Help! My Child Has a Tag-Along Friend
By Dr. Virginia Shiller, Family Psychologist
My first-grade daughter saw a boy in her class that didn't have any friends. She was nice to this boy and now he follows
her around everywhere. When he follows her she feels like she can't meet up with her other friends because they tend not to want to be around this particular boy.
They are not being mean; it is just that this boy is normally in trouble due to his behavior. She doesn't want to ask him to stop following her because she doesn't want to hurt his feelings. She has tried saying she has plans to meet her other friends, which works until the next time he sees her.
I am concerned that this is hindering her friendships with the other children and that she may be looked at as a troublemaker if she is around this boy.
Ideally, you can find a balance between promoting your daughter's social adjustment and supporting her most commendable instinct to be kind to a child who is lonely. It may be helpful to consider both what may help her maintain her social standing with friends, and how she can keep her friends while extending a helping hand to this troubled boy.
Try coaching your daughter in preparing lines to address this issue with her friends. You can make suggestions, but encourage her to choose the approach that she thinks will work best. Perhaps she might say "I want to play with you, but Christopher follows me around a lot. It's not nice to be mean and I don't want to hurt his feelings, but I do want to be with you. How about if we let him play with us sometimes, but other times tell him our game is for girls only?" If the other children object mildly, your daughter could respond "Yes, but it's not nice to be mean."
The fact is neutral "players" like your daughter can be an extraordinarily helpful buffer between children who are picked on and excluded, and those who are inclined to be aggressive or thoughtless. You might speak with the teacher about this issue, and ask if there's any way she can support this message in the classroom. If a classroom environment is created that supports the notion that it's not cool to be mean, your daughter will have an easier time.
You might also support your daughter's valued friendships by doing things such as finding opportunities to invite other children over for play dates or by sending to school cupcakes for all classmates on her birthday (assuming this is allowed). Ideally, your daughter will be able to maintain both her friendships and her inclination to be empathetic towards others.
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.