School-aged Kids: Cliques & Ostracism

Parent Q&A

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  • Hi Parents.

    We live in Berkeley.

    My daughter is in first grade at a private school in Oakland.  We love the school and it was great for our first daughter.  However, we are finding that the classroom vibe changes year to year depending on who is in the class.  And her first grade classroom (as was her K classroom) is a particularly difficult deal of cards.  Few girls live near us.  None of the other families of girls seem to want to get the girls together for playdates or other opportunities to build friendships.  And worse, there are actually some mean girls, who have made things worse.  Our girl is exceptionally well socialized in that she is kind, follows rules, does not have off-putting behaviors.  And seriously, this is not just coming from her mama.  Other adults who observe her behavior around other kids are just wowed at what a dear sweet child she is.  And she is funny.  And she is creative.  She has got it all going on, yet doesn't have a single friend in her class.  Meaning a single friend she can play with outside school.  So my question is - do you have a first grade girl in a classroom that is a great social environment?  A school with parents who want to get the kids together and are active and involved in their kids lives.  Public or private, I'm open.  I'd like to know.  Thanks!

    We’ve just started our kid in kindergarten at Emerson in Berkeley and one of the striking things about the school is the priority on community connections— coffee on the schoolyard on Fridays, an equity group, schoolwide events (walk-a-thons, read-a-thons) and that community feel has made for a pretty great social experience (as in be as involved/not as you’d like) that seems to also be in place with the kids (in our experience at least!).  

    In case it’s helpful, our daughter’s first grade class also went through a “mean girls” phase last year.  Now the drama seems to be a distant memory.  They are really just learning how to navigate friendships at this age, and it’s our job as parents and teachers to help them.  A new school may help, but so may time.

    I am so sorry that things aren’t feeling good for your daughter - it’s so heartbreaking to watch our little ones go through these struggles. Sounds like you’re looking for a warm and welcoming and creative place for your daughter to really settle into...I have a first grade daughter (and 3rd grade son) at Aurora - a small progressive school in Upper Rockridge - and it is just such a place. Both of my children have felt so welcomed and nurtured there - by their teachers, their friends, the other families, the administrators! It is a really lovely school that focuses a lot on building community. The whole school (K-5) gets together every Tuesday for assembly (parents welcome), where we sing, sometimes meditate, make announcements - it’s so fun to watch the kids lead the songs (when they feel ready), make announcements about the school or the world. It’s a small school - 100 kids in 5 grades - which helps facilitate friendships across grades  and which also really creates a feeling of community among the parents. Play dates and camping trips and shared after school activities are all actively pursued by most parents (and kids). I can’t speak highly enough about it. My children (and my husband and I) have been really happy at Aurora - it’s a wonderful place! Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.


    An Aurora Mama to a happy first grade girl and third grade boy

    My twin daughters and their dad and his siblings all attended Berkeley’s School of the Madeleine. My husband and his class of ‘68 still have reunions. Our daughters enjoyed 9 years there from K thru 8. The school’s motto is “be good to one another—pass it on!”  The current principal attended, his children are also attending and his wife teaches. Mostly very lovely folks send their kids there and it was a great experience for all of us. Check it out. 

    When you say she doesn't have a friend she can play with outside of class... does she have friends *in* class? Kids she eats with, and plays with at recess? How does she feel about the social element of this class? Your message has a lot about what you want, and what you think should be happening. Are you managing your own expectations around school social life in a way that respects her experience? Maybe she has plenty of friends in class, but the other families are busy after work and on weekends. That doesn't mean she's having a negative experience in class. [Of course, perhaps she is, but I can only go on what you wrote.] 

    I can definitely empathize. My own daughter is awesome (IMHO) and well-liked by adults, but as far as I can tell, she only has two friends. She never wants to invite anyone else over, and she never gets invited anywhere else. Those two families never reciprocate, but they keep accepting our invites, so I guess their kids like our kid well enough. We average 1 or 2 playdates per month. It's heartbreaking for me, but the challenge is not to project what I think her social life should be like onto her. She's totally fine with it as is. The last thing I want is to signal to her that she shouldn't be happy with her life. If *she* starts telling me she doesn't have enough friends, I'll be all in to support new friendships. Until then, I'm working on accepting that my daughter may not be a social butterfly, and letting her fill her time with the kinds of solitary activities she loves to do (art, writing stories, making up songs, etc.)

    I highly recommend The Berkeley School on University Ave (formerly the Berkeley Montessori School). We’ve been there since my daughter was in kindergarten, she’s now in 2nd grade. The teachers are magical and stress full social and emotional growth alongside academics. As a result the children are amazingly empathetic, creative, and curious. My daughter loves her teachers and when I ask her who her friends in class are, she responds “all my classmates are friends.” We’ve also built a great social network with fellow parents of her friends. I routinely get support from fellow mothers, often rely on them for pick-ups, schedule play dates and even group camping trips. If you’re looking to enter into a full community of teachers, students, and their families, I highly recommend the school!

  • Besting Bullying on Team

    (1 reply)

    Kiddo, 13, is in an individual sport, in a team environment -- track and field, gymnastics, swimming.  The team gets a score but really it's an individual sport.  You and Kiddo cheer on everybody on their personal successes in training and competition, regardless of placement.  Kiddo is dedicated and does well, usually with the top performers.  At practice, everyone is focused on training and while there's some socializing, exclusion is hard to do, but when it's, e.g., picture day, the other kids clump together and exclude Kiddo.  When it is team spirit week and the huge group goes to, e.g., bowling, Kiddo is left out of the lanes of age mates and takes on the role of big kid to the littles in another lane, likewise on "twins day" is left to make a triplet with a younger set.  Head is held high, small attempts are made to banter with group, and patience is used in hopes that there will be a welcome to the group chatter.  On picture day, the circle eventually opened and welcomed Kiddo, but only after the exclusionary point was made.  Any advice for Kiddo breaking in?  The coaches are great for coaching the sport, but aren't trained in social connections; I'd be afraid they would botch any "fix" and clearly team spirit week wasn't a bonding situation. The parents are not much warmer than their kids so there's not an easy entrée there for a friendly discussion.  I don't think Kiddo is broken as Kiddo easily makes new friends with kids in other environments and has deep friendships elsewhere.  It is heartbreaking to watch and heartbreaking for Kiddo as many hours are spent pursuing fun in the sport with these teammates, but the team feeling is lacking.  Kiddo doesn't need team to be best buddy but less excluding and more inclusiveness would be heartening.

    It's them, not you.  You don't have much power in this situation and at that age, so if it stops being fun, I would stop swimming or switch clubs if possible.  It is the coaches too--we had one coach who was warm and friendly, but then she left for another club, and it wasn't as fun after that.  Team culture comes from the top, in my opinion.

  • I have a 10-year old daughter and is in a public school in an affluent city. She had 2 BFFs last few years but felt excluded by both of them so she left them and try to make new friends this year. She tries to maintain friendship with these 2 ex-BFFs and asking for playdates outside of school on one-to-one basis but these 2 girls seem to 'gang' up and reject the playdate invites and of course she's hurt. They had made untrue and unsupported comments about my daughter to other girls. I made the mistake of clarifying the situation to one of the parent and now that parent had also turned against me. I know it is best to allow kids to deal with the issues themselves but I was just trying to explain to the mom the 'untrue' comments about my child but I was told by the parent that 'she trusts her own child'.

    My daughter is kind to her friends and not aggressive in nature, but this seems to make her a target to bullies? There's a classmate she tried to befriend with, had playdates, brought that friend to movies, dinners, sleepovers, did activities together. This friend found another good friend in the last week and now seems to gang up with this other friend against my daughter - they would call her names, took items (pencils) from her without her knowing (but she saw her took stuff from her desk and gave it to her 'other' best friend), and then this girl gave out birthday party favors to her class, she gave my daughter the 'ugliest' item and said to her 'You deserved this'.

    Unfortunately I don't belong to any parent cliques and wonder if this is affecting my daughter's relationship in school. With each event (e.g. halloween, school activity, etc) I scramble around unsuccessfully to ask for other girls for her to do the activity with because most girls already have their own 'cliques' to do things with.

