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Ask the Experts

The Girls' Clique Snubs My Daughter

By Dr. Stacie Bunning, clinical psychologist

Question:

My daughter complains that some girls do not play with her or do not let her participate in their games. I spoke to the teacher, and she said that there are two girls in class who, like to play together and decide who will play with them.

My daughter is very social and plays with all the children, but I don't want her to feel intimidated and sad when these girls push her away. Sometimes she says: "They didn't want to play with me so I played by myself because I like to play by myself."

I don't know what to do and what to say. I suggested that she play with other children if these girls are mean to her and tell them that she doesn't like the way they treat her.

They are just 5. Do they have cliques at this age? Could you please give me advice of what is the best way to deal with this situation?

Answer:

Although most adults can easily call to mind the cliques in their high schools (classifications such as nerds, jocks, burnouts and preps), it can come as a shock to learn that even as early as preschool and kindergarten, certain children are favored as playmates by their peers. When children begin to pair off to play, others may feel left out. Feeling excluded is an occasional experience for most children, and depending upon how it is handled, most children come through unscathed.

To succeed socially, children should be able to get along with peers, express their needs, share with others and play well in a group or alone. It sounds as if your daughter is well equipped in all of these ways. As you mentioned, she is social and is quite capable of playing with other children or simply entertaining herself.

You might want to consider arranging a few after-school or weekend play dates with some of her classmates, however, to boost her social skills and help her develop new friendships.

Finally, be careful not to project your own feelings onto your little girl. You may be much more bothered by this situation than she is. Avoid inadvertently reinforcing her complaints by asking her about the situation every day. Children quickly learn that whining and complaining get a parent's attention, so they will often come home with a litany of complaints just to get that feeling of concerned attention. Instead of focusing on the negatives, ask her to tell you two positive/good things that happened at school that day. Soon, this will become a habit and she will be less apt to focus on the negative.


Dr. Stacie Bunning is a licensed clinical psychologist in the St. Louis area. She has worked with children, adolescents, and their families in a variety of clinical settings for 20 years. Bunning also teaches courses in child psychology, adolescent psychology, and human development at Maryville University in St. Louis.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

08/31/2011:
"I have my 7 year old daughter in 2nd grade she is a good kid overall but has a problem keeping her friends she makes them easily but then something happens. From the point of view of her Mom myself she seems to almost always want to be the leader or sometimes has a problem sharing and when the other little girls ignore her or say things to hurt her feelings she lashes out sometimes mean sometimes just get very upset. She says she just wants to have one friend she can play with. I see it as when the other kids at school or at home watch her demeanor at times with me not listening or misbehaving towards me or her behavior with other kids they stay away from her or are not prone to playing with her. Don't get me wrong I see how sweet she is with the younger kids and how she plays well with older kids teenage girls or even 11 or so. She can be so kind to me and is a very huggy can kind of girl tells me she loves me all the time but at times it seems she does not know how smart a! nd funny and outstanding she is. I sometimes wonder if she has some insecurities about herself or how much I love her and how awesome she really is. Help "
12/30/2010:
"My daughter has some problems with cliques at her school and I don't know what to do!!!!!!!!!!!"
04/29/2009:
"This is so typical. Yes, they have cliques at 5! Mine was left out too; for good reason; she was way too kind and smart! So don't feel bad. She will find her way. Most of the moms I know feel just like you do; they just don't admit it. We all show up for every event and worry when our child isn't the center of attention and surrounded by others; it's an up and down process but they do find their way. If she finds a friend or two make sure you get to know their moms and have the kids over to play with yours. It's an effort but necessary in the 'playdate age' and encourage some friendships with neighborhood kids outside of school so that she has someone to play with at home. The ups and downs seem to even out by the 2nd grade and for some by 3rd. Hang in there;-)"
06/18/2007:
"My daughter began Summer camp for the first time, and is engaged in the same 5-year old situation ... what a wonderful response ... THANKS!"
06/18/2007:
"This could not have come at a better time. My daughter (same age) has been experiencing this same issue at school. The 2 girls that play together and tend to exclude her are twin sisters. They form a 'club' of other 'yellow or blond straight-hair girls'. My daughter has wavy, brown hair which everyone else in other situations absolutely rave about. Thankfully, she is a very social and outgoing child who is able to play well with others or entertain herself. I do worry about these twins in the upcoming years at school. They seem 'mean-spirited' to me."
06/12/2007:
"I have been a primary teacher for 10 years, the last 2 spent in kindergarten. I had several girls who formed clique pairs this year, and the twosomes rotated day to day and sometimes recess to recess. The children who dealt with it best had parents who dealt with it best: they didn't make a big deal of it, and they taught their children skills for being independent. The students who became very hurt each day as they felt the ebb and flow of their 'popularity' were those whose parents were overly concerned with the problem, and even tried to intervene on their child's behalf. The other children eventually became attracted to those students who were social, but didn't 'need' the other students to have fun."
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