My nine-year-old daughter is caring, loving and friendly and tries to socialise with all the girls in her class at school instead of choosing just one or two good friends. Lately, we’ve noticed she’s been upset and eventually she broke down and told us that the girls at school were being mean to her and wouldn’t let her join in their games. I spoke to the school before the holidays and they assured me they would look into it in the new school year, but how can I help her now?
This is an issue that every parent dreads, because knowing that your child is suffering while they’re away from your sphere of care and influence is absolute agony.
One of the most important things to do for your daughter is to reassure her that this is not her fault. She sounds like a wonderfully sociable young girl, but of course this kind of experience will probably have knocked her confidence and forced her to question why she is being shunned. If you haven’t already done so, it’s vital that you gently draw out from her, in the relaxed and supportive environment of your home, exactly which girls are involved and then share this information with the school when she returns for the new school year.
It’s also important to help her work out whether these are one-off incidents of playground unkindness and spite, or whether this is systematic bullying. If it’s the latter, then it’s crucial that you work with the school to monitor the situation with the aim of putting an end to it.
Once you’ve established what is going on, work with your daughter to come up with a plan of what to do if the situation arises again. Draw up a list of key people within the school in whom she can confide, and share that list with her teacher. Also, help her to identify girls in her class who are not involved and with whom she could forge stronger bonds. If she does have a few girls in mind that she feels may be potential friends, then now could be the perfect time to arrange play dates with them too.
Beyond this, one of the most important things you can do as a parent is to help her to rebuild her confidence. Setting her up to achieve success in areas where she has talent will help to reinforce the fact that she has a great deal to offer.
Getting her involved at a sports club, say, or another socially focused group will give her the chance to interact with a wider range of children outside of school and allow her to form friendships based on a different set of criteria away from the pressures of the playground.
Finally, staying vigilant and keeping those lines of communication open is really important. Try to set aside time to chat to her about her day and her successes. Ask open-ended questions that will allow her to confide in you if she is upset. This way you can monitor the situation from day to day and step in should you need to.