    I don't know if this is a public school behavior, and wonder if a private school with smaller groups will help create healthier relationships/friendships? I am just surprised that such girl drama already starting to exist in 10-year olds. I always think girl drama start during teenage years.

    What is your experience with school girl drama, and how do you manage them? I know this is a great learning experience for my daughter, but it just pains me to see why she's the victim of such treatment by other girls of the same age?

    I am so sorry you have to deal with this!! I don't know what city you live in, but I would ask the school what they think. I would also ask to have dinner with the parents and the girls to talk about it. I do not think that girls being bullies to eachother is a nessesary learning experience that they can sort out themselves.
    As far as not having a parent click, I guarantee you that there are other odd woman out moms who feel the same way and you should find them. Everyone seems to think everyone else has it together except them, and I know this just isn't true! Everyone is trying to figure it out.

    The only way to avoid the "Mean Girls" syndrome is to have her at a school that won't tolerate it, which, unfortunately, won't be a public school. (They just don't have the resources to handle it.) Certainly it's one way of thinking that parents should stay out of it, unless you see patterns with your daughter that repeat in all social situations, in which case there's something she's doing that's inciting the others' behavior.

    But. I was a "new kid" in many schools -- we moved a lot -- and my role in those schools often morphed, depending on the demographics, the moon, the tides, whatever -- sometimes I was popular, sometimes a nerd.

    I think parents who think their kid should just "lump it" when they are suffering are insensitive. Sometimes your kid is just swimming with the wrong school of fish.

    Only you can make the distinction as to whether the esteem of these girls is worth fighting for. It might not be.

    Why do you want your daughter to be friends with them?

    Use the experience to talk about feelings, compassion, fairness. Volunteer with her in hospitals, shelters. Talk with her. Good friends don't need to look good or be cool. Let her understand the difference between being accepted and valuing integrity. Find friends outside that place.

    I wish you both the very best.

    Things wouldn't be better in a smaller school. Believe me---they would only be worse. We had my daughter in a small private school, and it was a nightmare when the other girls displayed cliquish behavior, because there weren't other girls around to hang out with as an alternative. 

    I do not mean to suggest that this is in any way your daughters fault, but it sounds like she broke up with her best friends yet still expects to be friends with them? I don't really see how that is possible. That would require a level of meta cognition that they are just not capable of. One thing I've been working on with my daughter is to break away from this concept of the BFF. I've been trying to teach her that it's not a useful vocabulary because we have lots of different parts to is and we can't expect or even want one person to be the right match for all the different parts of us at all times.

    i know that this is painful for both of you, and I'm sorry!

    So very sorry your daughter is experiencing this.  Unfortunately, it is apparently normal behavior & not restricted to public schools.  My daughter had this problem with a fine local private middle school.  It was heartbreaking.  middle school is the time for this.  It was all over by the time she made it to Berkeley High. The middle school faculty was fairly oblivious to the problem.  I wish your daughter well.  Speaking with her primary teacher is how I would proceed.

    My 9 year old had a covert bully off/on all last year. This was in spite if the fact she is in a smal private school that really works with kids to be inclusive and kind with each other. I can only imagine what public school might be like.

    That said, I did nothing to engage the other kid's parents. Alerted the teacher, had a couple of conference and it blew up at the end of school. My kid is actually well-liked and usually very socially skilled, but so ingrained in the "catn't say you can't play" model that she had no skills for standing up for herself and setting clear and effective boundaries.

    This year, my and the other kid have a decent alliance. What happened? The biggest thing I did was load my kid up with every "American Girl " book that deals with friendship, drama, assertiveness, rumors, etc.. five books total, I believe. Had my kid read them and we talked about it when she brought it up. Very helpful. Second was we shored up extracurricular and church involvement. Other parents have also focused on the girls makeuing church friends, and there have been three bday parties there and multiple play dates out of that. She is also joining a swim team and drama group as well. She did tennis too, and some nice connections came out of that.

    In sum, we did three things: exposed her to a new and better skill set for dealing with that crap-effectively "bully proofed" her. Then we got her to focus on building a sense of mastery in a variety of activities that gave her self-confidence, widened her horizons. And third, she had made such a variety of friends in various areas of her life that she quit caring about what the covert bully was doing or not doing. That combined with skills from the American Girl books totally neutralized the bully. Now last year's bully jockeys to be friends with my daughter and my kid simply quit caring one way or the other.

    I urge you to step out of the drama and work on the bully proofing strategy first. I say this because if you use the term victim to describe your kid, you will only disempower her and make her feel even more helpless.  Expand her horizons into the community so she can feel a part of things and learn to blow off the pettiness. It really does work.

    Only if all of this is done and the bullying intensifies should you go to the teachers or school. The code of silence amongst kids runs deep. Unless it gets really out of hand it is usually better to work to improve your daughter's life, outlook and skillset. Once learned she will carry it with her forever.

    Best of luck! Feel free to email me if you like.

    I think she needs to find friends outside of school. Maybe in the neighborhood, in dance class, or art class or chess class. She needs something going on in her life in addition to school. 

    Elementary school is such a small pool of friends.  I saw this happen to my daughter in 4th grade (30 years ago).  She went on to have the best group of supportive friends from College and doesn't remember way back when...but I do.  I think joining an after school group such as Berkeley Girls softball, or ballet class, horseback riding, etc. opens up the pool of possible friends and takes off the pressure of class.  We even had friends from other schools as previous friends went to private schools before coming back to BHS.  Good luck.  Your daughter will survive.

    Oh gosh, please don't blame this on public school. Our public school has a very strong social-emotional curriculum and any adult at the school would shut this behavior down.  I'm not saying the kids are all angels to one another, but they know what's unacceptable.  When kids step out of line (rarely happens!), the adults know just how to handle it.  I don't have any advice about how your daughter should handle things, but I'm sorry she's having to endure mean girls.

    For dealing with any kind of bullying, I always recommend Kid Power. 

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Mean girls damaging other students

Dec 2010

A gaggle of mean girls in a small school with clueless teachers, clueless counselors, and ''too-busy'' administrators are damaging other students' sense of self worth.

The nastiness these competitive girls spew-out ranges from (#1) a never-ending stream of ''[What I have is better than what you have],'' no matter what object is being discussed to (#10) frequently making-up really-creative lies that another student was ''caught'' doing something ''wrong,'' which, of course, the mean girls repeat over and over again until all the students in this small school ''know'' that the target of the mean girls' most-recent campaign is ''bad''. An ever-changing variety of nastinesses fill numbers #2 through #9 on the mean girls' #1 to #10 scale of nastinesses.

It seems these mean girls really dedicated to see which of them can be meaner and more destructive than the other mean girls. When these frequent attacks on the well-being of other students have been brought to attention of teachers, ''counselors'', and administrators, the responses have been:
''Well, [mean girl] was only saying how proud she is of herself.''
''She says things like that because she's immature.''
''She's only in [kindergarten / first / second / third] grade; she'll grow out of it.''
''It's a competitive world we live in.''

Do these teachers, ''counselors'', and administrators not realize what damages these nastinesses cause the victims of these on-going attacks ? Our family has complained to teachers, ''counselors'', and administrators of this small private school, but, to date, nothing has been done to STOP the nastiness . . . nor has ANYTHING been done to help to heal the substantial damages done to these MEAN GIRLS' victims.

Please, other than ''Take your kid out of this expensive private school'', is there something we can do ?

Mean girls and mean boys for that matter shouldn't be allowed to continue their bullying. That's what it is. Adults can help the most when they realize that bullies and those that are bullied suffer from the same inability to express themselves. Bullies are insecure and the only way for them to feel good is to make someone else feel bad. That's sad. Bullies are often bullied in later years. Those that are bullied often bully themselves. It's a real problem, but there are also ways to help.

I wouldn't let the school go on ignoring the issue and they should come up with a plan to help the students learn how to socialize appropriately.

I teach 5th grade and have had bullying problems in my class that I wasn't equipped to handle until I started teaching an anti bullying program called Steps to Respect. It is amazing what the program can do to help empower students. It teaches skills that can last a lifetime. The 4th-5th program that I teach starts by teaching students how to make friends, then covers bullying and how to address the issue, it also talks about face to face bullying and behind the back bulling (something mean girls are very fond of). It covers why people bully and is very upfront about people who bully being insecure. It really makes the students who are doing the bullying look weak and shows it as an undesirable behavior. There are parent letters, videos, skits, role plays and games in the 12 week program.

