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Problems with Friends at School

Dear Elaine,

My third-grade daughter is having friend problems at school. She comes home complaining every day about something that happened or was said to her at school. None of the other children want to play with her. They tease her at recess and no one wants to sit by her at lunch. My heart is breaking for this child. When I suggest things she should try, she tells me that I don't understand. When I try to find out what is really going on, she gets even more upset and cries harder. What can I do to help her?

Signed,

Hopeless

Dear Hopeless,

We all want our children to be accepted by other children and it hurts us when they are not. We want to march right up to school, shake those other children, and say "Don't you dare treat my baby this way!" Our task, however, is to keep our expectations, anxiety, sympathy, and rage to ourselves and do something positive for our child.

We must encourage our children to solve their own problems and have faith that they will.

How to Help When Your Child Has Problems with Friends

If you want to help your daughter, the best thing you can do is accept her feelings.

  • I know how hard it is not to try to solve our children's friend problems for them, but they will always reject our solutions.
  • I know how hard it is not to preach and lecture when we know what should be done, but they will resent our lectures and feel that we don't listen to them.
  • I know how hard it is not to question and probe for details, but they will always feel a lack of trust and respect in our questioning.

Encourage Your Child When He Has Problems with Friends

There is only one way that I know of to encourage a child to solve his or her own problem.

When your daughter comes to you with her complaints, listen without saying a word. Try to see what your daughter is feeling and ignore the words. When you think you know what she is feeling, let her know that you know. "You must be very hurt (or angry, or sad, or mad, or whatever)." She will let you know if you are right. She needs to express her feelings and you have just given her permission to do that.

Sit and listen for as long as she wants to talk, or cry. If you need to say something, let her know that her feelings are legitimate. "It hurts to be left out." If she asks you, "What should I do?", ask her what she thinks would work. Children want to solve their own problems but sometimes they need our confidence that they are capable. "I know this is difficult but you will work it out."

They often need to be encouraged to solve their own problems. "What do you think you can do about this?" We may have to listen for a long time before they move from discomfort to problem-solving but they will -- with our support and encouragement. What they don't need or want is our advice.

If we are teaching them our standards, morals, and ethics by the way we live, they have the necessary background for problem-solving on their own. Without taking over for our child, we can be there to support (listen without judging, preaching, questioning, or advising), encourage ("I know you will find a way to work out your problem"), and guide (keep an eye on things and intervene before too much harm is done).

When to Check Out the Problem with Friends for Yourself

When children have a serious complaint about school happenings, parents should always check things out with the school for themselves ("What Is a Bully? Who Gets Harmed by Bullying?"). It is better to do this without the child's knowledge. You can decide later whether or not to let your child know that you intervened. Call the child's teacher and either discuss this problem on the phone or schedule an appointment. When you talk to your child's teacher, tell her what your daughter is saying at home.

Be prepared to find out that things are not exactly as your daughter is reporting. Children at her age see things in a unique, self-centered position. Also, be prepared to find out what your daughter is contributing to the situation. As you and the teacher try to piece together what is really going on, ask the teacher for suggestions. The two of you, and perhaps the school counselor, should be able to devise a course of action.

Help without solving the problem for her.

  • Encourage your daughter to invite classmates over after school or on weekends.
  • Help her find books in the library that deal with "friend" problems. These problems are so common at this age that many books and stories have been written on the subject.

In the meantime, trust your daughter to learn and grow from this experience. You will too.

APA Reference
Gibson, E. (2019, August 10). Problems with Friends at School, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, August 18 from https://www.healthyplace.com/parenting/challenge-of-difficult-children/problems-with-friends-at-school

Last Updated: August 10, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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