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Crucial Conversations QA

Three's A Crowd

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Ron McMillan

Ron McMillan is coauthor of four New York Times bestsellers, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Accountability, Influencer, and Change Anything.

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Crucial Conversations

Q Dear Crucial Skills,

My seven-year-old daughter is stuck in a three’s-too-many triangle with two of my neighbor’s daughters. Stakes are high because I don’t want to disrupt ties with my neighbors, but these girls are almost to the point of bullying my daughter. I know kids will be kids, and I don’t know that the discipline of the parents will change. Should I just give up and tell my daughter not to play with them? Do I restrict the girls from playing on our playground? How can I help my daughter deal with the neighborhood “mean girls”?

Sincerely,

Treading Lightly

A Dear Treading,

I am happy to give you some advice about your problem but want to emphasize that this answer comes with no guarantees of outcome. I have faced this problem twice; once with a mostly successful outcome and another that was not so good. I have eight daughters, and I’ve concluded that it’s very hard for girls to hangout in threesomes. But, alas, I’ve been jaded by my personal experiences and shouldn’t try to generalize.

In the situation you describe, there are two issues: the problem of your daughter being excluded and the problem of things being “almost to the point of bullying.” I recommend you be most concerned about the bullying problem. I believe there is a tendency for parents to underestimate the pain and damage caused by bullying. It’s a form of violence we should not tolerate.

I recommend you speak with the parents of both children, and do the following:

Ask yourself, “What do I really want?” You certainly want to stop any bullying and make your daughter safe. You might also want the other girls to be friends with your daughter. This is where I start getting skeptical. I think you can get kids to play together, especially under structured, planned conditions; but to get two children to include another regularly and consistently boils down to their choice. It’s hard to make kids be friends. Nevertheless, work to stop any bullying behavior for sure, and see the threesome as a bonus if things go really well.

Gather the facts. This is the homework required to have this kind of crucial conversation. Find out what actually occurred and who said what and why. Don’t jump to conclusions or make assumptions about motives.

Share your good intentions. When you meet with the parents, begin by sharing with them what you want and what you want to come of this conversation. You might say something like: “Thank you for meeting with me. I want to discuss our daughters and make sure that we nip any problems between them in the bud. I also want to keep a good relationship between us parents. I’m not trying to cause any problems or bad feelings.”

Describe the gap. Factually describe what happened and compare it with what is expected. You could say, “I spoke with my daughter and she told me when she went to play with Mindy and Jessica, Mindy told her to get lost. She asked what was wrong and Mindy said they didn’t have to play with ‘a stupid baby’ and pushed her. My daughter came home crying. Now, I know that kids will be kids and I’m not trying to blow this out of proportion, but his kind of thing has happened at least once before. I want the three to be friends and to be kind to each other.”

Ask a diagnostic question and listen. Once you’ve introduced the issue without making accusations and laid out the problem in a non-judgmental way, ask a question to see if the other parents are aware of the problem. Find out whether they have a different point of view. Keep in mind you are not here to pick a fight or place blame. You are having this conversation to solve a problem in a way that preserves your relationships. Try:
“Are you aware of this situation? Do you see it differently?” Listen carefully to understand.

From this point, the conversation could go many directions. The other parents could be concerned and work with you to resolve the situation, or they might be defensive and protective of their daughters. They could even blow it off and not see it as an issue that deserves their attention. They could split and not agree on what needs to be done.

I’m not sure what will come next in your situation, but I believe by starting in the way I recommend, you will avert many problems that could otherwise pop up and decrease the likelihood of your success. You’ll need to be ready with all your skills and clear thinking to get to good outcomes.

If the parents don’t respond in the way you would hope, I would counsel you against talking with the two other girls directly. It’s very easy to have your words misunderstood and misconstrued when reported by the children back to their parents. Better to coach your daughter on how to handle the situation with the other girls. Practice what you want her to say to them if she’s confronted, and focus on helping her build other friendships.