If your daughter is old enough, I'd read The Skin I'm In By Sharon Flake to her. If she isn't old enough, I'd read it as a reminder of what it is like to be a young girl and save it for when she is ready.

I wish that every school taught the Steps to Respect program. We'd have a better country if they did. You should bring a plan to the school so that they can more easily implement the program. There is plenty on information on the detrimental effects of bullying online. Mean Girls have killed students and the issue shouldn't be ignored.

I'd be happy to talk to you about setting up a plan. k.

You can try to talk to your child yourself, or find her a therapist. The other process would seem to be to go to the Board of Directors of your school, or to the other parents, but honestly I'm not sure that they would take it seriously--one would think the administration/teachers are a fair indicator of the Board.

I don't think mean words have to damage the recipient of the mean words. Kids say mean things a lot. We would talk about how X was saying mean things because his parents were splitting up and he was living in crummier housing than before, and just to try to ignore his comments. Or about how Y would criticize in PE if anyone makes a mistake because he's bad at sports. Our school has rules -- no namecalling for example, which you can report to a teacher, but mean comments happen a lot -- ''that joke's not funny'', ''you made our team lose'', ''that looks like a girl's lunch box'', etc.

It might be more helpful to simply schedule a talk with the teacher and the head of school together and ask them what comments should be reported/addressed, and when/to whom. You should try to have respectful communication with the administration/teachers. If your child is affected, tell them how (crying at night? etc) and ask them what you can do to improve things. Maybe increased social opportunities-- I do believe sports teams (or other things like scouting, tennis class etc) reduce the bullying factor. Good luck. anon

I'm not sure what you or your child are getting out of this school, but I think you answered your own question: ''Take your child out of this expensive private school.'' This would be bad enough, and equally unacceptable, if this were your local public school, but to pay money to subject your child to this kind of an atmosphere is beyond my comprehension. Even if you got this particular group of children to stop their behavior (and I'm not sure how you could single-handedly do that), the values of the adults in the school seem destined to support other behaviors that could be harmful for your child and others. I'd take my money and run! Concerned public school educator

dear parents,

im so sad to know that this stuff goes on at ''expensive private schools'' as well as my kid's more-than-decent public school which is large, diverse, and fortunately has taken a very hard line against this sort of crap at ANY age/grade. Her specific teacher was missing it until i brought to her attention and, with her watchful guidance, as well as my support of my daughter and her own resourcefulness (she actually went up to the poisonous little ringleader in front of her band of sheep and said,'' look, we don't have to be friends, but you DO have to treat me respectfully, and if you don't i'm going to my parents and our teacher EVERY SINGLE TIME.'' ) things have simmered down. I wrote earlier this year about it and found this venue to be kind and supportive; I'm trying to be the same for you, but if you have the resources for private school and the administration is so unsupportive and clueless why would your family stay there when there are so many better options??? proud of my daugher and her school


My daughter was in a very similar position at one time. We ended up moving from her public school to a private one, but I know you asked for other options. Here are suggestions:

1) A friend told me that she did this at her daughter's private school in fourth grade when bullying was getting bad and that it did help somewhat. She started a book club/discussion book with all the moms of daughters in the class using a related book (suggestions: Simmons: Odd girl out: The hidden culture of aggression in girls or Wiseman: Queen Bees & Wannabes: Helping your daughter survive cliques, gossip, boyfriends, and other realities of adolescence.) The group can be a way to honestly discuss their daughter's behavior in a collaborative (not confrontational) way and try and get some parental support to change bullying behavior from home. It can be somewhat tricky depending on how the moms react, but it is potentially helpful too.

2) Here's a website that discusses the Twemlow program, which it seems is supported by evidence as being helpful in reducing bullying: I personally think if peers or bystanders can learn to speak up it's a better solution than if teachers/counselors step in because the mean girls will often just get sneakier about how they hurt your daughter. I let the teacher handle things as she advised me and it wasn't enough. Things just got worse for my daughter.

3) Keep on the administration to do something. I think esp. the counselor should act! That is why she is getting paid and she should do what she can to make the situation better.

Well best of luck... I hope things get better! Christina

You have been incredibly proactive and advocated for your child and others with teachers, counselors and administrators, yet they have done nothing. I was in your shoes, and I was not even that proactive. I think that your assumption that they are clueless is misguided, however, because, from my work as a teacher, I know that teachers know about all of this usually long before parents.

If they are doing nothing, they are like many small private schools (not all) around. Some private schools are incredibly passive about this kind of thing, maybe not wanting to alienate the parents of the mean girls. I understand that you don't want to move your child as it is unfair to the victim, I felt the same way. Yet I know parents who stuck it out for 4 and five years, but it became too awful, and they had to move anyway, and have their child suffer the effects of all of that time.

You probably don't want your child to lose out all other benefits that this school has to offer. However, based on our experience, I would beg you to switch to a larger public school immediately. Our child's reading and math skills soared when we finally switched to a public school. All the enrichment opportunities are available in some form. The public school is big enough and has such diversity, that while kids can bicker with one another, there has been nothing like those mean girl groups that gang up on individuals. She feels safe and secure, and that has made a huge difference in her academic achievement.

You know, when the last teacher I spoke with about this at the private school suggested that parents have to ''drop off their kid and let go,'' it finally hit me that I was the one driving her to this school everyday. In other words, it wasn't the clueless teachers, clueless counselors or clueless administrators who were responsible for her suffering, it was ME. I was the one delivering her directly to these mean girls, without me they wouldn't have the opportunity. She has been happy from the first moment at her new school, and I only regret not doing it sooner. Find a good math tutor, though, because from what I have heard, almost every kid coming from private school needs one to catch up. Best wishes from one who has been there

Sadly, there is nothing else you can do. Why do you pay money to put your daughter in such a destructive place? anon

I suggest checking out the workshops that Kid Power offeres for kids, as well as kids and their parents. They do self defense stuff, but also workshops on teasing and bullying and how to build self confidence. I took one of their workshops for adults and it was amazing. anon

Bullying is such a challenging issue. And for many of us parents who were bullied as children it brings up deep-rooted pain. I urge you to check out the materials and classes at Kidpower ( ) . They have had some great recent items on bullying. I noted a book on bullying is on their home page now. The Kidpower classes are great for teaching kids how to deal with bullying and keep their self-esteem. Kidpwer also teaches classes in schools, if they are invited in. Perhaps you could suggest this to your school. An important thing to try to keep in mind, is that the bullies in your child's classroom are children, too. They may be annoying and not acting as we would like them to, but they are children. They could use some skill and awareness building and hopefully the whole class and school will benefit. But these children can learn and can change. Don't bully them, as you work to keep them from bullying others. Toning down your voice and word choice may allow others to hear you better, and may be more likely to result in getting your child's needs met. Check this blog out: All the Best

Mean 6-year-old girls

Aug 2010

I'd like feedback from parents of 6-year old girls. After two years at her private school, my daughter seems to be being shunned or treated badly by many of the other girls. My daughter is somewhat shy and high-strung, and can have difficulties sharing, etc. but generally is typical in behavior, interests and appearance. Her kindergarten teachers last year told me she was sweet, respectful and behaved appropriately with peers.

Last year, however, she didn't make any friends, despite her strong desire to do so. I invited several girls over for playdates, which seemed to go well, but were never reciprocated. The response to her birthday party invitations was lukewarm, and she was only invited to a few birthdays last year.

Throughout the year, my daughter sometimes said she didn't have friends, or anyone to eat or play with. She also said other girls made mean comments to her like, ''Stop following me!'' and ''You're a crybaby!'' However, whenever I spoke to her teachers, they told me she was doing fine with her classmates, albeit with the normal ups and downs.

During this summer, except for one birthday party invitation, my daughter has not received any invitations for playdates, or contact with her classmates, other than the few initiated by me. At the birthday party, it looked like my daugther was being actively ignored, and was spoken to harshly by her classmates, when she was spoken to at all.

I've talked to some other parents about the social interactions and behavior of the lower-grade girls at this school. My observations are that the teachers/staff intervene appropriately to resolve conflicts, but perhaps there is more going on than what I've observed.

