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Ask the Experts

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.

Dr. Virginia Shiller is a Connecticut-based child and family psychologist, lecturer at The Yale Child Study Center and author of Rewards for Kids! Ready-to-Use Charts & Activities for Positive Parenting.


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 readers

"Excellent feedback. My first grader had a similar experience, except he was the child being excluded. Not because he was looked upon as a trouble maker, quite the opposite in fact. My son is very passive, (not withstanding the fact that at 6 years old he is 4'5' and 80 lbs) and would usually react to any criticism from the other children by crying. He started a new school this year, and his shyness combined with all the other changes from going to a new school was totally overwhelming for him. What I found helpful was a call from one of the parents of a more 'sensitive' child who had expressed concern to her mother about how 'rude' (her word) the other children were being to my son. We conspired! We met our children for lunch at the school one day, and we 'visited' with the entire class at lunch. We bought cupcakes for dessert and we communicated with each of the 'adversarial' children individually. Nothing confrontational, we actually went out of our way to just si! ngle them out for special attention. Having us there also relaxed my son more and he was able to actually 'talk' to the other kids with a bit less anxiety over what their reaction would be. We did this on 2 occasions - on Fridays. Over the next week or so, my son would come home extremely excited about the 'new friends' he had made in his class. Not everyone wanted to be his friend even now of course, but many of the kids now thought he was 'ok' (especially the girls) and that his mom was very nice and funny! I welcomed the call from the caring parent. Although my son's teacher and I had had discussions about his unhappiness in being able to make friends, the schools approach is generally not to get involved, and to let the kids work out their friendships over the school year. However this 'conspiracy approach' worked wonders for my son, not only by freeing up his only friend so she could enjoy the company of others without him always 'hanging' around, but also allow! ing the other kids to see just how 'ok' my son could be when h! e is not overly anxious about making friends. Hope this helps! "