[This letter has been condensed. Ed]
I have a 10 year old daughter, Leen. Sheís my only child. Sometimes, I feel sheís so happy about herself, telling me that sheís popular, smart and all kids in her school tend to ask her questions and help with their projects and presentations. Other times, sheís down and almost in tears until I ask her whatís wrong, and surprisingly she answers me that:
1. She feels lonely and left out at school.
2. She doesnít belong to any group. The girls in her class are divided into two groups: the popular and the cool. When I ask her, where do you feel you belong, she tells me in the cool group....[But] she says that she only has one close friend at that group but the rest arenít. So I tell her its okay, just hang out with them and you might all get a long in time. She says that she is not accepted by others in the cool group! Whenever she tries to hang out with them, they just donít show interest and make her feel invisible! The popular groupís answer is always no whenever she asks them to hangout, or Ö
3. She tends to participate in games, extracurricular activities in the recess time because she doesnít have friends.
4. At Leenís birthday, everybody was invited to her birthday. None of her friends invites her to his/ her birthday! What makes it worse; she was stopped once with one of her classmates to give an invitation to her birthday party. Then, she apologized for not having a card for Leen when she searched through the cards. ...[but didn't have one for her.] I told my daughter not to keep her feelings to herself and to express herself to her friend appropriately! I told her that she should have said to her friend: ďItís perfectly okay that you donít have a card for me. ... Itís really not nice to hurt others feelings by letting them know that youíre having a party and he/ she is not invited.Ē
Those are some stories from the top of my head. I donít know what to do. It hurts that my daughter is becoming an unhappy child. She used to have this big smile on her face all the time, not anymore. I felt that she wasnít coping well socially through the last year, talked to her class teachers but they didnít have or didnít tell comments in particular. So, I thought to give it some time and see how it goes, maybe sheíll figure out her own way with people. Well, itís not happening! I totally feel my daughter suffering like I never felt her so. Please help and advice.
From: Cecelia, Canada (no city given)
Girls this age can be very clique-y and downright mean to each other. There's even a name for it: The Mean & Nasties. It's all about the developmental need to gain approval from peers: Each girl is so afraid of being on the outs herself that she is willing to exclude others to make sure she's not the one being excluded. It's not necessarily rational to us but lecting your daughter or giving her advice isn't going to help. She can't hear you.
Validate her feelings: When she walks in the door from school and tearfully tells you a story of somebody being mean, don't jump all over her with solutions and questions about what she could do next time. Instead, offer empathy: "It makes you feel really rotten when you're not included, huh?" Comments like that will make her feel you are an ally instead of a critic. She also needs time to process what happened in peace. Give her the room she needs. And why are you encouraging her to keep trying to be friends with girls who have already made it clear they aren't interested? Help her to consider other girls for possible friendships. These girls may not be the "cool" ones, but so what?
Help her look for new friendship possibilities, esp from the extracurriculars where girls are likely to have the same interests. Ask the teacher/coach to recommend another child in the group who has similar interests/sensitivities and might be receptive to an overture.
Don't bad mouth the girls who are mean to her. At this age, friendships can turn on a dime. You don't want to be in the position of saying today, "She's not worthy of being your friend," only to find out tomorrow that they are now best friends. Instead, use these incidents as teachable moments to talk about what friendship in general. For instance, what are the qualities you value in your friendships? What do you look for when you make a new friend? What friends did you have at her age?
Alert the teacher if there's an actual instance of victimization, whether it's on the playground or on line, also called cyber-bullying. Most schools take this very seriously.
Lastly, examine how much of this unhappiness is hers and how much is yours. These kinds of situations can push all kinds of buttons for us as parents, especially if it replays something unhappy from our own childhood. I loved the story in The Globe by Beth Teitell the other day about the differences between American and French parents. We have a tendency on this side of the pond to take our children's day-to-day issues too much to heart.
I'm not saying you shouldn't be sensitive to her unhappiness, but, on a scale of 1 to 10, where does it fall? If it's interfering with her ability to function (eat, sleep, do homework), that's serious. If it comes and goes pretty quickly? Not so much. If it's the former, maybe it's time to examine if there's something about her that is quirky or off-putting to peers. Does she need help reading social cues? Authors Charlene Giannetti & Margaret Sagarese examine these issues in their wonderful book, "Cliques, 8 steps to help your child survive the social jungle." I'm guessing you'd find it helpful.