I'd appreciate hearing from other parents about their daughters' social experiences at this age. Is it common for girls this age to exclude/be mean to other girls? If so, is it a function of the school atmosphere, or just the nature of girls this age? (If we were to change schools, is it likely the same thing will happen since my daughter, obviously, will be the same person?)

Any ideas of what I/the school could do to help my daugther? If we stay at this school, can we hope it will get better in later years, or do the girls become even more cliquish?

Thanks very much for any responses. Worried Mom

Hi, I've been through the exact same thing. My daughter is now starting 3rd grade. We actually switched to public school, where there seems to be a greater variety in ''types'' of children as well as many more children, and my daughter has found a nice group of girls. Definitely a different vibe than in private school. And with the money we save we travel, buy books and take lots of great classes and camps.

One thing: the teachers don't really know what goes on at lunch because most do not eat with the students. Lunch can be the hardest time of day for kids that tend to be excluded. Definitely keep in touch with the teacher, and maybe suggest that kids eat in groups. I volunteered constantly in the classroom so the teachers got to know me. I went through the same birthday party situation as you did: sent out lots of invitations, received lukewarm responses or no response at all and we rarely received invitations to other parties.

I want to say that it will get better, but unfortunately it did not for us. The ''queen bee'' girls were just too powerful and the exclusion became difficult for me to watch. The girls even did it right in front of me on the field trip, telling my daugher ''we don't need you here'' and ''this group is full'' and ''this seat is saved'' even though seat saving was not allowed (but also not enforced).

Can you try to find something that your daughter is really good at and encourage it? We found that dance class worked wonders for my daughter's confidence, and we made friends through the classes.

We also really like the classes at the Lawrence Hall of Science and made friends there. Camp Galileo in Lafayette was also good for quiet girls. The counselors were great (lots of enthusiastic, smart but unemployed college grads). Karen

My suggestion is not for your daughter, but for you. Get her out of that private school! One of the problems with many private schools is that they tend to be rather small, and your daughter will be forced to be with these same children throughout her years in school. Also, having worked in numerous public and private schools, I have found that most public schools have excellent anti-bullying programs that begin in kindergarten, while many private schools only introduce such programs after a problem arises. The fact that this behavior your daughter describes is allowed to happen is outrageous, and would not be tolerated in any public school that I have seen.

Our son was also feeling left out in his private school, not invited to parties, and so on. We took him out and put him in our rather ho-hum public school, thinking it was a huge sacrifice for him to make, and guess what? He thrived, had loads of friends, and had exciting and engaging teachers! What a difference!

My advice? Visit your local public school and consider giving your daughter a chance to succeed in school, because at the end of the day, if it is not working socially for her, it is not working. Made the switch and am happy

Hi there- I could have written a very similiar post a few years back. We ultimately decided to change to our local public school so our daughter would be in a ''bigger pond'', as the private school only had one class per grade. We are so thankful we made the switch- not only for social reasons, but academic ones too. In the beginning, she missed the old school, but now as a 10 year old, she has asked more than once why she didn't get to start at her current school as a kindergartener. She loves it. Of course, there are still social issues, but nothing out of the ordinary. The main thing that pushed us to make the move was that it wasn't getting much better (she started crying in her bed at night in the middle of first grade about the girls being mean), and we weren't getting any help on the matter- we were hearing much the same thing you were from her teachers. I wish you the best of luck- it's a really tough situation, and there is never one right answer in this type of situation. Please do know that making the move can change things for the better, as it definitely did for our daughter and family. fellow mom

My daughter will be in first grade in a week. What I observed in her kinder class (public school in Berkeley) is that girls this age can indeed be mean and exclusive. My daughter was in the middle, neither extremely popular nor ignored, but there were girls who wanted everyone to ignore and not play with a certain girl in their class. As a parent, I made it clear to my daughter that she is not let other people tell her who she can like or should dislike. The girl was never really invited to parties or playdates, but I also didn't see that it affected her all that much. I can guarantee that the teacher knew nothing about it. I'm sorry your daughter is going through this. I honestly don't think a change in atmosphere will help - I think you as her parent just need to work on her self-esteem so that she knows she is loved and that there isn't anything wrong with her. Anon

I'm so sorry for your daughter. First of all, some of the things you describe (the name calling) are very troubling. The problems with play dates may be less so. Lack of reciprocation or low interest in a party may be due primarily to logistical problems. Maybe the girls you invited have mothers who work or are girls with sibs who are busy after school and it is hard for the parents to set up a play date at their homes.

I am the mom of an 8-year-old girl going into 3rd grade. From my experience and the experience of others with same-age girls, I do think there is some relational aggression (excluding, talking behind backs, saying mean things) among children this age. But a) 6 is pretty young for it to be happening, and b) I DO think that the school environment can make a big difference in terms of condoning or stopping this type of aggression. There is almost no relational aggression at my daughter's school, which is something I hear consistently from my daughter and from other mothers. This is in part because of the kind of kids who attend my daughter's school but is also because the teachers and staff would not tolerate it. They make a BIG deal about community building, being respectful, being inclusive. And it is more than talk. They really walk the walk and I think this is reflected in the children's relationships.

So, on the one hand I don't want you to panic because your child hasn't had a lot of play dates. On the other hand, I think it is quite possible that the teachers aren't really observing and managing the social interactions at school. Relational aggression is typically quite covert and hard for teachers to keep an eye on.

Regarding what to do: 1) do whatever you can to help your child cultivate friendships outside of school (Girls scouts, sports teams, neighborhood friends, etc.) and 2) Is there a psychologist at your daughter's school that you could talk to? and 3) If your daughter is being rejected by her peers, perhaps a social skills group would be a good idea. Liz

I have two kids, one girl going into 4th and one boy going into 2nd, and I have seen some downright nasty behavior from K and 1st grade girls. They may be in grade school but they are not too far from being toddlers. They can still be impulsive, selfish, obnoxious, insecure. Many still have a hard time being empathetic or reaching out to other classmates. When my daughter was in K, she was having the opposite problem, not being ignored but continually dominated and stalked by a very strong willed girl who used threats to get my daughter to do what she wanted. My daughter did so because she wanted to be nice and didn't tell the teachers because she thought it was bad to tell on someone. But my daughter was miserable and by the end of the year, finally broke down and told me everything. I asked the teacher and discovered a whole world I hadn't known about (because I work and never volunteered to be in the classroom.) I was floored. We only have 20 kids in a classroom, so that leaves only 9 other girls, not a big pool to choose from, if you ask me. But over the years, I helped my daughter nurture friendships with some nice girls and she had different kids in her classes, and made a wider network of friends. My advice to you would be the following:

A) to continue doing playdates, whether or not they're reciprocated. Kids don't always have the power to request playmates and may want/enjoy one with your daughter anyway. I think friendshipsth have a better chance when they're on on one and not while being herded at school. Do it because your daughter enjoys them. And do it now while the kids are still young and relatively open minded and unscheduled. It gets harder when the kids are older and have less flexible routines, opinions.

B) cultivate friendships elsewhere, either through sports, language music or a knitting class. There are so many wonderful people out there for your daughter to meet (while wAiting for her classmates to mature). My son only has ''two friends'' at school but met someone he likes at summer camp, so I got the mothers email address and hope to nurture that friendship..

C) see if you can volunteer or observe in the classroom to get an idea of exactly what's going on. Maybe you'll get an insight into how you can support your daughter more. Even the smallest clues can be a huge help. Or find a teacher whose judgment you trust and see if they will be honest with you about what's going on, get past the niceties.

D) not sure how much you nurtuRe friendships with the parents (moms) but that's another possible way to get to know what's going on. I got a lot of my info from one mom whose daughter told her everything. (and took it with a big grain of salt!)

E) what about befriending boys? There are some boy-girl friendships that work really well. Hope this helps. Meddling when necessary Mom

Mean girls at age 6? Wow. It must be just awful for your daughter. I have two daughters (ages 6 and 9) and neither encountered the mean girl issues you are describing. My 6-year-old is in 1st grade and the entire class seems to play together. There are definitely some kids she is closer to than others but all the kids play together at school and I do not see anyone being excluded; especially in the younger grades. This was also the case for my 9-year-old from K through 3rd grade though she did begin encountering some mean girl troubles in 4th grade. It's been unfortunate but the school has been tremendously responsive and tolerates NO physical or emotional bullying.

