Contributed by Jody McVittie and Sahara Pirie

Sometimes listening in on conversations between your child and his or her friend while you are driving is a wonderful way to get a taste of the world from their point of view. But what do you do when the conversation you hear involves spreading rumors about other children or families? In fact last week you may have listened to your daughter’s painful stories of rumors being spread about her. What is going on? Didn’t she make the connection?

We’ve talked several times in these newsletters about how human beings move toward a feeling of belonging (connection) and significance. We’ve talked about the “misbehavior” being a solution to another problem that sometimes the child is not consciously aware of. Lets put that together here.

Connection: Sharing information – especially “secret” information is something that we do (yes adults do it too) to connect with the person we are sharing with. It creates an “us” so we can be together against “them.” But this connection is a connection that also hurts others.

Significance: We also share secrets or gossip to gain a sense of significance. Sometimes that is in the direction of, “I am better than” or, “We are better than” and sometimes it gives a sense of power. “When I can learn all of this information that I’m not really supposed to have, then I’m powerful.” Gossip also is used as revenge. It feels powerful to hurt back when you feel hurt.

What do I want my child to learn? If empathy and social responsibility are your goals:

Do a self-assessment: Is my son or daughter learning this from me? What kinds of conversations do I have with my friends or how do I talk about others when they are present?

Notice how hard growing up is! Especially in the tween and teen years when children are searching for their place within their circle of friends it is easy to feel insecure, left out, inadequate and hurt. Children use gossip to try to create bonds when they don’t feel secure in their connections with friends or within the friendship circle.

Share your concern (privately) without moralizing or lecturing. “Honey, when I hear you talking to Amanda about Josie, I’m guessing that it might help you think that you and Amanda have something in common, but I’m concerned that it could also be hurtful.”

Offer other options and practice with your child (role play) so your child has tools to avoid joining gossip. Allowing your child to play the gossiper will allow her/him to experience to feel the effectiveness of the tool, allowing him/her to play the other role will give direct practice with the tool. You could practice: change the subject, leave the area/situation, or leave a note in the school “bully box.”

Ask your child what they’d like their best friend to do if they heard others gossiping about her/him.

And when your child has been the victim of gossip connect and listen. Leave room for silence. “I know you are upset with Mary, I’m sorry she hurt you. Do you want to draw (go on a walk) with me?”

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