This week my 9 year old daughter came home from school crying two days in a row. Before that, we had noticed big mood shifts at home and we were wondering what was going on.
This year, she is at a new school. Her group of four friends is down to three. You’ve probably heard the saying about “three girls” and how that never works out. Most of the year, two of the three have been fighting and my daughter felt in the middle. We counselled her to try and encourage peace, while not getting directly involved. She tried to play with both. I thought, well, it could be worse! It got worse…
Well, this week the two other friends are getting along great, but excluded my daughter for a couple of days. She ended up opening up to me about it and asked for advice. I swallowed my own emotional response and clicked into the rational side of my brain. What would I do if a student approached me with this problem?
I encouraged her to:
1) Try speaking to the girls directly from the heart. Talk about your feelings and use those “I” messages so that they don’t feel defensive. Speak calmly, don’t yell.
2) Admit that you need to compromise and work on some things too.
3) Talk about the pattern. They are in this pattern of 2 vs. 1 and that has to change. All of these girls are great kids and they are stronger together. They need to learn to resolve conflicts before getting into the 2 vs. 1 pattern.
4) Talk to her teachers. If you try these things out on your own and they don’t work, you do have supports through the day. You don’t have to “hold it in” until you get home. Tell your teacher what you have tried on your own.
And well, it worked! She tried talking to the girls on her own. It was not received well. She did end up seeking the help of a teacher and that teacher listened well, empathized and was going to talk to all three. But by the time that happened, it had been resolved by the girls. Heart felt apologies had been made and they were moving on. The teacher gave my daughter a high-five for working it out on their own.
I really appreciate the teacher for listening. I thanked her when I saw her yesterday in the hall of the school. She told me how well my daughter expressed herself. It was a proud moment.
And I’ll admit as a parent, I sought out some advice.
I read a few articles.
One on encouraging your daughter to be an “includer”. You can find it here.
Another on strategies to help your child deal with “exclusion” here.
And if you don’t have time to check them out for yourself, here is what I gleamed from them:
1) Don’t put your own experiences on your daughter. Could I ever empathize with her! It brought back all those feelings of loneliness during conflicts and hurt. You have to get those in check and focus.
2) Listen and figure out if your daughter just wants to “vent” or if she wants “advice”. Determine this at the beginning. You want to be someone that she can talk to.
3) Let your daughter try solving the problem on her own. I definitely had an urge to contact parents right away or talk to the teacher or admin. But in this case, I decided to let my daughter try and solve it on her own first. These are valuable skills. It’s empowering. But all this being said, there are times where it is appropriate to contact the school immediately. This, in my judgement was not one of those times.
4) Don’t just blame the other kids. It would be easy. And, their behaviour towards my daughter was not cool. But by listening to my daughter, without interrupting, she was able to figure out how she was feeling and also what behaviours she also needs to change. Kids, including our own, are not perfect. They make mistakes. They need to learn from them without being too hard on themselves. Remember that the truth often lies somewhere between your child’s perception and the other kids’ perception of a situation.
5) Encourage your daughter to forgive and move on. Don’t hold grudges. Kids need to learn that a conflict does not always have to be the end of a friendship.
6) Help her cast a wider net. This is a next step for me. How can I help her develop some friendships outside of these so that it’s not the end of the world when this stuff happens?
7) Make sure she also stands up for herself. Teach her how to empower herself so that she is not always in a “victim” role. What choices could she make differently? My daughter asserted that she was not going to continue “begging” the other two to play with her.
I am not so naive to think that this has all been solved overnight. I know it will resurface. I also know that my daughter now knows how it feels to be the one left out. I am hopeful it means she will have more empathy and will work to keep her group of three together and will help in breaking the pattern of two against one. It will help her be an “includer”.
I think that groups of three can work.
My daughter and I are a lot alike, so I also thought she might want some reading material of her own. My daughters have some other books in the same series, but “American Girl” has a book series that is really great and appeals to kids:
This series has other books on bullying, puberty, feelings, sisterhood etc. My girls really enjoy reading them.
I had a laugh too at one of our early conversations. My daughter was explaining the problem and actually used computer coding as a metaphor. She said it’s like she has a plan for how things are going to go, like a computer program, but the program is not working as planned. There is a bug in the system and the program won’t work. She said she has to figure out the block that’s not working so that the program runs smoothly again.
I thought that was kind of neat. I know these social issues will get more complex, just like programs do. And there will undoubtedly be more debugging…
What other advice would you give me, my daughter or others? Please let me know in the comments below.