You may want to get an in-depth idea of what the teachers define as OK behavior. Maybe there is a ''kids will be kids'' attitude and they do not understand just how difficult it is for your daughter. Possibly more communication with the teachers will alert them to be more vigilant because this strikes me as a big problem.

Also, maybe you could get your daughter in other activities where she will find friends; soccer, dance, and art classes come to mind. She may not find a best friend but it will take her focus away from school friends.

You didn't mention if finding another school was an option. Maybe a smaller/larger venue would be more helpful or a school that stresses proper social interaction because (IMHO) your current school does not. anon

Hi Worried Mom, I would definitely talk to the principal, psycologist or any speacialist at the school right away. Girls can be very mean (and boys too!) and if there's a very negative leader between them she can be coaxing (sp?) the other girls into shutting your daughter out. Saying 'Stop following me' to anybody is not nice. The teachers need to study the girls closely and intervene. They can promote integration in the form of games and activities during recess, with partners or small groups. Some social skills activities. In many schools they have activities like these: lunch bunch, friendship club, etc... I hope this helps. Maria I

You are not alone! I made the exact same assumption, that if I moved my deeply unhappy daughter to another school, we would end up with a repetition of the same problem, and I have never been happier to be proven wrong! We moved her from a private school to a somewhat larger public school (3 classes per grade, instead of 2) mid-year, and it was a dream: happy girl, lots of new friends, totally different culture, great academics.

You say that your daughter is sweet, and that may be the problem, as the more cunning and strategic girls seemed to dominate the private kindergarten our daughter attended. The public kindergarten was virtually free of this behavior for what I think are a number of reasons: 1) the first is simply size, the larger social field takes lots of pressure off the girls 2) kids are sent to the principal's office all the time while the private school seemed afraid of curtailing mean girls in any way 3) there are many relaxed public school parents and it makes a difference.

Anyway, based on our experience, I would say to move her immediately. The public schools have got to take you, and it will most likely be a lot better. One warning: you may be surprised that your daughter is behind the other students! Our daughter attended an academically orientated private school, and was already far behind the public school students in math after less than a year. We left a huge amount of money behind, and it was the best money that we have ever spent. Good luck with your new school!

We had a similar issue with our son and daughter in a very established, very highly regarded private school. Our son was teased by the queen-bee girls in kindergarten because there was a small butterfly logo on his pants, and our daughter was teased because she could not say the letter /r/. In second grade, our daughter was told she could play at recess, but only if she played the role that was assigned to her by the more powerful girls. The entitlement that these girls AND their parents feel is profound.

Like the other parent who responded, when we made the switch to public, we found that our children were about a year behind their public school peers. However, they were accepted on the first day of school, and made to feel welcome and a part of the community (something that at the private school was simply rhetoric).

My biggest regret is that I did not remove my two children from private school sooner! Public school will give your daughter a much larger pool of friends to choose from, and she will feel much better about herself. Mom of two happy kids

Third grade girls mean? or am I overreacting?

June 2009

I want to check something out with the group and see if I am overreacting or if this is the beginning of ''Mean Girl'' exclusion.

My daughter is in third grade in a public elementary school. There is a group of four third grade girls, with one girl being more dominant, another being second in line and two others who ''hang out'' together. The girls do not play with anyone else.

When I was taking my daughter to school one morning we were talking to one of the girls (one of the hang out girls) before the others arrived at school about summer plans, laughing about camp, and flying alone on a plane. The dominate girl of the group arrived, grabbed the arm of her friend, pulled her away and both girls looked back several times, pointed and laughed. At first my daughter didn't react, then she pulled her knees to her chin.

Eventually another friend of my daughter came over and started to talk to us. By that time the other two girls joined the group and all four were looking over, pointing and laughing.

When I mentioned it to the teacher, she said it was just friends having fun and being with their group. I felt it was the beginning of the ''mean girls'' we have in fifth grade who taunt less popular girls and their parents.

I should also mention that this is a sensitive subject because several of the mothers of the group of girls give a lot of time and money to the school.

Opinions please. Sensitive Mom or Mean Girls or Combination?

I'd say that it is a combo. And I would have taken the teacher to task for such a blas response. The ''mean'' garbage seems to happen younger and younger and also affects boys. I think that line about ''normal developmental behavior'' is all well and good.... but not really! There is a lot grown-ups can do to correct kids' nastiness. That teacher, though perhaps well-meaning, sounds pretty checked out and lazy. Teach your daughter how to survive in that type of treatment (everyone has their own way: ignoring, reciprocated snarkiness, directness, etc.). Best of luck to you and her... and all of our kids! hating the blackboard jungle

You are NOT overreacting. The behavior you describe is not appropriate at any age and it is definately NOT acceptable. A ''normal, socially savvy, well-adjusted child'' should not be expected to weather the ''Bully Behavior'' you describe. What you describe is HUGE and should not be tolerated by any family, child or educator. An educator who condones such behavior should be reported to the Principal immediately. The children participating in the bullying should be reported and their families should be involved. If you are made to feel like you are blowing things out of proportion; do NOT back down. Take this to the School District Offices if nothing is done to correct the situation. Living through, fighting back, and changing the acceptance of Bullying and Hate is not an easy task.

Your child deserves to be in a safe environment that provides them with dignity and respect, and you deserve to know that they are in such an educational setting. If the Bullies are allowed to ''reign'' they are also being given the wrong message and will suffer. Stand up and say something and do not take NO for an answer and do not allow anyone to tell you your child is too sensitive and should toughen up.

I suggest the book ''Say Something'' by Peggy Moss for both you and your child. Been There & It's A Very Sad & Scary Place

The girls may have been ''mean'' but they are young and are also learning new territory in terms of friendship, etc. I understand what bullying is and how it can affect some kids in school, but something like this - well, your child is going to have to get used to the fact that some people are friendlier than others, that she may not get along with everyone, and that she should always keep her head high no matter what. I am confused by what many parents want to protect or shield their kids from nowadays.

When we were young - and I just turned 40 - there were ''school fights'' after school, nothing too serious but yes kids would ''call you down''. Then, the next day usually, everyone was back to being friends. It wasn't the best part of our lives but something that kids did and learned from (hopefully!). I know that nowadays fights can get more violent though this is not the norm. But, girls hanging out with their friends, not being sure how to react around others who are ''not'', laughing and seeming to laugh at you (when really they may not be), this is all something to just learn from. Talk with your daughter and teach her how to respect herself and how to hold her head up high; but you can't protect her from this. It will do her no good when she gets older and realizes there are a lot of ''mean'' people in the world.

And your assumption that they may be mean because they have more money - is that so wrong that the families have more money? Do you really think the families flaunt this and tell their children that they are better off than you? Probably not. Probably these families help support your school. Probably you are being too sensitive. there are things your kids have to learn to accept

Preschool cliques and ostracism

Jan 2009

I'm in an unsettling situation at my daughter's preschool. Unfortunately, my daughter really admires the queen bee of the school. I don't use this term indiscriminately--she truly is a 4-year-old excluding, snobby, snubbing mean girl. Examples of this child's behavior include telling my daughter that she isn't her friend (only the friend of two other children in the preschool) and she doesn't want to play with her; when my daughter goes to show her something cool, like her new tights, she rolls her eyes and says, ''so what??''; and she has barked at kids on the play structure and got her two friends to join in (the other two kids are actually sweet, but follow her every command) in an attempt to intimidate everyone. I wish my daughter didn't want to be her friend!!!

Complicating the scenario, I am on the board with the girl's parent and actually get along quite nicely with the parent, though we don't know one another well. This parent is generous with time and money at the school and is deservedly adored by the directors. Time and again, the senior director has glossed over this child's behavior.

I don't want to single out my daughter for even more exclusion. I have turned over the problem in my head, and I fear that any action I take will be met with weariness, or worse, defensiveness. After all, the adults in this child's life can't make her be friends with other children, right? Also adding to the problem, my child is shy and strong-willed all at once. We are working with her, but she can fly off the handle (she's 3) when something goes awry in her life. I own up to the fact that this behavior may have led to the exclusion, but it is just the mean-spirited attitude of this girl that is driving me nuts. Is there anything to be done? Odd Girl Out? Not on my watch!