Remember how fluid relationships can be at such a young age and recognize that today’s apparent brat could easily be tomorrow’s best friend.

I hope these ideas help and I hope things work out well. Keep in mind, the most important thing that might come of this: your daughter learns how much you care about her and remembers the things you teach her about dealing with others her age.

Because this is a very tricky situation, I encourage other readers to write back in the comment section. What has been your experience? What advice would you give this parent?

Ron

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Ron McMillan

Ron McMillan is a New York Times bestselling author, keynote speaker, and leading social scientist for organizational change. For thirty years, Ron has delivered engaging keynotes at major conferences including the American Society of Training and Development and the Society for Human Resource Management. Ron’s work has been translated into twenty-eight languages, is available in thirty-six countries, and has generated results for three hundred of the Fortune 500. read more

37 thoughts on “Three's A Crowd”

    1. Taser gun…. hmmmmm, never thought of that, but maybe as a Plan B. When my boys were growing up, a similar issue occurred with my youngest, and unfortunately, I tried the “going directly to the source” routine, spoke with the boy who “bullied” the younger brother, and was told by this 12 y.o. to blank off, which left me totally flabbergasted, and speechless. All kids are different, different family upbringings, and you can’t control what comes out of their mouths. I completely agree that you have to keep your own house, work with your child, be there for them as best you can, then keep your fingers crossed.

  1. I think Ron has given great advice. I too have been in that situation as the kid often left out and later as the parent of a kid often left out. My advice is to get your daughter involved with other extra-curricular activities – Girl Scouts, gymnastics, etc. so she can connect with other (more sincere) friends. Also, talk openly with her about how she has to work on ACTING LIKE A FRIEND in order to HAVE FRIENDS and what true friendships really look like. As she gets older, she’ll figure out who her true friends are. Good luck to mom and daughter!

  2. You said one thing that rang true with me – threesome’s rarely work. It seems there is natural “ganging up” by two against one. Might be better to include another person – so now foursome, or have one of the girls over to play with your daughter at a time. I totally agree with prepping the daughter for how to deal with the comments and also that the threesome is usually problems from the get go.

  3. I have been excluded and excluded other girls in a BFF x 3 situation. Emphasize that she shouldn’t become hurt and turn that into anger. Really, ignoring them for a week will probably work best. I agree with Ron that involving the other parents in a collaborating fashion is the best way to stop the bullying. Hope it goes well.

  4. I had a similar situation with my daughter. One of her friends was bullying her by getting other girls to talk about the clothes she was wearing and her hair (just being a mean girl). My daughter is very sensitive and when she came to me about it she was crying. My situation was a bit different in that I was a girl scout leader to both my daughter and this other girl. I took it upon myself to discuss the situation with the other girl saying that “This is not how a Girl Scout behaves, we are a sister to everyone. I expected much better from you because we have talked about this in our meetings.” I also stated that if the behavior did not change that I would be talking to her mother. The next day my daughter called me at work when she got home from school and said that she had a really good day because the other girl had completed changed her attitude towards my daughter.

  5. Ron, as usual, you have given good advice. I would go one step further in recommending that the mother now watch closely to evaluate what is really going on. If after the conversation, and if the mother sees her daughter being bullied, it would be in her child’s best interest to stear her away from the bullies and – like you suggested – help her find good friends. If I’m reading between the lines correctly, the mother is afraid of losing her friendships over this. But the child comes first, even if it means breaking all ties.

  6. This is not a new issue, especially with girls. There have been studies that this is the typical behavior of girls of this age when grouped in a threesome. I also have a daughter and have experienced this, the only way I got the girls to play together is only in twosomes until they were about 12.

  7. I don’t think you’re jaded. I have one child, a daughter, and three’s never ever worked. Even now that she’s a teenager, we need just one friend or more than three. I remember that from when I was a kid.

