Sarah Tucker is the author of a fictional novel ‘The Playground Mafia’, which hit a nerve because there was so much unspoken emotional truth in it that it has sold over half a million copies.
Sarah does not claim to be a psychologist or counsellor, her tips have developed through the research and some direct experience of playground politics over the years. She receives between 50 to 100 emails each week on playground politics and has collected together here some advice from those she has interviewed over the years, from teachers, parents, mafia members and victims of playground politics as well as some words of wisdom from the children themselves.
This list of ten tips might help you with playground issues and over competitive parents.
1. Remember the only thing you have in common with the other mothers at your child’s class is that they have children the same age as yours. That is where the similarities end. They are not your friends or confidents. Don’t treat them that way. Or feel you need to treat them that way. This causes unnecessary pressure.
2. Always keep your own counsel. Confide in your friends out of school, never those in the playground no matter how sympathetic they may be. You are going to meet them every day for the next nine years. Do not mention any marriage or financial or emotional difficulties. Furthermore, do not act as ear to any gossip mongers either.
3. Just because your son/daughter picks a best friend, you do not need to make best friends with the parents. Parents often feel obliged to do just that. Don’t. It is not necessary.
4. The teachers are extremely aware of the playground mafia and I got many anecdotes for the book from this source. If you need advice, always speak to the head teacher or the form teacher about your child. You don’t need to network with other mothers who – if they are mafia – will treat information as power.
5. Never arrive early for pick up. More opportunity for you to be pounced on.
6. Always polite but opaque, as in quite dull. If they cannot grab onto anything about you, good or bad, they will neither be threatened by you, interested to cultivate you as one of their members. Most mafia were bullies as children and haven’t kicked the habit. As children you could have had a fight in the playground, as an adult you are likely to get a GBH assault charge. So no matter how much they snipe, ignore them. Focus on your child.
7. Be aware that there is no mafia ‘type’ – they do not look like bullies, they come in all shapes and sizes, may have had or not had successful careers. The one thing they have in common is that they need to get a life, stop taking themselves so seriously and focus on their child’s development and no one else’s. They need above all to mind their OWN business.
8. Mummy blogs and networks are not necessarily the best way to work out issues. If you need to befriend a mother, make it one who has children two years above that of your own,who you genuinely like and trust. She is not in direct competition with you and will have been through the playground mafia issues herself.
9. See the funny side of all situations. I met a mother who googled all the children’s parents in her class and only asked those children around for playdates who had parents with high disposable incomes. This is more common than people might think. These parent types live vicariously through their children on many levels.
10. Playground Mafia will always claim they are being overly competitive because it’s necessary to get into good schools and they must push their child and further his progress. They do nothing of the sort. All good parents encourage their child to do well, mafia systematically try to undermine other children so they do less well, and also undermine the confidence of other parents. That is not good parenting, this is politics.
Most playground politics occurs when the children are at infant and primary school. There is less need to mix with other parents at secondary school so less opportunity for the playground mafia to snipe. Enjoy your children’s childhood. Don’t let the mafia ruin it. And if all else fails, just drop your child at the school gate and pick up avoiding all eye contact with any other mother.
Sarah has now devised an APP for mums to use not only to detect mafia mums but also avoid becoming one themselves. As part of a nationwide 'mummy mafia' campaign in conjunction with Red Balloon, the organisation which focuses on the recovery of bullied children, Sarah is asking mums throughout the UK to take the mummy mafia test and send in the results to her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively send them to her website www.sarahtucker-website.com on the comments section, with anecdotes about some of the playground politics you have personally experienced.
Sarah says, “Tackling playground politics is a step closer to making sure the time in the playground is something new mothers can enjoy and look forward to, rather than dread and navigate around. I believe children bully because they witness the grownups doing the same - lead by example is always the best policy.”