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Mom who labels preschoolers as 'bullies' or 'bad kids'

Feb 2008

A few days ago I was speaking to another Mom who had just returned from a morning of volunteering at her daughter's preschool co-op. In the conversation she frequently labeled kids as 'bullies' or 'bad kids.' The conversation was really disturbing to me because I really didn't like hearing so many negative things about other people's children. And, I really hate kids being given labels at this age (3, 4 &5) that they may never outgrow if they are called it enough. Is there any gentle and polite way to suggest that these kids may need her empathy rather than her criticizing? Or, am I just being naive to assume that most kids at this age are probably going through a 'phase' or have some issues at home that they are processing in a less than positive way?

My world view is generally that most 3, 4 and 5 year olds having a naughty moment (or six months for that matter) are acting out in some way (age appropriate phase) or their behavior is reflecting something that isn't happy at home. I don't look at a three-year-old who has bitten my child and say 'wow...that kid is a bully and some day will end up in Supermax.' I am not saying that I like that my child was bitten, but nor do I think of the biter as a 'bully.' If a four-year-old tells my child that they aren't my child's friend anymore, then I don't think of him as a bad kid or a bully. I think that he is having a frustrating moment.

I guess what I am asking is 1) do you consider it appropriate to discuss other people's children after a playdate or in a volunteering situation. 2) Am I naive to think that most kids termed 'agressive' and 'bullies' before their sixth birthday are actually kids who are just working through a phase of their feelings? 3) If I am not naive, then is there a nice way to tell people who are labeling kids to stop it and be nice? -just a parent...


My ex-husband used to do this (still does it, in fact)-- labeling other peoples' kids as ''bullies'' or ''spoiled'' or ''nerds'' or ''messed up,'' etc. etc. And I hated it. I agree with you that it is unfair and destructive to label ANYONE (and I mean young kids, older kids, and adults) with pejorative names that really have more to do with one's own feelings than anything about that person's ''nature.'' In your place I would say something to the person or persons who label; they will probably be irked with you, but there is a slight chance that you can at least turn down the volume on this kind of talk and improve the atmosphere. Good luck with it! anti-labels
I completely agree that it is extremely inappropriate for this parent to label children while she is volunteering at the preschool co-op. Our son goes to a preschool co-op and luckily I have never heard any parent do anything like that. However, the staff is really on top of things and if I put myself in your shoes I would immediately bring those concerns to the attention of the school's staff. Our school has monthly meetings that we attend and that would be a really good item for one of the staff to bring up at the meeting for all the parents to hear. That way it is still clearly communicated to all present, but no one is individually targeted. JOJ
I am one of those parents who have an aggressive 5 year old and just the other day a little girl in the school came over to me and said ''My Dad says your son is bad & a bully''. It shocked me that parents still do not realize how much labeling hurts. I have struggled with my child since he was little and now am finally seeing him show some impulse control. A lot of adults over the years have been quick to judge my son & my parenting ability and then there have been those like yourself who realize that what most children (and their parents!) need is love and support as they work through these difficult phases.

When I have heard adults labeling children my response has been varied. Yesterday I heard an adult talking about a 4 year girl old and calling her mean and I carefully pointed out that the little girl was upset and still learning about how to control her behavior. I also have pointed out that our jobs as parents are to teach them how to grow up into responsible adults and that the best way to do this is by being one ourselves by modeling good behaviors & using positive words. The other thing I have done is just blatantly told the adults that there words are hurtful to me and that I do not believe in using them to describe anyone - especially a child. Oh and lastly ask them how they would feel if they heard someone use those words about their own child - that usually make them stop & think.

Thank you for bringing up this issue and please know that I wish there were more parents out there that would question what they say and how it impacts others. Anon


OK, I'm sure this will be a different (and perhaps unwanted?) perspective but there is a HUGE difference between normal kids who are naughty or high spirited and bullies. But that doesn't mean there aren't bullies. My kids go to school with a lot of fantastic kids. But there are two or three that are really darn right mean. And deserve (IMHO) to be strongly disciplined or thrown out.

As the parent of a very sweet and sometimes over-sensitive boy of 6, I am TIRED of kids who are actively disruptive, intentionally physically and emotionally abusive and frankly totally poorly parented.

As for a ''nice way'' to tell other parents that they should be more empathetic, if you told me that I would do what I do what I tell my kids to do - tell you that I don't like you and walk away. stop the bullies...