    So, my advice: set up playdates with one other girl, never both together, keep it fun, keep it light. That should tell you if there’s a genuine potential for friendship. It will also give them a chance to get to know your daughter and improve the likelihood of a genuine friendship.

    And never let them play on your playstructure if they’re being mean to your daughter. You don’t want to reward good behavior and they need to learn there are boundaries.

    1. I agree with your tactic of having one on one get togethers and to “be present” (ears and eyes open) while they play to kind of monitor things with them. I think you meant to say: “You don’t want to reward bad behaviour”, although I read it the way you meant it. Good advice.

  8. Same thing happened to my son. There were brief discussions with the pareants as it reached the point of being really difficult for son. The consensus was that they were all good kids and they would work it out. They did. They are all close friends now and the issues just seemed to fade away over time. When it was most severe, we worked hard to find other friends and activities. All boys mind you. I do think girls may introduce a whole new element in tyring to resolve–we have a daughter as well. Good luck but think of this is as a short term problem–these things generally get worked out in a way that works for everyone.

  9. Hi Ron, I like the outcome you are striving for. My recommendation would be to start with the diagnostic questions and listen. As I was reading your feedback: You might say something like: “Thank you for meeting with me. I want to discuss our daughters and make sure that we nip any problems between them in the bud. I also want to keep a good relationship between us parents. I’m not trying to cause any problems or bad feelings.” My first thought is, “There’s a problem (defensive posture) and “keep a good relationship…bad feelings” (more posturing), I am preparing a defense at this point. A parents’ first reaction is to defend their children and their own parenting style. The statement comes across demanding, controlling and all about what ‘Treading’ wants first.

    If you start by asking the parents how they feel about bullying and what would their actions be if they knew someone was bullying their own child; it may create a sense of unity/like-mindedness and they would be more open when the conversation turns to concerns that it is happening with their own children. In addition, it would help ‘Treading’ know if the parents would be reasonable and willing to make changes or if she simply needs to stop her daughter from playing with them. From this point, Becky above makes a good point to be watchful because it may be happening with other children as well and other parents in the neighborhood should know.

  10. I have encountered this issue to varying degrees with my kids. We asked ourselves, “what do we really want?” We want our children to enjoy their childhood friends and have healthy relationships with them. We have talked to the parents and run into indifference and apathy. So when I read Ron’s suggestion I was a little worried I stepped over the line, because I did in fact talk with the children directly since talking with the parents was ineffective. We too have a play ground that most of the neighbor kids play on, and if not on the playground they spend most days playing ball in our back yard. I founds this as an advantage since our yard was some what of a destination resort for after school entertainment. Taking advantage of their desire to frequent our backyard, I talked with the kids about our house and yard rules. I set expectations for them and let them know that when they were at our house there were certain rules and levels of kindness that we expected, and that I would be checking on them and holding them accountable to those rules. We also let them know what we loved having them and that they were great kids, but this is what we expect. In addition to that I have spent time playing ball with them to better observe what is really going on and recreate with them to gain a little more influence in their lives. The behaviors have improved and the children seem to be getting along better, and when we address issues they are quick to listen and improve.

  11. I agree with Becky on watching closing from a distance to see how they play together. I have two daughters that have wonderful friends, but it wasn’t always that way. I told my daughters to pick their friends wisely and not let their friends pick them. They understood that meant to look for friends they wanted to be like. They sought out kind and loyal friends that they’ve kept from 2nd grade into college. If you see your daughter being bullied it will give you an opportunity to teach her to value herself. As her mom, you can recognize how she is as a friend and let her know her willingness to share and how she treats others kindly is what a good friend does and that she can reserve her friendship for others who would do likewise. This is a great lesson for her and for the other two girls since they probably still want to be friends.

