My Little Mean Girl


“If a baby came to my house, I would hit it so that it would leave my house.”

That’s a direct quote from my 3-year-old daughter, Sutton, whom I’ve previously declared to be the sweetest little girl in the world. I don’t say that as much anymore, and when I do say it, she’s quick to correct me.

“No,” she’ll insist. “I’m a mean girl!”

snow white, evil witch, apple

(l., what most little girls want to be; r., my daughter)

She’ll say it with the wicked delight of a Disney villainess. Speaking of those, she’s endlessly fascinated by them. “Just take onnnnnnne biiiiiiiiite,” she cackles constantly, in a creepily uncanny impersonation of the evil queen tempting Snow White with her poison apple. She went as Ariel from the Little Mermaid last Halloween, but only after we struggled in vain to find her an Ursula costume. One of her favorite YouTube clips of late is an edit someone did of Sleeping Beauty with only Maleficent’s dialogue included. Why waste time with anything else, right?

I think she’s doing research.

How did this happen to my delightful little angel? Well, the baby thing can be explained with some backstory. She said it right after a baby took a toy away from her, and everyone defended the baby. “She doesn’t know any better!” grown-ups (like me) assured her. Sutton just glared at this tiny, adorable little creature everybody loved who did something selfish and got away with it. That’s the origin story of an evil queen if I’ve ever heard one.

It wasn’t her resentment of the baby that bothered me. It was the ferocity with which she clung to it. “I don’t like babies!” she swore. “Babies should all go away!” Replace “baby” with any racial epithet and it might’ve been a Strom Thurmond speech from the 1950s. One baby wronged her, one time, and she became a raging baby racist.

sutton2By all appearances, Sutton is more of a Cinderella than a Wicked Stepsister. She’s a beautiful little girl with a sense of style far beyond anything she inherited from her dads. She knows how to pick out just the right shoes to complement each of her favorite dresses. She’s self-assured and funny, even if her favorite joke at this age is just to reply “Poopy!” to everything. She’s also ridiculously smart. A few weeks ago, we read in a book that a character’s feelings were “fragile”. She asked what that meant, and I said, “Fragile means something breaks easily.” The next day, her brother was playing with a snow globe, and I warned him to be careful with it. “It’s fragile!” Sutton shouted.

Her teacher described her as the Mayor of her preschool class, because she’s a born leader who bounces from one group to another to see how everyone’s doing. She’s incredibly chatty, and when she wants to start a conversation, she’ll just sit across from me, cock her head thoughtfully to one side and ask, “So… what’s your interesting?” (It’s become her catch phrase.) She has every quality you could ask for in a daughter. She’s smart, charming, self-confident and totally fearless.

I’ve seen “Mean Girls”. This is a recipe for disaster.

Already, she’s built up an unheard-of immunity to discipline. I might tell her to pick up her toys or she’ll lose dessert. Rather than pick up her toys, she’ll scream her head off and accuse me of being unfair. I’ll tell her if she doesn’t stop screaming, then I’ll take away one of her YouTube videos at bedtime (part of our nightly routine). She’ll scream louder, and I’ll say, “OK, you lost one video. You want to lose another one?” Scream. “OK, that’s two videos you’ve lost. Want to go for all three?”

john-benderIt’s like John Bender racking up Saturday detentions in the Breakfast Club. I can’t win. The only punishment that has any impact is the first one, but then I’m burdened with enforcing an endless string of post-punishment punishments because she was too stubborn to back down. I admit it. I can’t compete on her level. And now she’s made me identify with Mr. Vernon. Curses!

I’ve been telling the kids a lot about Harry Potter lately, and guess who’s piqued Sutton’s interest? That’s right. He Who Shall Not Be Named, Whose Name My Daughter Won’t Stop Saying. She pleaded with me to show her a picture of him, even though I warned her he was very scary looking. Bennett covered his eyes while I did the Google Image search, but Sutton was riveted.I told her about the four houses at Hogwarts that the Sorting Hat can send you to, and guess where she begged to go?

“Slytherin! The one with the mean guys!”

