A Dad's View: Are girls more cliquey than boys?
Are girls more cliquey than boys, Tom Dunmore wonders, as he tries to persuade his daughter and her friends to play nicely
The house is quaking and the floorboards above me rattling, before that inevitable, sickening THUMP! I take a deep breath, preparing for the worst, and sure enough the earthquake is followed by a tsunami of tears. Once upon a time I would have bounded up the stairs, heart pumping – but these days I’m finely tuned to the bumps and screams that emanate from Ava’s room. Ava’s best friend Olivia saunters in.
‘Erik has fallen off the bed,’ she says.
‘I know, I heard. Is he Ok?’
‘That’s a good sign. Is he bleeding?’
‘I don’t think so.’ The screaming has already subsided and the banging has resumed. No need to worry.
‘Aren’t you going to go up and play with your friends?’ I ask Olivia. She shrugs. ‘Ava and Daisy are playing witches. I don’t want to play witches.’ She pauses and then, with all the heartbreaking honesty a six-year-old can muster, adds, ‘I don’t think they’re my friends.’
‘But you’re Ava’s best friend,’ I say.
‘No, Daisy is Ava’s best friend. But Sophia is Daisy’s best friend.’
‘Can’t you all be best friends?’ I ask.
Olivia meets the suggestion with a look of open-mouthed incredulity, followed by a wry shake of the head. Oh, the tangled webs these six-year-olds weave.
I shouldn’t be surprised. I’ve no idea where she picked it up from, but since the age of two it’s been almost impossible to keep up with who’s in and who’s out of Ava’s social circle. I’d had no notion of social hierarchy until I hit my teens. Maybe the world has changed?
But Erik has no interest in best friends. He’ll play with anyone, but never remembers their names. When we ask who he wants to come to his third birthday party he just says, ‘Mummy and Ava.’ After a bit of prompting I manage to blag an invite for myself, too.
It may simply be a difference in character, or the fact that second children quickly adapt to being ignored by learning to play on their own. But I have a suspicion that girls are – whether through nature or nurture – more socially aware than boys right from the get go.
Unfortunately that means things become cliquey, and can rapidly escalate into the infant version of Mean Girls that’s playing out today. So I grab Olivia by the hand and lead her upstairs. I pause outside Ava’s closed door and, with trepidation, knock before opening.
I half expect to find them transformed into teenagers. Instead, they’re still cute little six- year-olds playing with the doll’s house.
‘Hey Ava, Olivia’s here – can she join in?’ Ava shoots a look at Daisy before replying.
‘But she doesn’t want to play witches.’
‘You’re playing with the doll’s house,’ I say.
‘Yes, but we’re witches. We’re casting spells on the dolls.’
‘This one’s you,’ says Daisy, prodding a mop-haired marionette in the stomach like it’s a voodoo doll. I instantly feel sick.
‘You both need to be nicer,’ I blurt. ‘Erik’s not nasty to his friends...’ But as I speak Ava begins to laugh, staring straight through me. I turn to see Erik, behind the door, wearing my jacket and waggling his finger. Caught in the act of mockery he freezes, then juts out his lower jaw and runs fist-first towards my groin. As my tears well up, thoughts of the differences between boys and girls disappear. All I can hear is Marge Simpson declaring, ‘Kids can be so cruel,’ followed by Bart’s immortal response: ‘We can? Thanks Mom!’