  12. Treading Lightly asked “Do I restrict the girls from playing on our playground? “, which makes me think that the girls may be coming over to play in Treading Lightly’s yard. If this is the case, she is well with in her rights to explain the rules of the house and to expect them to be followed. For example she can tell them up front that she would like the girls to ask before coming over as the family may be busy or engaged in other activity. That establishes that the yard and playground equipment are not public property and that a grown up is paying attention. Next she can explain, nicely, the type of behavior that is expected: No pushing, no shoving, playing on the equipment safely, no name calling, etc… Finally she can spell out consequences for breaking the rules. The rules should be enforced or all children playing at her house, including her daughter. Clearly defining these expectations up front will provide boundaries for the children and she should see better behavior when they visit. If not, then the children should lose the privilege of playing at her house. This should all be handled in a very matter of fact way, no anger, no yelling. By stating her expectations clearly and following through on consequences, she will be providing her daughter and her friends with a safe and consistent environment in which to interact. She will also be communicating to her daughter that it is okay to have personal boundaries and that it is her daughter’s right to be treated respectfully.

  13. This may be particularly difficult since two of the girls are sisters and yours is the outsider which renders breaking up the threesome a bit more sensitive and cumbersome to sort play times / schedules. Talking it out with the parents will work if all parties are open and mature and you know them well enough to have that conversation. My concern was the option of restricting the neighbor girls from playing in “our playground” – territorial to some degree???. Unless both mother’s or fathers or any combination of both sets parents can witness the activity together the discussion of what occurred could be considered hear say and cause more problems. If necessary to have the discussion described in the response, be ready for the ramification. I suggest having the discussion only immediately during or after an incident. In the meantime, teach your daughter resiliency and find other options e.g. bringing in a fourth playmate to balance out the playing field. If it persists and with the addition of a fourth and yours is the outlier. Look a little closer. I personally dislike putting children in the middle of this kind of sensitive situation even if they created it (we don’t know where the other family really comes from. How many people really know their neighbors? I also hate to sit on the fence; but children will be children and so may be their parents.
    Typo in Describe the Gap – his should be this.

  14. Deal with the bullying. Chances are though, the parents are bullies too, at least to some degree so monitoring verbal and non verbal communication is key. As one post noted, the daughter comes first, not the parents/neighbourhood friendships. I did not act on my daughter being bullied when I should have and she was an out cast right through High School and still struggles with self-esteem. She might need other play mates to make her less wishful for the kids next door. Good luck!

  15. Even as a child, I figured out that getting together in groups of three never worked…although my friends and I weren’t the bullying type, someone always ended up crying for one reason or another. I decided to just play with one friend at a time, or, for birthday parties or whatnot, a whole group of friends. It’s a simple solution that worked just fine.

  16. When my daughter faced a similar situation in 1st grade I did not have the advantage of knowing the other parents and talking it through with them. I focused on empowering my daughter to make decisions and followed it up with an empathy lesson. We talked through whatever the playground situation was, and I asked her how it made her feel. When she expressed that it made her feel bad, I told her it was ok to tell them ‘I don’t like how you are treating me right now,’ and to remove herself from the situation and go play with someone different, or choose to do something on her own. Then we talked about the specific actions of what they did to make her feel bad, and that I hoped she would not do similar things to others because that would make others feel bad — remember how she felt in this situation and try not to do that to others in the future. By giving her permission to not be with friends who weren’t being nice she gained the confidence to get out of the situation. Throughout middle school and high school we had many conversations about not being able to control others actions and the only thing she could to was to be in charge of her own reactions (this applied not only to classmates, but also situations with adults such as teachers and coaches). It seems to have worked – my daughter is now 18, a confident college freshman, making good decisions and is very happy with good friends!

    1. You handled your situation very well. We must strengthen our children (sons & daughters) with confidence and an understanding of healthy relationships. Long term they are better off for it.