I have a friend who is warm, funny, intelligent, kind and caring and her one flaw is she is super judgmental of other people's kids and a huge labeller. She can witness a kid doing one bad thing and instantly diagnose all sorts of toxic disorders based on that (including the supposedly bad parenting that caused whatever it is). Her labels are more sophisticated than 'bad kid' but equally unfair, I think. I get very frustrated with it too so I know exactly how you feel. I can only guess that it stems from some sort of insecurity - labelling others is a way of exerting control and validating her own worth as a parent?? but maybe that counts as me labelling her!? Anyway, I've tried arguing with her and now I just refuse to react at all when she does it and I think or hope it is getting better. Good luck.
- Depends how close your relationship is with this person, as to whether it's generally deemed okay. But... calling them ''bad kids''. That really ticked me off. That is so unfair.

Personally, I wouldn't care what my relationship was to the woman. I would make a comment about that. Maybe those kids struggle, or are spirited, are still learning some things, or in reality, there is a possibility they are not getting the guidance and adult attention they need, but bad? As a means to describe the entirety of a child? NO!

I wouldn't put up with it.

Regardless of your relationship to these name-callers, if you don't want to hear these things, you should just tell them. It's kinda like I don't want people to tell me details about violent entertainment. I just tell them I don't like to hear that stuff and to please not share it with me. anon


Popular parent at school who gossips obsessively

March 2006

How do I deal with a parent from my kid's school who absolutely has to give me the ''run-down'' on other class parents in 10 minutes or less, every single time we have an encounter? She is a nice woman, and very popular as well. I don't know that she is maliciously gossiping, or simply insecure and possibly bored with her own life.

At school events, even school birthday parties, she makes her way around to every parent and goes on and on about some OTHER parent and their life-threatening illness, their kid's faults, or how bad of a parent this other parent is. Not 5 minutes later, is she yucking it up with that very parent she was speaking so poorly of. She talks a mile a minute and is very funny, so people seem to like her.

How do I tell he to stop without making her angry and thus motivating her to speak even worse about me? And yes, I am now hearing that she speaks poorly of my kid and my husband and I. anon


It doesn't sound as if you would have much to lose by saying, ''You know, it seems like I often find myself gossping about other parents, and it's really starting to make me uncomfortable. I like XXX (parent's name) and their kid is not the demon child or anything. I think I would feel better if I charged myself a mental dollar for every bad thing I say.'' Then change the subject and go on to something positive -- a project you're working on for the school, a class visit that went well, something particularly smart or nice some parent or child did. Have some positive chat ready to go, preferably something funny if that helps. The thing is, as your post points out, most of us are complicit in this behavior. It won't help to ignore her, but it just might help her to hear that her gossip is not always appreciated and that it is being noticed. And at the same time, it's not fair to her to act as if it's all her fault; a gossiper needs listeners. If that doesn't work, I'd just avoid her. sometimes likes to gossip...
First, softly disagree if she is spreading bad gossip. ''Oh I'm sure that's not true'' ''Well she always seems nice to me'' are good phrases. Then change the subject, preferably by asking about HER. Finally, if you are a good friend or you feel brave, you could say, ''You know, when people are always telling me about other people, I always wonder what they say about me to everyone else.'' I hate that too!
Hello, Just don't ''go there'' as I say. If you listen, you are encouraging her obsession with other people's problems and faults. It seems there is always a parent who likes to gossip or get all the dirt on other parents in a grouping (for whatever reason), but don't encourage this woman. There was a parent in our preschool who always was snooping around, asking questions about other children. Asking questions pertaining to potty training, where other children were taking summer classes, what level each child was in sports, etc. What made her seem ''snoopish'' to me was that she obtained her information from parents other than that of the child she was inquiring about. And she tried to manipulate friendships by excluding certain friends from playdates, etc. Very insecure she was, and in the end, the kids became friends with who they had common interests with, despite her malefforts.

Getting back to your posting, know that anything you divulge to her about your life is as good as known to other families and in the worst possible light. KEEP YOUR DISTANCE. And if you are particularly assertive, just tell her you are not interested in hearing about others' day to day struggles. She is toxic to you and to the group -- keep your distance for your own peace of mind as well as the well-being of your child. I feel sorry for her, for needing to act in this rather childish manner. Gossip is toxic


You included enough info so that I'm pretty sure I know who you're talking about. You are right that she is very funny, and she is actually very nice. Although she does talk a LOT, I can't recall that I've ever heard her say anything mean about anyone. That would include you, so I think you should try to stop worrying. Keep in mind, if others are telling you she is saying bad things about you -- they're gossiping too, aren't they? But you're right, she does love to talk about other parents and kids, and it can get to be too much. Change the subject to food or movies or vacations, or anything else. We're all guilty of talking about others
I'd be very cordial, limit my contact to only necessary encounters and then be as brief as possible, and in general steer totally clear of her. Why have folks like this in your life?
How about looking at her next time she comes over to you and starts gossiping, laughing and saying ''how old are you? you're being ridiculous''. Then you come across as smarter/more mature than this awful woman. If other parents listen to the smearing she does of your family, and they actually believe the gossip, then you are better off outside that horrible social circle. I would seriously be very blunt, and very rude. You know she's going to talk about you anyway, why not have fun yourself? Who cares how ''popular'' she is?!?! One day she won't be popular anymore... the mighty will fall unless they are actually nice, caring people. That's the way it was in high school, and this is sounding a lot like that. Sarah
I have a friend like this and find that she is both insecure and has nothing going on in her own life.