Have you spoken with your child's teacher? That's where I would start the discussion. I don't think going to the Director, Board, or other parent will work as well. We had the experience of the teacher facilitating a friendship for our child with one child, and the teacher figuring it was useless to try with the other child. Just fyi, some schools have ''You can't say you can't play'', for example St Paul's. So every kid gets to play if they ask to play. I don't know if that policy is applied at any preschools--maybe the kids are too young. anonymous

Hi - just read your post about the ''queen bee'' girl at your daughter's school and, while I feel your pain (I have two kids who have survived preschool)...well, to put it bluntly, you're wrong. ''I don't want to be your friend'' is standard operating behavior in preschools. It's common. Believe it or not, your kid probably says it sometimes too. Comments about kids clothes are also common.

Here's my two cents (since you asked). First off, kids have all sorts of social behavior on the playground and what they report later on is usually Also, it's an important part of social development, that is, to learn to handle social situations. So let them be, or talk to her about how she could deal with her own feelings. Just as an aside, last year (much to my embarassment) I went to a teacher about one of these playground situations only to discover that the report I had gotten from my child was completely skewed. In fact, my child had been bothering a younger child for about 3 months (while reporting the opposite). Good luck anon

I have two teenagers, one daughter and one son. What you are describing will never stop, so you might want to focus less on your daughter being the victim and more on how you can help her cope. Mean people (esp girls) are everywhere and they grow up to (sometimes) be mean women. Tell your daughter that it is her choice to hang around the mean girl or not, but why would she want to when she ends up getting her feelings hurt over and over? Encourage play dates with nice girls from the preschool....good luck. realistic mom

Oh God. This is so sad. And not just for your daughter. How you're handling this is just really really sad. Let me guess, your daughter is in preschool so she can socialize, right? She needs to learn to be with other kids? Accomplished. The idea of throwing a bunch of little kids in the same room with few adults, so they can learn to ''socialize''?! Well, this is what you get. The fact that your preschool has boards says a lot too. If you want your three year old away from you all day to be around other kids, this is what will happen. What are you going to do about it? Start your own clique? Tell your 3 year old to start hers? Or is there a bigger picture here? Are there little little kids left up to their own resources all day? Give me a break, odd child out, not your kid. Or what did you say, not on your watch? Give me a break. On who's then? Would it be okay for anyone's kid, or is yours so special, it's not okay just for her? I'm sure she's special, don't get me wrong, but it sounds like you are really missing the point. This behavior is hurtful at 4 or 44. But getting sucked into the drama of it, is exactly the exposure these little girls get this behavior from. It's not about the other kid, or yours, really. Try talking to your kid about life, about mean people and nice people, and what she can do about it. If you going to throw her to the wolves at the age of 3, atleast give her some armor. fed up with soap operas

while this behavior is certainly irritating and hurtful to watch, it is also an important lesson for you and your daughter. not all kids are nice, for lots of reasons. we encountered this in kindergarden with our daughter, and used it to teach her an important life lesson. there are multiple options to someone else's bad behavior- walking away from it and meeting other people, being insightful about one's own actions and empathizing, etc. this will come up time and time again, and it's better to teach your child now that sometimes, kids are just rude. it isn't right, it isn't how you are raising your own daughter, but it happens. and while you could call her actions bossy, domineering, etc. there isn't probably anything you can do our should do about it other than working with your own child. been there, done that

I don't believe there are preschool cliques. I do believe that at times children say things that adults would take offense to. Your daughter likely sees this as simply not getting her way at that very moment, no more. Express your concerns with the teachers that are watching your daughter during the day and if they are doing their jobs, they will most certainly intervene if they deem it necessary. This is exactly why we send our children to preschool. So they can learn to navigate friendships, disappointments and happinesses apart from us. We cannot always expect our children to get their way or be the most popular in the social scheme of things. Sometimes kids are mean. Teachers at a respectable preschool will help the children manage through challenging times, independent of parental monetary donations. Good luck

I would speak directly to the child. I have, and it worked. There was a 5 year old who would come and play around our house with some other kids, and I heard her sing after another girl ''you're a freak''. I let her have it. I told her that it was NOT OK to treat anyone like that, that she needed to go and apologize immediately, and I would not tolerate her being mean to anyone. She got the message - probably a lot better than if it came from her mom or teacher. I think people are too reticent in disciplining other people's children - some of the most memorable lessons I learned as a child was from adults who were not my parents or teachers. I have NO problem stepping in at the play park and threatening rule breakers with a time out. It takes a villiage

My daughter was in a somewhat similar situation at preschool. It really pained her (and me) to be rejected by the queen bee girl and she did not have the social skills to really deal with it well. In hindsight, I realize that the situation was in large part caused by the structure of the preschool itself and the somewhat ''hands off'' attitude the teachers took. I realized this once I switched her to a different preschool and watched the teachers intervene in these kinds of situations so well and guide the kids so well socially that I really could say that nothing like that happened. Consider switching her to a different school or if that's just not possible, talking with the teachers more about it and also setting up playdates with other kids who are not involved in that social circle. Been there

I posted before about talking with the teacher. I wanted to add that I agree with the poster that said different schools have different styles and changing schools is an option. I have heard a preschool teacher say ''every child has to find her place in the classroom'', and another teacher say she would intervene because she felt both the ''queen bee'' child and the appeasing child would repeat the negative pattern/power-submission trip in kindergarten and beyond if someone did not break the cycle. Some parents like the first approach and some like the second. I think it is great when a preschool teacher tries to teach young kids how to interact in a respectful and kind way--or at least eliminate excessive barking at one's classmates. anonymous

Daughter's 6yo friend has exclusive clubs

Oct 2004

My daughters have a friend who likes to make clubs and exclude certain kids, usually boys and younger children. I have two daughters 6 and 4 who have best friends who are sisters ages 6 and 4. They live very close to us and we carpool to many activities and their mom and I trade childcare often. In other words these are valuable friendships for all of us. The problem is that my 6yo daughter's friend, let's call her Hanna, likes to make clubs and exclude other kids. Usually she and my daughter exclude their younger siblings. For a long time the exclusion was in theory only and the little kids didn't seem to care. But now my 4yo is very upset by it. She didn't want to sign Hanna's birthday card because ''she won't let me in the club'' . I talked to my older daughter about it and she agreed that it was unkind. She has tried on numerous occasions to convince Hanna that they should let the younger girls in the club, but Hanna says things like, they can be in YOUR club, but I'm going to make a club with Ashley and Michaela. We have a longstanding ''you can't say you can't play'' rule at our house, so I always step in and say ''You can play by yourself, or with everyone, or you can go home, it is your choice.'' She always gives in at this point, but the problem comes right up again the next time. And she is starting to exclude my older daughter now that she is sticking up for the littler kids. She'll say things like ''Michaela and I are going to have a my little pony slumber party at my house, but you can't come because you don't have any my little ponies.'' I have tried talking about how it hurts people's feelings, but it doesn't seem to make a dent. So, I'd like to get some books to read together of the ''How would you feel?'' variety. And maybe some team-building and cooperation activities to do with the kids. I would appreciate suggestions for books and activities and any other advice. By the way, the kids usually pair off and play, so it is not like the older kids are not getting enough one-on-one time. They get plenty.

Thanks! frustrated with exclusion

I would like to recommend ''How to Be a Friend: A Guide to Making Friends and Keeping Them'' by Marc Brown (of Arthur series and books). The book addresses a variety of issues and may be helpful to your situation. It is still one of my child's favorite books, especially after a bad day on the playground.

Have you mentioned this to the girl's parents? I live in a small apartment building with a total of six kids living in it. There is a common area for the kids to play. One of the neighbor girls plays the exclusion game too. The kids who say this is mean also get excluded. I think the girl who seems to need this power is actually sad about something and is using the ''game'' to mask it. My solution has been to tell her mom, in a nice way, because we are neighbors and we all need to get along. The mom's solution has been to tell the daughter that she must include everyone, or take turns for something like jump rope or catch, or go inside. LC

Kindergarten girls saying You can't play

Nov 2003

My daughter started K this year, and has at times come home saying children will tell her ''you can't play'' when she tries to join some game at recess etc. I don't think she is consistently being excluded, and I know she plays with different groups of kids, but being told she can't play seems to have such an impact on her that I want to help her figure out how to respond.