LordvoldemortLook, I love my daughter no matter what. Just because I’m worried she might end up as Cruella de Vil, it doesn’t mean I won’t teach her how to count to 101. I’ll probably even tip her off where she can score some Dalmatians. (Psst, firehouses!) I just want for my kids what every parent wants, for them to be cooler than I was at their age. (Granted, this sets the bar pretty low.) In Sutton’s case, I have no worries whatsoever. Who’s cooler than the villain?

Sutton’s preschool teacher also called her “The nicest thief in the world” because she likes to take toys from other kids, and then when the kid complains, she’ll drip false sincerity and reply, “Oh, I’m so sorry! Here you go!”

That’s another thing she does really well — apologies. (It helps when you’ve had as much practice as she’s had.) On some level, my daughter is still the sweetest girl in the world. She loves to dance, play and laugh, she loves to give hugs and kisses, and she tells me all the time, totally unprompted, how much she loves me. I’ve never actually seen her hit a baby — or anyone, in fact. She’s a darling little girl, honestly, a total angel.

I’m keeping an eye on her, though. Consider yourself warned.


“So… what’s your interesting?”

43 comments on “My Little Mean Girl

  1. Hi! Great post as always.
    I’m not a parent, so take this with a grain of salt, but I bet she’ll turn out just fine. If you look at photos of me when I was 4, I was NEVER smiling. Usually, I had a pissed-off scowl on my face, but I grew up to be a happy adult.

    Haha, I have a hilarious story about my sister! When she was five, she kissed a boy underneath the table at kindergarten and my mom cried a river because she thought her little girl was destined to become a sex addict. LOL, thankfully Mom’s fears were unnecessary, as my sister had a total of 2 boyfriends in her life and married the second one (their 9 year anniversary is in May).

    Sutton sounds very smart and I bet when you tell her about her disney villans phase years later, she won’t even believe you.

    • Hi! I love your stories, thanks for sharing them. Your mom thinking your sister would be a sex addict after she kissed one boy is probably on par with me thinking my daughter will be a supervillain because she loves them at age 3. When I was writing this post, all I could think about was the post I put up about two weeks ago where I complained about people who project a kid’s entire future based on how they are at a young age (specifically in regard to career). And that’s exactly what I did here. Obviously, parents are crazy, me included. 🙂

  2. Some kids get more attention via negative behavior and so it is the negative behavior that they repeat. If you spotlight, praise and reward the positive behavior and just (very briefly) reprimand when necessary – you will see positive results. I could never ignor bad behavior so I won’t recommend it to you.

    All children try manipulation of their parents, peers and teachers. This behavior is soon outgrown when they learn it is unacceptable by all.

    Keep loving your kids as you do, continue to, teach them right from wrong and good results will follow. Parenting is not always easy.

    Good luck!


  3. Oh my gosh, I work in a quiet computer lab nowadays and I almost broke the relative quiet with laughter. Who knows, maybe she’ll get all this out of her system young and then really champion the good guys later! Everyone loves a reformed villain, right?

  4. It sounds to me like she has an affliction known as “being 3,” the major symptom of which is being mean. I remember breaking down in tears, asking my husband where we went wrong after having arguments with my then 3-year-old daughter that could rival those with a teenager. I know. The fact that I was having the argument with a 3-year-old shows you what an idiot I was at the time. And I was definitely guilty of projecting all of that behavior onto what I figured would be her future self. Well, now that she is 7, I was only partly correct. She is still amazingly willful and sassy, and can be quite the mean girl to her younger brother. But outside of our house, she really is kind and gentle. She is the kind of girl who not only is nice to her classmates, but is also unlikely to tell on a kid who did her wrong because she doesn’t want to get that kid in trouble. She is almost TOO nice. And like your daughter, when she does realize she has done something wrong, the apologies are profuse…I have many, many “I’m sorry” letters and cards to prove it. Suffice it to say, I think Sutton is probably safe from turning into Lindsay Lohan, “Mean Girls” character or otherwise.

    • Whew! Thanks for the reassurances. Underneath, I still think of her as a sweetheart, as she really is a good kid. But there’s something hilarious to me about her fascination with the dark side.