The next time this person starts the run-down, interrupt and ask, ''So, what's happening in YOUR life? (Any vacations planned? Have you been to xyz restaurant, etc'' Make it clear that you will not encourage this other discussion.

If she doesn't get it, you may have to honestly say something like, ''These people are our friends. Would you want them talking like that about you?'' or ''I really like so-and-so, and think she's a great mom'' or ''I would really rather not trash-talk our friends. Do you mind speaking about something else?''

I know this seems hard, but her behavior will not stop when it is encouraged. heather


I have been in a situation like this at work. The gossipers were women who didn't have much going for them and had no way to feel good about themselves without making others look bad. It is possible to stay out of the gossip even if everyone else is doing it, without you being seen as a pariah. You can change the subject or pretend not to understand. Or act dumb and say ''I don't know, I guess I am really out of the loop.''

Pervasive gossip like what you are describing really damages everyone in the community and creates a horrible atmosphere where people are afraid of what is being said and thought about them. You start feeling like you are at the mercy of the gossipers, and must cooperate with them unless you want to be the gossiper's next target. It is a form of bullying. If this was happening at my child's school, I would bring it up with the teacher or the director and ask for their help in stopping it. It is like a contagious disease. It hurts everyone at the school. anon


I know this one. I have 15 staff under me in my immediate dept. and a total of 55 people in my division. I think that gossip extends to ANYONE who listens and tells and so I would urge you to recognize your own involvment in the gossip grapevine. Gossip can't continue its travels - so to speak - if the next person in line doesn't keep it going. I would also question the motives of the person who relayed the gossip to you about you and as a general rule, I don't accept anything as gospel or the truth unless I hear it directly from the horse's mouth--makes life less complicated and stressful.

I am also thinking about your motives for posting because your post seemed so personal and public and possibly more gossip provoking. Do you really want resolution or do you just want to express your anger? Jealousy? What? Something to ask yourself. I don't know as I'd advise you to confront the perceived obsessed gossiper so much as just to stop the gossip in its own tracks by refusing to hear it or perpetuate it. Gossip needs more than one participant.

I don't know if the following is helpful but when I asked a co-worker if we had a gossipy office, she replied ''I don't know. I don't listen to gossip.'' anon


Parents at school constantly gossiping about the kids

Jan 2006

I need to find a good way to avoid school gossips and request that people not badmouth other kids or parents. Any advice?

Parents at our school, who are supposedly ''tolerant,'' are constantly judging kids and their parents, and are bringing down the school's social and moral integrity. I chose to send my child to a ''progressive'' independent school, but nowadays it feels a lot more like a gossip party where one parent or another is usually complaining about some child in the class (of course, they think their own kids don't do anything hurtful to others). The types of objectionable behavior include talking openly with other parents about a particular child's behavior problems (with kids present!), talking negatively about other people's kids, or gossiping about other parents. Honestly, to hear them talking, you would think they were children...but it is hard to take a stand against it, since they could target me or my son next.

Each class of kids stays together year after year, so there's no chance of getting a different mix of parents/kids next year.

Has anyone out there successfully coped with this problem? If so, was your school of any help in solving the problem? Did you confront the parents? Did you change schools to escape it? I need to find a good way to avoid the school gossips, but also don't want them talking that way around my child. Your advice/insight will help!! --Whatever happened to the golden rule?


You will not be able to stop the gossip; but you may request the teacher and school administrator to address this issues in the upcoming school news letter or school meeting. If there are behavioral issues address them with the teacher of the classroom in question. If the problem is that is your child with behavioral issues, try to resolve them. Sometimes the parent is the last to accept issues of their own children because it means also changing parenting styles. If it non of the above, and you just have a mean group of alpha-Moms who want to take over the school because is the only place were they can get some social recognition; change the school, try to find a school were parents are from a very similar ''social background'' as your family is. Democracy is generally not applicable in school; it is sad but true. Being there too.
No matter where you go, parents are going to talk about the other kids in the class. From the get-go - from the mother's groups, the playgroups, preschool - you name it, it happens. Everyone has done it; I'm sure you have done it too. While I agree that there are plenty of parents who could use a reminder about boundaries, you simply cannot control the fact that they WILL talk. I don't think that this talk is necessarily mean-spirited; I think everyone is just trying to figure it all out.

