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My Daughter Is Being Excluded

By Dr. Stacie Bunning, clinical psychologist

Question:

My daughter is in the second grade and is having problems with some girls at the school excluding her from playing with them. It seems to be one girl, who gets other girls to do what she says. I have talked to the teacher several times about this and she says it is best if the girls work it out themselves. I don't think that it is working out so well, and I have tried yet again to talk to the teacher about this and she replies, "Maybe they don't want to play with her!" I think that is very unprofessional and I feel bad for my daughter when she comes home crying almost everyday.

She is a very smart girl and they like her when they need help reading or doing their math, but when it comes time to play on the play ground they exclude her. How can I help my daughter cope with these girls at school, and make her feel good about herself again? I thought by talking to the teacher this would help, but I was very wrong and now I feel my daughter's pain. How do I go about talking to my daughter and what advice do I give her?

Answer:

You were absolutely right to speak to your daughter's teacher about your concerns; after all, she is the one who spends the better part of each day with your child and therefore is in the best position to observe the dynamics among her students. Unfortunately, you didn't get a very helpful response. If I were you, I would dig a little deeper. Is the problem occurring just at recess, or in other less-structured situations, as well? For example, is your daughter able to enjoy socializing at the lunch table? Is she invited to birthday parties? Does she have play dates? Is she involved in social/group activities outside of school? If you answered "no" to most or all of these questions, then you might want to talk with a licensed professional counselor or psychologist about social skills training for your little girl. A few educational sessions about making friends and interacting with others might benefit her tremendously. Also, consider signing her up for a team sport (such as soccer) or a group (such as Girl Scouts) of other children her age outside of school.

If the problems occur exclusively during the school day (that is, she has plenty of social opportunities outside of school, including group activities and play dates), then a talk with the school counselor or even the principal is in order. You have tried twice to address the issue with your daughter's teacher, to no avail. It's time to move up the ladder and take the matter to an administrator. Most schools have strict regulations against bullying of any kind - physical or psychological - and if your daughter is being deliberately singled out for exclusion or rejection, she is being bullied; something needs to be done. Arm yourself with information by finding out what the policy against bullying is at your daughter's school.

Finally, be sure to monitor your own emotional reactions. Although you are understandably pained by your daughter's heartbreak, try not to dwell on it or allow her to dwell on it. Of course, children love attention (of any kind), and your daughter may have figured out that when she feels sad about being left out at school, it brings Mommy closer, which feels really good. Then you end up with a difficult-to-break cycle of complaining/crying, nurturing/reassuring. If you suspect this might be the case, gradually shorten these conversations and redirect your daughter's focus to talking about two or three positive things that happened at school that day.

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.