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Child Caring

Should she invite the mean girl to her birthday party?

Hi.
My daughter is in third grade and has been having friendship issues. She goes to a private school where the classes are small and the girls are together for 12 years. My daughter has had one friend that she spends most of her time with at school. The friend has started to bully her by ignoring her, hissing at her when she approaches, and saying they were never friends. They have been friends and inseparable for 3 years.

I have coached my daughter and dried her tears. My daughter is turning 9 and is inviting 10 girls from school to sleep over. She is not inviting the friend who has been bullying her. She fears that she will ruin her birthday. However, she worries that the friend will hold a grudge and bully her more.

What advice should I give her. I have shown empathy for 3 months, however, it's decision time!
Thanks for your help.

From: Steve, Charlotte, NC


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Dear Steve,

Girls can be terribly cruel. Believe it or not, it's mostly fueled by the need to fit in. As powerful as this other girl may seem to your daughter, her behavior is likely motivated by her need to gain approval from peers, which can take the form of excluding others as a way to make sure she is not excluded herself.

I'm glad you say you have "shown empathy" but let's make sure we're on the same page because empathy -- not pity -- is what your daughter needs. What I mean by empathy is validating her feelings: "This is so awful, to lose your friend like this. It must make you feel so sad/hurt/angry." "She's hissing at you! That's so awful! You would never do that to someone, even if you didn't like a person any more!" Validating her feelings is another way of saying: Give her permission to wallow in her feelings and to know that her judgement was spot on. Kids need that, especially the wallowing part, before they can move to the next step, which is problem-solving. '

So now you're at problem-solving. I decided to call the straightest-talking parenting expert I know to pick her brain on this one, Adele Faber. She and Elaine Mazleish are co authors of the book I once dubbed the Parenting Bible, "How to talk so your kids will listen and listen so your kids will talk," which has a new edition.

Faber suggests voicing and then granting your daughter her wish in fantasy: "Wouldn't it be nice if you could say to her, 'I donít want you at my party!' But of course, you would never do anything like that, because you are a caring person. So what do we do! This is a problem. So letís take the problem-solving route. What about writing her a letter?"

Here's the letter Faber would help her compose:

"Dear Betsy,

"I need your help.

"Here's the problem: I plan to invite ten girls to a sleepover party for my birthday. I know you haven't been feeling friendly toward me lately, so now I'm wondering if you would even care about receiving an invitation from me.

"On the other hand, if I misjudged, and you would like to come, I would feel terrible if I hurt your feelings by not including you. I would never want to do that to you.

"So please, think about it, and check the box that's right for you:

/ / Count me in.
/ / Count me out.

Best,
Amy"

I love the idea. The letter is a way for your daughter to feel good about herself and a way to give "Betsy" a graceful way out. It's also teaching a non-confrontational way to resolve conflict.

PS. Does the school know this is going on? Let them know exactly what is happening if you haven't already. Most independent schools do a good job of teaching about social competency but small schools with a finite number of students can pose problems. Meanwhile, here's some suggested reading: "Cliques," by Charlene C. Giannetti and Margaret Sagarese; "Best Friends, Worst Enemies, understanding the social lives of children" by Michael Thompson.


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