Based on my observations as a teacher and administrator, I think the emotions around these issues are often more intense in the private school setting. People are paying for the small classes and quality instruction. They expect more. And if there is a disruptive student in the class, people are very concerned about how it affects the school experience of all students in the class, not just their own.

If you really expect that to go away because of the culture of the school, you are sadly mistaken. In addition to that, I think it's unfair to criticize what the school's values are based on what you have described in your post. I'm wondering if you feel on the *outs* within the school community in general. Your post made me wonder if there was something more behind your concerns.

I am sorry that you are unhappy with this situation, but please deal with your feelings directly. Talk to the director. Avoid conversations that make you uncomfortable and focus on what you CAN do to add positive changes at the school. Anon


Gossip vs. perceived "essential information"

Writing as a father of a 12 year old I can join you on my turbulence in being a member of parent cultures within schools. As a group psychotherapist I am also intensely interested in the cultures and climates generated by our various informal community structures.

As a parent I've been very surprised at my own feelings if vulnerability both for my son and for myself around "being included"- him as a valued and respected member of his peer group and more surprising, my own want to be seen as a good parent, being "cool", being in the in-group. I've also been frustrated sometimes with how social dynamics get managed by other parents and teachers.

The theory of group dynamics holds that it is very challenging to change group norms once set. Even in group psychotherapy, where there is supposedly a safe place for people to share, addressing gossip usually means swimming upstream until the group begins to see the cost of such communication and can see other options to deal with what the "real" underlying communication is about.

I agree that you risk becoming a scapegoat if you confront these behaviors. Most people would be offended and not seen for trying to gather or provide information they believe is actually helping their child be safe or succeed. I suggest that you might encourage the school administrators to provide some forums to begin to indirectly address these issues where parents can air their concerns. Good facilitation is the key to these events going well. A good ploy might be to have someone come in and talk about in group-out group behaviors in kid 's groups S...which...includes gossip!

Another way to manage being around gossip, judgment and other kinds of dysfunctional communication patterns is for us as parents to have some compassion for just how anxiety provoking it is to be a parent. The theme of inclusion-exclusion is so challenging for our children and we parents are just as vulnerable to is as they. If we could begin to have those kinds of conversations internally and with each other, our need for gossip would be less. Peter


You could react in such a way that shows your displeasure at the topics these parents choose. The next time a parent comments about another child you could say something like, ''Well, I let the teacher worry about that...'' and change the subject as quickly as possible. It might give them a clue that you do not like this type of talk. When they bad-mouth other parents you could say something like ''But Jane speaks so highly of you....'' and shame them into shutting up. - just my thoughts

Kindergarten mom repeating gossip she hears from her child

March 2005

I am looking for advice on how to deal with a gossipy mom. There is a boy, about 5 years old, in my son's class, who is very talkative and bossy enough to annoy many boys that almost no boy plays with him. He reports to her mom about everything happened at school, which some are right and some are not. But she truly believes every single word her son said. And she spreads the words to other parents. I don't know why she wants to do that. Maybe try to show how smart her boy is. Anyway, I heard she described how bad one boy was and how bad another boy was. Now she starts to say how bad my son is to other parents behind my back. I don't know what to do and am really hurting. Please give us some advices. Thank you A concerned mom


I am sorry that you are so troubled. I think a few things about your dilemma. I think that a gossipy parent isn't going to be believed about the things he or she says regarding another child, parent, teacher, admistrator. I think that if you confront the parent you might have a scene on your hands and incite even more gossip. I think that you might be perceived as gossiping if you pick up the thread of gossiping about what she said about your kid or another parent or anyone. I would leave the situation alone and your not gossiping and your nice kid will speak for itself. Fredericka
This is one for the school to handle. Let them know what you see, and let them know how it's making you feel, and ask them to please address it. It's part of their job. good luck
I believe this parent is ''gossiping'' to make herself feel better about her child's misgivings. It's a comparison thing. She is probably a little insecure about her own parenting and her childs behavior and is probably looking for approval from other parents. I would not take this personally at all! I am sure that if you are hurt and upset by this behavior then other parents realize what she is doing and not taking her too seriously. She is only hurting herself.

When she talks to you about other children have you told her that it offends you when she speaks about others in a negative manner? Have you defended the others? Have you pointed out that children in kindergarten go through behavior highs and lows and that this too shall pass (when they reach ohhh...20 something.

Keep your chin up, don't let one persons opinion ruin your day. I am sure she is not influencing other peoples opinions of your child. Oh, by the way...this is only MY opinion. Susan


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