  17. “But the child comes first, even if it means breaking all ties.” Sound words Becky!
    My husband was afraid of our son losing his friendships (and being at odds with neighbors) over a situation like this with three boys (from different families – not brothers) 13 – 14 years ago. Although my husband tried numerous times to correct the situation by talking to the boys involved, he refused to speak with the parents, didn’t want our son to have no one to play with, and thought the boys would eventually work it out. As my son nears 21 years old, I’m convinced his emotional growth has been stunted and there isn’t a day goes by, that I don’t feel guilt and regret at having not been more assertive. I was originally drawn to VitalSmarts, and the “Crucial” books by my desire to better communicate with my son. The process is slow and I don’t think my son will ever recover from the emotional abuse he received from other children. None of the boys remained friends. NO friends (his own age group) would have been far better than letting three bullies rip at him for years. For the sake of all involved, take decisive action now.

  18. I think one of the most important factors is that it appears the two “friends” are sisters. That makes the one-to-one playdates more problematic. For that reason, the advice that seems most promising is the parent’s active engagement in expanding the daughter’s playmate options and practicing responding to hurtful comments, including how to leave the situation with grace and dignity.

  19. Are these comments real? Not one person mentioned the two young girls in the news yesterday who are implicated in another girl’s suicide because of their bullying.

  20. I am amazed and thrilled at the wisdom you have shown in these responses. I’ve learned a lot. A new idea to me is making rules for my playground and using this as an opportunity to create clear expectations about the children’s treatment of each other. I also like the idea of using this opportunity to teach my daughter principles and practices for having and being a friend. I’ve got 15 grandchildren to help teach and each of their parents will get your suggestions. Thank you.

  21. When dealing with a situation of two girls or boys deciding that they do not want to play with another, there are a number of factors that come into play.

    1. No matter how close of friends you are with the parents of the child that has rejected your child – trying to approach them and “work it out” will almost never work. As soon as you start talking about their child, all kinds of defenses will go up and they will fight for their child and try to convince you they are not doing anything wrong. You will likely lose the friendship of the parents and will be talked about as being overly sensitive.
    2. Many times I have seen parents who want their kids to be friends more than the kids want that to happen. They just do not click and you not only must not force it, but it will do more damage trying to make it work, than just letting it go. Just because you are friends with the parents does not mean the kids have to be friends. Have an adult relationship that is not based on having the kids the same age.
    3. Gathering facts should only come after your daughter knows that you understand how she feels and she is comfortable with your response. She will give you the “facts” when she is ready and then your job as a parent is to see what your daughter would like to do about it. Does she still want to be friends with both of them or just one? Why is this friendship important to her? How would she like to settle this? Get her ideas. If you jump in to fix it, every time she has a relationship issue – she may want you to fix it. Your job is to support her and help her see the pros and cons and then execute her plans.

    I write this as a bully prevention expert and coach for parents and kids. Believe me giving your daughter the tools to be resilient and to only stay in healthy relationships will go a long way to her being bully proof and living a much happier life. It is hard as a parent to see them not so happy, but parenting is hard and giving up the need to fix everything is hard too. But with your support and guidance, your daughter will be able to face what is coming in the next few years. Third, Fourth, Fifth and beyond will be worse.

    We must work to create a culture of kindness in our families, schools and communities.

    Bully Prevention Partners
    Coaching and Advocacy For Parents and Students Being Bullied

    1. I agree with your comment about talking to the parents. Our 16yr old son is in a sitution where his long term baseball buddies have decided they don’t want to hang with him anymore. What has changed? Our son no longer can play baseball due to medical issues. He is a normal kid…thinks/acts like a normal kid but he cannot play baseball any longer. One of the boys parents are good friends of ours. Due to a few things that have happened (such as we come over for a tail gate party prior to a HS football game. All the boys leave, but our son is still downstairs eating. EVERYONE had to notice he was still there?!) The parents did not notice anything wierd.
      Childish pranks are happening at our house. We do not know who it is but we have our suspicisions.
      Our advice to our son – let’s work to get him involved in other things. STOP ALL inter action with these boys.
      They truly are not a definitio of “friend” we adhere to in life.

