in our own minds (and I'm thinking of myself and my niece here) that they are not bad for handling their anger this way. It's the only way they've been able to figure out.

Then we can talk with them about anger, bring the subject out in the open, give them our permission, our blessing to show it. They might need to see us model. ("Oooh! That makes me so ANGRY.") Or we could have angry competitions. ("I get so mad I could throw plates." "Well, I get so mad I could throw furniture!")

When their anger becomes less covert, and we can spot it before it goes underground, then we get to help them find better ways to deal with it. Giving them a safe physical outlet, where they can use their bodies hard, will help. This may be a challenge since a lot of nice little girls have become shy or scared in this area. We might start with playful wrestling sessions (maybe when they're not angry--just for practice), or beating pillows together. It probably won't be easy (certainly not for me), but it seems more hopeful than helplessly standing by while the perfectly normal healthy anger of our wonderful little girls turns into acid.