10-year-old feels left out

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  February 27, 2012 06:00 AM

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[This letter has been condensed. Ed]
Hi Barbara,

I have a 10 year old daughter, Leen. She’s my only child. Sometimes, I feel she’s so happy about herself, telling me that she’s popular, smart and all kids in her school tend to ask her questions and help with their projects and presentations. Other times, she’s down and almost in tears until I ask her what’s wrong, and surprisingly she answers me that:

1. She feels lonely and left out at school.

2. She doesn’t 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 aren’t. 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 don’t show interest and make her feel invisible! The popular group’s answer is always no whenever she asks them to hangout, or …

3. She tends to participate in games, extracurricular activities in the recess time because she doesn’t have friends.

4. At Leen’s 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: “It’s perfectly okay that you don’t have a card for me. ... It’s really not nice to hurt others feelings by letting them know that you’re having a party and he/ she is not invited.”

Those are some stories from the top of my head. I don’t 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 wasn’t coping well socially through the last year, talked to her class teachers but they didn’t have or didn’t tell comments in particular. So, I thought to give it some time and see how it goes, maybe she’ll figure out her own way with people. Well, it’s not happening! I totally feel my daughter suffering like I never felt her so. Please help and advice.

Thanks,
From: Cecelia, Canada (no city given)

Dear Cecelia,

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.

Instead:

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.


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6 comments so far...
  1. In view of many experiences, the following actions by the parent would be suitable:

    Go to the school at recess time and watch from across the street to see if there is any pattern of avoidance or clustering. If so, go back and take pictures on different days (taking pictures of your own child is legal...)

    Address the matter with the teacher at parent conference time, including that you bring with you a letter outlining the facts that both the parent and daughter observe and how many time this keeps happening.

    Follow up the letter to the teacher with a meeting with the teacher and principal, to make sure they get the message that this hostile antisocial behavior by some students towards other students will not be accepted.

    Dewar LW: this happens many times to the smartest kids in the class. See if your child can be accelerated or receive other extra tutoring to get her into another class.

    Shunning is an overt form of bullying. I'm surprised that any "expert" think otherwise.

    Posted by Irene February 27, 12 02:55 PM
  1. Irene, you can't make people be your friends. Taking pictures of your own kid may be legal, but if it got round that mom was taking photos at recess for purpose of tracking social behaviors then Leene wouldn't be invited to any parties until college.

    Leene only needs one friend. I'd make another to call to the teacher to see if there is someone with whom a friendship could encouraged. Is it possible that in her efforts to be part of the cool/popular groups she is overlooking other friendship possibilities? Until then, I would encourage her to bring a book or a craft for recess and play up the games/extracurriculars at recess. If the school is taking the time to organize these activities then there must be more than one child who is not part of the popular/cool groups.

    She'll likely find some kindred spirits at an outside-of-school art class or drama club.

    Posted by PatD February 27, 12 05:12 PM
  1. I agree with PatD. Irene's advice is just crazy. You would probably get spoken to by the police for stalking the playground and snapping pictures.

    Posted by Dad February 27, 12 09:34 PM
  1. Something similar was happening in my son's class of 8 & 9 year olds. One of the beautiful things about our private, small school (see my comment on the post regarding public vs. private school - I hope the LW asking THAT question sees this comment!) is how much the staff cares and wants to work with you to make sure the kids are getting what they need.

    Our school psychologist ended up doing some work with the girls out of the classroom. They played some games that were really team-building exercises in disguise. She got to observe the behavior patterns in the group and the girls had no idea they were being evaluated. The classroom teacher did something with the boys simultaneously and they all had such a good time, they had no idea they had been given a team-building/ice breaker type exercise. Next, they went to assigned seats at lunch, which they are rotating frequently. Not all the kids love this, but the ones who were feeling a little on the fringe are really being given an opportunity to mix it up. Lastly, the class is deciding as a group (based on a list they generated with the teacher in a brainstorming session) on a game before they go to lunch & recess. Not everyone plays, but everyone CAN play if they want. I am a lunch parent every other Tuesday and get to observe what happens on the playground. It has made me so happy to see the entire class playing a game together, laughing and having a good time.

    These three tactics have helped tremendously. I know my son likes the changes and feels it gives him a chance to talk with different kids, both boys and girls, all the time. In the end, of course, the kids will do what they want to do, but as we are a Catholic school, kindness, empathy, and caring are not only being taught in the classroom, but the kids are being shown by example how to try to be a team. I am really happy with the school's overall response to some inquiries made by parents regarding the social climate in the classroom. Perhaps suggestions like these would be more constructive in a meeting with the teacher than taking pictures and making demands in a letter.

    Posted by RH February 28, 12 07:41 AM
  1. I have to echo what the other two commenters above said. Taking pictures of your own child is legal however, taking pictures of all of the children to find "evidence of clustering" is not - not without the parents' permission. Not only is this not legal, it's also a sure-fire way to ensure that any child whose parent engages in such activity is shunned completely, both by her peers and their parents.

    If I saw someone standing across the street and taking pictures of the playground where my child was playing, you better believe I'd either a) talk directoly to them and request they stop or b) if that fails, call the police.

    Posted by Phe February 28, 12 08:01 AM
  1. Those of you who think I'm crazy have clearly never been bullied or shunned at school.