  22. I think all of the advice above is great; I would only like to add a perspective that is not included above.

    Last year, the principal of my son’s school called us in to her office to discuss a letter she had received from another parent. This parent commented that our son was bullying theirs. We were shocked beyond words. We discuss/teach/model kindness in our home on a daily basis. How could our son be doing this?

    Not only that, he had been a victim of bullying before himself two years before, so that just added to the shock of the situation. We had taken the route of training him on relationships, and helping build up resilency as some mention above.

    He was there with us and the principal for the reading of the letter as well, and to his credit, owned up to his actions.

    We called the other parents to discuss. Since our son had taken responsibility, it was easier for us to go in to the situation without defensiveness. It was a productive discussion. They quickly admitted that their son too had had a part, and stressed that they just wanted the best for both boys.

    In addition to other discipline, we had our son meet face to face with the child he bullied after this discussion, and (after confirming his true repentence for this matter) instructed him to apologize in person (with parents present). The two boys didn’t become best friends, but the situation did resolve.

    My take away from this was that teaching our son resilency without approaching the parents of the person who bullied him could have given him, what he felt like, was the “go ahead” to then bully his victim. After all, he was bullied and got through it. Not good logic, but he was only 9 at the time.

    I would advise to least approach the other parents in addition to the other advice above. Like us, they may have no idea and would appreciate knowing. If they are indifferent or defensive, at least you have given it your best.

    1. I am on the other end of the situation listed above but the message here is the need to tell the other parents is a good choice.
      My son is 16 yrs old and for health purposes (suffered headaches and ended up having brain surgery 2x!) chose not to play baseball since the summer of his freshman year. He is now a Junior. His long time baseball buddies have chosen to ignore him. He asks what is wrong and they just say “nothing”. Now childish pranks are happening – Eggs thrown in our driveway and little notecards left with childish cruel pictures on them. We know they are for our son becase they have his name on them! We cannot prove who has left these “presents” at our house, but we have our suspicions. We now are just telling our son, to move on – break those ties. It stinks and it is tough! My son is learning how to be strong, resilent, and grown up pretty fast! One of the boys parents are our good friends. They have to know what is going on. We have been wondering if it is worth mentioning anything to them or no?

  23. I unfortunately am facing a similar situation with my daugther, a neighbor across the street who is in the same grade and has played with my daugther her whole life, and a newcomer to the neighborhood who is a grade older. My daughter gets the brunt of the exclusions, etc., and it kills her that her BFFL won’t stand up for her. Her BFFL is very timid and has the “everyone should just get along” mantra – which don’t we all want? She also is one for not keeping secrets – so if the “new” girl says “I am going to break you two apart,” she tells my daughter – and now my daughter is on ulcer medication. When they are all together – they fight, and the BFFL is now taking on some of the persona of the new girl and being mean to my daughter. I have confronted the girls – as I am usually in town or nearby and have witnessed some of the attacks. I then get texts from the “new” family that “(You) are the one with the problems” or “(You) are the one who is the bully”. All I did was point out facts – and I have only confronted the girls when I was concerned when my 11-year-old daughter says she doesn’t even want to be here anymore (I just can’t say the words she really used). The girls do have “moments” where they play nicely, etc., and when the bad situations arise, she just wants to know why she is the one always picked on/left out. She also does not understand why the “new” girl cannot let them be alone together, etc., when they are in the same grade and have been together so long, yet she will have other friends over at times without interference from my daughter or her BFFL. My daughter does have other friends, but she has limited playing with them as she is so concerned the “new” girl will continue to try to break her relationship with the BFFL. It is so heart wrenching, but I do encourage my daughter to rise above each situation, and the school guidance counselor is also involved (I am sure I will be getting a text from the “new” family on that, as well!!