I know kids probably go through different groupings etc. throughout the year--I remember an acquaintance of mine telling me years ago when her daughter was in 1st grade, that girls are particularly prone to forming little subgroups and excluding others, and that they can also be fickle in that someone who is a favorite one week may be left out the next. I hope this hasn't already begun! Anyway, when my daughter tells me she was told she couldn't play, I have said stuff like ''well, they may just want to play with each other at that moment, you could try later'' but that seems so unsatisfying! From what she tells me, I think she reacts to their comment by either seeming sad or by giving some snappy retort, which may not help her in the long run! So, any advice in terms of what you're telling your children if this has come up for you? What could she say when she is in this situation, when some kids have told her she couldn't join in? anon

A really great book to read on this subject is Vivian Paleg's ''You Can't Say 'You Can't Play.''' It's a fast read and documents a year-long project in a kindergarten class around establishing this rule. Christine

Girls at that age can be VERY mean! My daughter had a more difficult time with peer issues in 1st and 2nd grade than she has now in junior high. In this highly academic world we often forget that chilren need to learn how to get along and how to treat each other respectfully. I used to work in a school in which the rule was, ''You can't say you can't play.'' There are many times when it is acceptable to limit the amount of people that are allowed to play in a certain game but recess is not one of those times. I would talk to the teacher and see if she would support implementing a rule like that. This kind of behavior is very hurtful to children and should be stopped. As the adults we need to give children guidelines as to what is and isn't acceptible behavior. If talking to the teacher doesn't help try starting a dialogue with other parents. Perhaps together you can come up with some solutions. I'm sure you are not the only parent to have heard these types of complaints. Even the person who does most of the excuding often feels excluded. Isn't that funny. Best of luck! Liza

I am responding to your post as both a parent and a pre-K teacher. My own two kids as well as the kids in my class have experienced this and our school, at least in the Pre-K-K area, has taken a pretty firm stance on this issue: when you are at school, ''You can't say you can't play.'' We spend lots of time talking about it, on the playground and in the classroom, and noting that it is different at school than at home. If a child wishes to join in a game/activity it is never okay to tell him/her ''no''. I have found that this really helps kids figure out how to get along with all sorts of people, and not remain in the same static groupings. Perhaps you could talk to your child's teacher about what is happening and find out if the school has a policy or specific language the kids can use? Melissa

In our household, we have always tried to teach our child that you can't exclude anyone from play. Unfortunately, I have found through our years in elementary school that not all parents and not all teachers support that concept. Some feel that kids should be able to play with whom they want. Others feel this is part of growing up. This is so especially around girls and you'll notice this issue will increase in later grades. Don't be disheartened - there are many teachers and parents who still subscribe to ''You can't say you can't play.'' The first step is to talk to your daughter's teacher and find out their observations and their policy. Most Kindergarten teachers I know still take this issue very seriously. Perhaps, its just been happening under the teacher's radar. Most importantly, don't let her know about any judgments or worries you might have about how she handles these situations -just be supportive and let her know you are listening. Do not let her think that you believe that she has done anything wrong. At this age - it's still a learning process. Good luck!!! Jeanne

Playmates ostracizing 8-year-old girl

Feb 2003

My 8-yr-old daughter has been complaining recently that nobody will play with her at recess. She says that she asks if she can play with one or more of her friends but the friends go and play with someone else. Apparently this happens often, even when my daughter has asked in advance, say, before school, if this friend will play with her later. My daughter says that several of her friends do this to her. She is pretty social but not very assertive and tends to hang at the end of the line, which gives me the idea that she may simply be arriving late when everyone is already busy, but she denies this. She doesn't want to talk to her friends about the problem, and I don't want to talk to her teacher until I'm sure that there really is a problem, but it has come up a couple of times. I'm willing to discuss the matter with her friends' parents to try to problem solve. Can anybody suggest ways to approach the subject with my child to come up with solutions, or things I might do to make it better? anon

I will be interested to read the comments on this one, as I dealt with a similar issue with my daughter's class at the beginning of this year. It's a class with just 7 girls and there are all sorts of dynamics and alliances going on between them, and one girl that was new and felt very left out. I've discovered the relationships seem to change week to week, if not day to day and it's hard to keep up. In the beginning all the mothers and the teacher got involved, but I think in retrospect it wasn't that helpful for us to do that, at least in this situation. I think the girls finally sorted it out on their own, although I believe all mothers made an effort to be more inclusive of all the girls in the class on afterschool playdates. You might make sure you daughter invites girls home for some one-on-one play time. Interestingly, all the other girls perceived the one who felt ''left out'' as having friends and not being left out. It became such a difficult situation that I did some reading about this age group and was surprised to find out that these kind of friendships issues/problems are common among eight year old girls. According to what I've read and the teachers at school, girls seems to go through changes in friendships and alliances at this age, much like they do at middle school...something else to look forward to! Patricia

There is an excellent book on the subject of girl bullying and ''silent treatments'' called ''Odd Girl Out'' by Rachel Simmons. It is a must have for parents of young girls. I found it riveting and couldn't put it down. There is plenty of practical advice as to what should schools do and what the role of parents should be as well as insights into the world of young girls. It came out pretty recently so should be available in local book stores and definitely on Amazon. Good Luck! Rebecca

I can't say I personally know how your daughter must feel, but having volunteered with children that age for several years I know how cruel kids can be. The last thing I would recommend, personally, is that you talk to the children's parents. Unless they are physically or emotionally damaging your child, there is really no need to get so many people involved. I think you really need to talk to your daughter and help her cope with the situation. You need to make her strong enough to deal with any situation that pops up in her life. Encourage her to participate in the school extra curricular activities or sports. Encourage her to invite a friend over for play time or suggest to one of the kids that they should hang out after school. There are many ways that you can find out what the real issue of why these other children refuse to play with your daughter without actually having to play referee. Just be on the side lines and continue to cheer her on. Mother too

As a teacher I am very aware of how cruel children can be to each other. I suggest you go to the school and volunteer for the day. This will help you understand the class room dynamics. In addition, I strongly advise you to speak to the teacher. The teacher may not even be aware this is going on or to what magnitude. Please do not be passive on this issue. Markel

9-year-old daughter is being shunned by her friends

Feb 2002

Wonder if anyone could refer me to a person, book, or group or could give me some insight as to how to handle this issue. I have a 9 yr.-old strong-willed girl who listens to her own drummer and used to have many girlfriends. Last year and this year her public school chose to put her in classes away (not intentionally) from her friends. Now her former girlfriends have become very clique-ish and tell other girls not to play with her. When I talked to her teacher and the school about it they haven't a clue what to do other than to acknowledge it and recognize that it's not uncommon since there are almost 2 boys for every girl at her school. The teachers seem to be clueless about how to handle social problems that don't involve physical violence or they claim they don't see. It's hard to listen to some of the things these girls are doing. Although she tries to be a trooper about the whole thing, I can tell it affects her self-esteem. Seems to me that girls at this age are starting to grow up but need to be able to recognize & express their feelings without excluding one another. I didn't expect girl cliques to happen until middle school. I don't know what my role is, if any.... do nothing?....just offer comfort to my daughter?... try to give insight?... talk to the parents of the other girls?... get the school to do something, but what????? Would love to hear suggestions from parents whose girls have experienced this (from either side of the clique) or have had success in dealing with these kind of issues through their school. Thanks!

If she cares about those girls, you might try including one or all of those girls in activities outside school so the thread of friendship can rebuild. If those girls aren't who she wants to be with now, I would encourage inviting other possible new friends to do things outside of school. Girls can be really brutal. It took my daughter most of one school year to figure out that the popular group was pushing her out. Then she was in limbo for a while but she quickly formed new friendships with a group of really nice girls who also weren't good enough for the clique. This new group has been solid and loyal friends all the way through high school. Barbara

Dear friend: My daughter had a similar experience last year, in the fourth grade, in a much-beloved local elementary school. She (and her friends) were shunned for practically the entire year, by a troubled little ringleader and the majority of those girls who wanted to be her satellites. Our classroom teacher was very good at controlling the atmosphere in the classroom, but no one could control lunchtime, recess, etc, and finally the ringleader (because of accompanying unacceptable behavior in the classroom) was removed from the school. The rest of the school year was blissful.