    It is the parent's obligation to verify her daughter's complaints about recess by observing at a distance before she goes to the school with a grievance. She can decide to take pictures IF there is a good reason to do so.

    It helps to have some hard evidence when you do go to a school with reports of bullying. That has the effect of cutting out the school's ability to deny or to cover up by pretending to contact the other parent(s) without any effect on the bullying. If the school hears a denial from the reported bully, it takes EVIDENCE to show them a legal reason to pursue the matter.

    And in case none of you has been aware, cellphone that help to catch child molesters who hang out in public places like school yards and playgrounds.

    Posted by Irene April 19, 12 12:35 PM
 
6 comments so far...
  1. In view of many experiences, the following actions by the parent would be suitable:

    Go to the school at recess time and watch from across the street to see if there is any pattern of avoidance or clustering. If so, go back and take pictures on different days (taking pictures of your own child is legal...)

    Address the matter with the teacher at parent conference time, including that you bring with you a letter outlining the facts that both the parent and daughter observe and how many time this keeps happening.

    Follow up the letter to the teacher with a meeting with the teacher and principal, to make sure they get the message that this hostile antisocial behavior by some students towards other students will not be accepted.

    Dewar LW: this happens many times to the smartest kids in the class. See if your child can be accelerated or receive other extra tutoring to get her into another class.

    Shunning is an overt form of bullying. I'm surprised that any "expert" think otherwise.

    Posted by Irene February 27, 12 02:55 PM
  1. Irene, you can't make people be your friends. Taking pictures of your own kid may be legal, but if it got round that mom was taking photos at recess for purpose of tracking social behaviors then Leene wouldn't be invited to any parties until college.

    Leene only needs one friend. I'd make another to call to the teacher to see if there is someone with whom a friendship could encouraged. Is it possible that in her efforts to be part of the cool/popular groups she is overlooking other friendship possibilities? Until then, I would encourage her to bring a book or a craft for recess and play up the games/extracurriculars at recess. If the school is taking the time to organize these activities then there must be more than one child who is not part of the popular/cool groups.

    She'll likely find some kindred spirits at an outside-of-school art class or drama club.

    Posted by PatD February 27, 12 05:12 PM
  1. I agree with PatD. Irene's advice is just crazy. You would probably get spoken to by the police for stalking the playground and snapping pictures.

    Posted by Dad February 27, 12 09:34 PM
  1. Something similar was happening in my son's class of 8 & 9 year olds. One of the beautiful things about our private, small school (see my comment on the post regarding public vs. private school - I hope the LW asking THAT question sees this comment!) is how much the staff cares and wants to work with you to make sure the kids are getting what they need.

    Our school psychologist ended up doing some work with the girls out of the classroom. They played some games that were really team-building exercises in disguise. She got to observe the behavior patterns in the group and the girls had no idea they were being evaluated. The classroom teacher did something with the boys simultaneously and they all had such a good time, they had no idea they had been given a team-building/ice breaker type exercise. Next, they went to assigned seats at lunch, which they are rotating frequently. Not all the kids love this, but the ones who were feeling a little on the fringe are really being given an opportunity to mix it up. Lastly, the class is deciding as a group (based on a list they generated with the teacher in a brainstorming session) on a game before they go to lunch & recess. Not everyone plays, but everyone CAN play if they want. I am a lunch parent every other Tuesday and get to observe what happens on the playground. It has made me so happy to see the entire class playing a game together, laughing and having a good time.

    These three tactics have helped tremendously. I know my son likes the changes and feels it gives him a chance to talk with different kids, both boys and girls, all the time. In the end, of course, the kids will do what they want to do, but as we are a Catholic school, kindness, empathy, and caring are not only being taught in the classroom, but the kids are being shown by example how to try to be a team. I am really happy with the school's overall response to some inquiries made by parents regarding the social climate in the classroom. Perhaps suggestions like these would be more constructive in a meeting with the teacher than taking pictures and making demands in a letter.

    Posted by RH February 28, 12 07:41 AM
  1. I have to echo what the other two commenters above said. Taking pictures of your own child is legal however, taking pictures of all of the children to find "evidence of clustering" is not - not without the parents' permission. Not only is this not legal, it's also a sure-fire way to ensure that any child whose parent engages in such activity is shunned completely, both by her peers and their parents.

    If I saw someone standing across the street and taking pictures of the playground where my child was playing, you better believe I'd either a) talk directoly to them and request they stop or b) if that fails, call the police.

    Posted by Phe February 28, 12 08:01 AM
  1. Those of you who think I'm crazy have clearly never been bullied or shunned at school.

    It is the parent's obligation to verify her daughter's complaints about recess by observing at a distance before she goes to the school with a grievance. She can decide to take pictures IF there is a good reason to do so.

    It helps to have some hard evidence when you do go to a school with reports of bullying. That has the effect of cutting out the school's ability to deny or to cover up by pretending to contact the other parent(s) without any effect on the bullying. If the school hears a denial from the reported bully, it takes EVIDENCE to show them a legal reason to pursue the matter.

    And in case none of you has been aware, cellphone that help to catch child molesters who hang out in public places like school yards and playgrounds.

    Posted by Irene April 19, 12 12:35 PM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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