  24. I am a first grade teacher (7 year olds) and the mother of a daughter. I strongly caution this mom to be very careful about interfering in this situatution too much. 7 year old emotions are still very immature and volital. What makes me cry right now may be forgotten in two hours. what may sound like mean talk may be unfiltered comments comming from a six or seven year old, who is still discovering which actions or words may hurt others. A better solution than confronting parents may be to ask the girls to take a break if their play ends up in squabbles. “OK, time for everybody to go to their own house for half an hour, and then come back over for a popsicle.” for instance. My daughter played with two other little girls in the neighborhood, one of which had a younger mother who was horrified when the girls resorted to calling names and pulling hair. We older and wiser mothers had to have a heart to heart with her, and explain thatthe kids usually worked out their own problems more quickly and with less trauma than when we interfered. We all agreed to seperate them when they ganged up on one, got physical, or made somebody cry, without comment or blame, and then each coach our own child on kind and polite behavior in a group, and how to stand up for yourself without making others angery. It worked really well for our friendships and the girls’. They gradually grew into appropriate social behavior, and became close friends who could be inclusive. If it is always the same two against one, then there may be bullying going on. In that case, help your daughter learn to give an assertive response, such as, “I don’t like being called names. My name is Penny, and that is what I want to be called. Let’s go swing now.” If that doesn’t work, your daughter should walk away. Be sure she has lots of oppertunities to meet other friends. Church is a good place, or enroll her in dance or gymnastics. If the behavior intensifies, if she begins to show signs of anxiety, such as not sleeping or not wanting to go to school, making negative comments about herself, it is time to get together with the other parents, and follow Ron’s thoughtful advice. I caution everyone consider child development factors, and not try to view childrens’ experiences from an adult point of view. I see plenty of bullies and mean girls at school, but I also see children developing social skills in child like ways. The differences are subtle, so be sure you get all the facts and weigh the child’s social development against villification of those she is interacting with, who may be acting age appropriately.

  25. This is such a common issue .. and it seems that it is always worse with girls. Relationships are so important for girls, thus feeling ‘left out’ can be one of the unfortunate consequences. I would have to say, as a mother of 2 girls (now 14 and 16 yrs), the best advice of all that given above is that ‘you cant make people like you .. or your children’. We all know that there are people we click with and people who we just dont like, or dont feel anything for. In the adult world we tend to have more chioce about who we spend time with and who we just avoid .. and it doesnt usually turn into a problem or become bullying (Note that I say ‘usually’, as I know there is still a lot of nastiness between adults insensitively ‘leaving people out’). May be you have more in common with your adult neighbours, that your daughter has with their girls? And sometimes behaviour that is seen as bullying, is just children not knowing how to say ‘I dont really ‘click’ with you’ or ‘I prefer to play with this other child as we have more in common or we interact in more similar ways’. I think that observing the play when all 3 are together, and trying to take your ‘mummy’ glasses off (so that you can observe the situation objectively) will help you determine if this is the case. You may also be in a position to kindly suggest, to the other girls, alternative ways of behaving/speaking, when the group are together, which would respectfully communicate their feelings to your daughter. If there is just not a connection between the 3, you would then serve your daughter better, by helping her to find alternative friends…. I had a similar situation with my 14 year old and I now just make sure I only see one of the families at a time .. It means my daughter doesnt get left out as it is not a 3-some. I just had to accept that the other 2 girls had more in common and liked each other more than they like my daughter. That is fine. not everyone likes everyone else!!! Having said all of that, I wish you luck … and remind you that there are far worse things your daughter may have to face in life, so this is probably only one small, difficult lesson for her …and you. May the outcome be positive.

  26. As a mother who didn’t pay enough attention to her daughter’s tears and hurt feelings and now have to deal with my guilt as I watch my emotionally damaged adult daughter try to heal, I would just add that whatever you do, DO NOT downplay this as “just how kids act” and say things like “it will get better”. I got TERRIBLE advice form the teachers in her life as they just didn’t want (or didn’t know how) to deal with it effectively.

