My 12 year old daughter "Sam" started middle school this year in the public school system, after attending a small private elementary school. During the last two years of elementary school, Sam was bullied via social isolation with one student leading a pact: "if you talk to Sam, you're a loser." We learned this late into 5th grade. The classroom environment was awful for Sam. She basically had no friends in class except for perhaps one other girl. Sam started talking with a therapist about 18 months ago as an outlet.
Fast forward: Sam very much looked forward to entering the new school as a means of a fresh start. Yet here we are in April, and her emotional and social integration is not going well at all. She is not being bullied or teased in her new school, which of course is great. Yet she is showing anti-social behavior. She likes to stay on the fringes. She still yearns for the one on one attention of teachers (a coping skill she developed when she was being bullied - the kids might be mean to her but the teachers never were). One teacher recently remarked that Sam didn't want to do group work with her peers. On the other hand Sam comes home with stories about how she and some classmate did this or that and how great it was.
I'm about to meet with the teachers en masse; I still have her in therapy, where I've indicated to the therapist that I believe Sam is stuck in the past. What am I missing? What more should I be doing? I am afraid that Sam will quickly become an outcast again at this school because of her behavior.
Thanks very much.
From: SOS, Boston
Stuck in the past? Is that really what's going on? Seems more like that whatever was happening in elementary school is still happening now because a child typically takes her problems with her. It's magical thinking to think they will disappear because she's at a new school.
I hope that at your meeting (sorry if it's already happened), the teachers can give you concrete examples of what they see in her behavior so that you have something to work with. Social isolation typically happens for pretty specific (and sometimes fixable) reasons. What does she wear? Eyeball her classmates, or the girls she'd like to be friendly with. Does she dress kind of like them or is she in a look all her own? What about her ability to read social cues? Does she turn kids off without realizing it? Does she have some nervous habits? Does she have some behavioral issues? Is she on the Asperger's spectrum? Are there learning issues? These are the kinds of questions you need to face squarely.
You're right to be concerned. Girls in these preteen years can be incredibly mean and cliquey so these problems are likely to get worse, not better. She needs coping skills and she needs a few friends. Ask the teachers to do some matchmaking for you:
Can they name one or two girls who could be likely friends? And what about this therapist? In 18 months of therapy, what has she/he suggested in terms of specific coping mechanisms? If you aren't getting that, maybe this isn't the right therapist for your daughter.