Long story short: the parents threatened to sue the school district, and the child was returned this fall to her old haunts. We learned about this the week before school started, and we were very lucky to find a more nurturing school, with a culture of kindness, and moved. The lesson learned was that some people in life will act in ways that hurt others, and we can try hard to change that, but failing those changes, we can also go where the abuse doesn't exist.

I don't know what it is about fourth grade. Boys seem to do their hierarchical sorting in ways that are much less cruel. You'd have to consult a room full of psychologists to get a good explanation for some of the girl behavior we've witnessed.

My heart goes out to you. It's a horrible thing to witness, and I suspect that the bullies are -- somewhere in their little lives -- just as miserable as they'd like to make their targets. Your daughter needs to find circles of friends elsewhere -- through activities she will enjoy, preferably. If you cannot instigate change at her school -- and I acknowledge, it's tough to do -- you might have to weigh whether you'd all be happier somewhere else.

Sign me -- another anonymous mom who's been there!

Mother of 9-year-old girl whose former girlfriends have become very clique-ish and were telling other girls not to play with her asked for advice/help. San Francisco Day School actually hosted a session last fall with a very brave expert who flew in right after September 11, and I'm told he had lots of good ideas (and has a couple of books). Don't know anything more than that, but it's a lead. Good luck.

How to handle girls and cliques,

5 years ago when my daughter was in 5th grade there was a real shift in the social spheres, and suddenly two factions were formed. Girls who used to be best friends became enemies and girls who used to be indifferent to one another became best friends, and the whole thing got really ugly. After some increasingly nasty exchanges, some of which were initiated by my daughter and some of which were aimed at my daughter I had had enough. I was teased mercilessly as a child and was not going to tolerate my daughter participating in this dynamic on either end of the meanness.

I phoned the mothers of the girls who were most involved and we set up a meeting at a cafe with us and the girls . We gave the girls an opportunity to voice their concerns and offer some solutions. And then we made it clear that no matter what their differences, none of us parents would tolerate cruel behavior. They didn't have to like each other but they could not continue with this teasing, excluding, etc. It had an immediate and long lasting effect. I can only imagine why it helped: hearing how their behavior had hurt others, knowing that we as parents were in communication, taking the wind out of the whole escalation, etc. Bottom line is that it did work and I would highly recommend it.

Several weeks ago there were letters asking how to deal with girls' middle school cliques and snubs. An article in this past Sunday's (2/24/02) New York Times Magazine section addresses this issue and describes a program aiming to deal with the problem. The article (which begins on page 24 of the magazine section) is by Margaret Talbot and is entitled, Girls Just Want to be Mean. It was eye-opening, especially in its discussion of how girls express their aggression not physically (although some do) but rather in complicated social/psychological battles with other girls.

The article also refers to several books to be published this spring: Rosalind Wiseman's Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends and other Realities of Adolescence; Rachel Simmon's Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls; Emily White's Fast Girls: Teenage Tribes and the Myth of the Slut and Phyllis Chesler's Woman's Inhumanity to Woman.

These should make fascinating reading! Frances

The NY Times Article on Girls is available online: Girls Just Want to be Mean

One may need to register, but it is free, at least for a short time. After a period of time, I think one needs to pay to retrieve articles. Sherry

10-year-old's sudden change in playmates

Jan 2002

I need advice about dealing with my 10 year-old, 5th grade daughter's sudden change in playmates. Until December, her friends had always been girls. In fact, she'd often complained about how disruptive boys were in class and boys, as a group, were scorned. In early December, she went to a sleepover with the 7 other girls with whom she's been friends for years and allegedly had a great time. But, the following week, she began playing exclusively with boys in her class. I asked whether anything happened with the girls at the sleepover and about the change in playmates (as they seem connected). My daughter (who has always been very athletic) says nothing happened and that she prefers to play 4-square with the boys because they don't change the rules. I talked to her teacher, who said that my daughter and her 3 friends are a group of like minds (e.g., they are bright, funny, like playing with Legos, are athletic, etc .) and that their relationship has nothing to do with the boy-girl thing. That soothed my concerns, somewhat, until my daughter came home last week and announced that the girls said she could no longer eat lunch with them because she plays with boys; she seemed ok about that, but I fear that she'll now be an outsider as the girls enter middle school.

Thus, my concerns are how to get my daughter to want to rejoin the girls and how to deal with typical adolescent girl behavior of cliques, exclusion, etc. Anonymous

About your concern that the girls said she could no longer eat lunch with them because she plays with boys... I fear that she'll now be an outsider as the girls enter middle school. Remember, middle school is different. Its just as likely that the girls will be pleased that she knows boys next year as that they will exclude her. If its not bothering her now, I'd stay out of it. Especially in Berkeley, we should get to play with the people we like playing with -- even if they're boys! Heather

Dear Anon, I remember my own childhood. There were times that I played with the girls, and there were times that I played with the boys. It depended upon the particular personalities and the activities I liked at the time. There is nothing inherently wrong with playing with the boys. It's the reaction of these girls that is bothersome, and, unfortunately, typical of some girls at that age. It was the summer between the 4th and 5th grades that, for some reason, many of the girls grow horns and a tail. They come back and form cliques, ostracize certain girls, send their lackeys out to do social harm, etc. It can get very ugly.

It does sound like something went on at the overnight, or perhaps, over a period of time, culminating at the overnight. Or not. Maybe you won't know. What you do not want to do here is to instill any idea in your daughter's head that her platonic play with the boys is for some reason, inherently not good, and that she should do something ingratiating to those girls so they'll include her in their pack. Why does she need friends like that? There is a bad lesson to be learned here. Your daughter is finding out what a friend is. Should she, then, shun the boys, even if she enjoys their company, and let the girls hold the key to all social acceptance for her? The girls may or may not come around. Eventually, of course, they will all grow up and make some sense of their behaviour, but they're not about to do it now. The teacher's description of the comraderie among your daughter and the boys sounds healthy. Why not encourage it, and take it in stride as a phase of development? It may be a good idea to legitimize the relationships by having your daughter invite the guys over for (supervised) play at your house. Get to know the parents. And if the ostracization of the girls intensifies, you're going to have to get to know the girls' parents as well. Have you talked it over with them yet? Suppose that you were to be successful in encouraging your daughter to ditch the boys who are treating her well, and successful in getting her to rejoin the girls who are treating her badly and telling her whom she may and may not like: aren't you teaching her to behave like those girls are behaving? Chances are, she will begin to look outside the clique of girls who have removed their friendship from her, and will find other girls, who have hearts and character. She will get a lot more from those friendships. And, who knows, maybe those boys have hearts and character! (By the way, by the time she gets to middle school, she won't be the outsider if she's playing with boys.) Tobie

re: ostracized girl that plays with boys As a tomboy (I've heard today's girls say sassy girl) myself, I liked competive physical games (kickball, tetherball, dodgeball), adventurous books, and only played non-traditionally with dolls (lost on an island), and preferred pants (much more practical). Many of the girls in 4/5th grade were/are into Barbies, frills, and starting intricate social games (which I didn't understand). Obviously, the boys were MUCH more interesting to me and eventually I found myself to be different from most of the girls (and ostracized). And yes, being different continued in middle school (though I didn't play with boys anymore) and I was ostracized even more. What I learned (and what I think you should help your daughter with) is that 1) learning to like and respect yourself as yourself is core to becoming a mature, responsible, grounded human being - changing who you are to fit in not only doesn't work, but you end up not liking yourself either; 2) I! F ! you're an outsider, NOTHING you can do will make you in the in group - if you try you'll just end up a lackey forced to do the bidding of the leaders in order to be allowed on the fringes; 3) ONE true friend is all you need (and that can be another different kid of your own or different sex, a family member, a kid you know from outside school - faith based institution, sports, etc., or even the friendship of a pet or books) and 4) by high school most kids are beyond the in group stuff and are finding friends based on mutual interests - so hang in there and 5) in the end, the sassy girls grow up to be the most interesting (to other women and men). Anonymous