  5. Ha!! I can empathize with trying to punish a 3-yr-old! It’s the same with our son…by the time you’ve followed through with all those threatened punishments, any “lesson” is useless because they’ve completely forgotten why they were punished in the first place 😉 Love your take on parenthood–thanks for the smiles!

    • Thanks! What’s even more desperate of me is when I have to “try out” different punishments to see what works. “Want to lose a video?” “I don’t care!” “OK, what if I take away dessert?”

  6. Oh my gosh, I am laughing so hard at “I will still teach her to count to 101”! You are not alone, though. My three year old girl is the same way. I babysat my six month old neice last week and all hell broke loose. She told me she doesn’t like babies because they make her jealous. It sounds like our “mean girls” would get along great!

  7. Heres the old mom perspective…I’d rather her have a whole lot of spit and vinegar than be a wallflower who doesn’t stand up for herself. Things will even out but I have no doubt she’ll be a force to be reckoned with which is not such a terrible thing!

    • Yes, agreed. Both of my kids are MUCH better at sticking up for themselves than I ever was. The other day, a kid hit Bennett, and he stepped back and shouted so loud it shook the walls, “NO! IT’S NOT OK TO HIT!” It was hard not to laugh.

  8. My favorite kids in the entire world who are not actually related to me are also the most self-confident and self-assured (by FAR), brilliant and interesting kids I’ve ever met (ages 7, 10 and 13), and they all LOVED being the villian when playing make-believe when they were young. The villians are definitely the most interesting characters. Sutton’s got that right. I bet Sutton will turn out just like my favorite non-relative kids!

    • Ha! You’re probably right. She is definitely self-confident, and I’ve always thought that was the most important quality I could instill in my kids. Those are the people who really seem to do well and be happiest in life — not the smartest or even the most beautiful but the ones whose confidence in themselves never wanes. I think the important thing is just for me to stay on her good side. 🙂

  9. Oh, man. The day you start to compare your child to Bender is a scary day for parents. Scary and inevitable. Your day has just come sooner than you planned.

  10. This might actually stem from being so smart! I’ve always been what I call a “Bad Guy Sympathizer”, even when I was Sutton’s age and I have a Mensa-level IQ. Many of the kids I knew in gifted programs were more into the bad guys, too- Bad guys are all evil in their own way, with their own specific motivations, but the good guys are always just good because being good is right. Boring! Even though she might not have it framed yet, I bet she wants to know why the good guy is good, what made him that way? The bad guy is bad because of jealousy, or because she was wronged and wants revenge, or any number of other reasons that almost always get explained in a way that makes you understand. But to be good just because? That’s lazy writing and it probably rubs her the wrong way.

    I wanted to be a spy, a chick who tricked men with her beauty and then held them at gunpoint to get her way. I loved the witches and the villains- they had all the power! Girls in pop-culture are kind of lame, when you think about it, they’re all looking for some guy to take care of them and make their lives perfect. (Tiana from The Princess Frog being the exception.) Meanwhile the bad girls are going for it, taking charge, kicking ass and taking numbers as they try to find a way to get what they want for themselves. You’d never see Ursula selling her voice for some dude she’d never even met! And after the 4th book, if someone told Voldemort, “Oh come on, dude, you don’t expect us to believe Harry Potter’s really after you, do you? I mean, it’s not like we’ve seen mountains of proof or something. Sorry kid, you’re on your own. And by the way, enjoy puberty.”, I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have just accepted that nonsense- he’d have slapped Dumbledore across the face and rounded up an army of some kind.

    At the end of the day, though I’ve spent most of my life talking a good game, I’m too empathetic to actually hurt someone who didn’t deserve it (and by that I mean someone who wasn’t actively trying to hurt me or someone else- animals included), and my parents weren’t half as awesome hers. Personally, I’d take all this as a very good sign!

    • Thanks – what a great comment. I think you nailed it. Villains are more interesting than heroes, active rather than reactive. Sutton often asks me, “Why’s he/she so mean?” I usually answer, “Because they’ve had a hard life.” I don’t think she likes that answer, because it doesn’t justify her being mean herself. I think she’s looking for an excuse that will let her get away with it.

      As a 3-year-old, you get told “no” a lot. You’re constantly being told which kind of behavior is acceptable and which isn’t. No wonder she would idolize someone who makes their own rules and gets away with it.

  11. Hahaha, I love it when they start to develop their own personality by “trying on” different behaviours. They mostly copy what they find interesting, and the villain certainly gets a lot of attention.I wouldn’t worry too much about her future though, the bad guy phase will blow over as soon as she finds something else that engages her creativity.

      • Dear Jerry: You’ve got nothing to worry about. I may be in the minority here, but as an old lady who raised 3 ADD/OCD/etc. children, including an incorrigible daughter, I think your little angel may be partly acting out because she is the only girl in a household of males, even if there are supportive female relatives. She knows she is special just for this reason alone. I have one daughter who is a combat soldier in the IDF, and another who is studying to be a medical examiner because she likes
        “dead people who don’t talk back, blood and guts”. My son likes Lizst and philosophy. He is masculine in a gentle way; my daughters are warriors. One thing I’ve learned as a parent is that you have to ignore most of the ridiculous behavior and only invoke consequences (the word ‘punishment’ is outdated) when the behavior is violent or verbally offensive. My older daughter was completely immune to discipline (still is, at 22) but everyone has a soft spot even if it’s deeply buried inside of them. You are doing a wonderful job raising your children which is all anyone can expect a parent to do. May you continue to receive joy from your children.

      • Thanks. I think you have a good point. Being the only girl in our house definitely has an impact on our daughter. I was worried initially that she wouldn’t know how to be “girly” even if she wanted to, but amazingly, that came totally natural to her. She latched on to pink, purple and princesses even though there was none of any of that in our house. Clearly, she’s going to keep feeling things out, though, and I think that’s great for her.

  12. Well, I’m on your little Mean Girl’s side regarding babies. I always thought babies were over-rated and richly spoiled. I wish I also shared your little Mean Girl’s sense of style.

  13. Thank you so much for posting this article! My 3 year old is very similar. In the last few months she has become fascinated with the “mean things” characters do to each other in movies and identifying with the mean-doers. The latest is from the movie “Wreck-It-Ralph.” There is a scene where some of the other “popular” characters bully the main good character and break up her race cart. Upon watching the movie for the ump-teenth time, she has started asking me to re-wind the scene so she can watch it again. She has mentioned a few times about how she “really likes that part”, and when I told her it was mean, she gets cranky with me and says a whiney “I KNOW!” The main mean character walks around with a lollipop and the other day when my daughter had a lollipop, she compared herself to the character. “Look Mom,” she said, ” I’m like that girl that wrecks Vanellope’s cart and then throws her lollipop down.” Well, I guess identifying with that character is better than identifying with the evil, eat anything bugs in the movie..haha. When we are out, however, she is the epitome of kindness and likes to help the little kids wherever we are playing. I will usually find her walking one of the little ones over to their parents and then having a “lengthy conversation” with the adults. I’ve gotten comments about how she has such an extensive vocabulary for a 3 year old and she has incredible cognitive skills as she often puts together the most random things. I was starting to get worried about this fascination with the villains, but after reading your post and the comments about it, I am reassured that this is a normal part of childhood for some kids. And I like the comment that I would rather have a girl of spit and vinegar than a wallflower who doesn’t stick up for herself. I was the latter myself and spent many a miserable year in middle school being bullied. I just hope my commitment to raising her as a child who will NOT be bullied, doesn’t turn her INTO one. I guess, for now, I’ll just like that she associates with the characters that seem to have the power and/or confidence. Maybe with some tweaking, we can take that love of the villainry and turn our generation of girls into some of the first female presidents! 😉

    • So well said! Glad you could relate to the article, and yes, actions speak louder than words. The fact that your daughter is sweet and kind shows that she’s a good girl at heart. Even Luke Skywalker flirted with the dark side, didn’t he?

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