    1. Debbie,
      Unfortunately most teachers do not receive any training in dealing with aggressive behavior with their students. All they have to go on is their own experience, which many times has not been a very good one. I am am advocate for teacher training in this regard, as it is just as important as any of the other things that they will learn in school.
      Understanding the time that we need to deal with emotional and social issues in the school community is so important. They are all going to learn 1+1 in time, but when a student no longer feels safe – learning will be very difficult if not possible at all.

  27. As the founder and executive director of a non-profit organization, Win-Win-Resolutions http://www.winwinresolutions.org that has served over 35,000 students and families since 2001 with interactive anti-bullying programs, I recommend you and the other parents (if all are willing to come to the table) to set up a time in neutral territory (might take them to a park or ice cream store) to talk and share. We have seen many aggressive students develop empathy by giving them a safe place to talk from the 1st person using “I messages” as in your daughter saying to the other two girls “I feel upset when you leave me out because it really hurts my feelings and I would like to play with you”. The other girls would then repeat what they heard your daughter say and each have a turn to share their feelings. It is important to let your daughter know that in life we don’t always get our requests granted but at the very least she will have an opportunity to have some closure and then as others have suggested create other social opportunities for her to make new friends if the other girls are not willing to include her. Three girls hanging out tends to create a lot of drama and hurt feelings but at least the other two girls that are starting to display bully behavior can be made aware of how that negatively impacts someone else and hopefully be able to experience how that might feel if they were in your daughter’s shoes. The other important step is to let your daughter know that she did not do anything wrong and the only thing we can control in life is how we react to negative situations and conflicts. I know that is a hard lesson for young girls but with all the rise of cyberbullying, our children need to be made aware of the consequences of their behavior and start a conversation to develop compassion and empathy.

  28. Make sure that your daughter understands that this dynamic is not her fault. Encourage your daughter to invite other girls to the house. Don’t allow her to play with the girls that are mean to her unless under your direct supervision. If something happens when you are watching the 3 of them, you can say something like, “At our house we treat everyone with kindness and respect. If you aren’t able to do that, you won’t be able to play here anymore.” I’ve had success with this myself.

  29. This topic is very close to me and my family, and everyone’s experience and opinions expressed here are very interesting and helpful. This whole thread is like therapy for me. As a parents of two pre-teen girls, who could not be more different socially, I had many times when I just wished I didn’t react, but rather sleep on it. My older daughter is the classic example of “always excluded, clingy friend, whose world comes apart the moment her friend moves on to a new interest”. My younger one is a social butterfly, care free, to whom the other kids are naturally drawn. It is quite a task for me to manage her social agenda and keep track of all her playdates / sleepover requests. My oldest daughter is what preoccupies me most. Even though she is sweet, good natured, and want to make friends, for some reason, her insecurity is perceived as a weakness, and for that reason, she is easily subjected to either bullying or social exclusion. On one hand, of course, our main task as parents, is to increase her self-esteem, and help her not to be afraid to stand for herself (she often says she afraid to tell to the teacher when someone is crossing the line with her, because she does not want to be a tatter-tale!). It is a lot of work , and it is her personality that might make it more difficult for her to make friends.
    But on the other hand, and maybe because I am constantly on a lookout, I have been observing the other girls, whether out in the street or in other social situations, and I have to says : “Boy, some girls can be mean!”. I have witness many incidents myself.

    I am always on the fence about what to do next: should I approach the child , the parent, etc or should I just let my child handle the situation? There are two parents camps out there : “the helicopter” parents, and the parents of a cookie-cutter, who never have to worry whether their child is accepted or has friends.
    It is interesting, the Scholastic News recently has a debate question for kids “Should the parents of kids who are caught bullying be fined or not?”. My older daughter said “Yes”, my younger one said “No”.

    I had times when I reached out to the teacher or a parent, and tactfully explained my concern. Reactions in general were civil but did not provide any closure. In the end, I end up feeling like I worry too much or overreact. Keep in mind – most probably you get very emotional when your kid comes home crying , or sad that they had a bad day, or just feeling blue for a period of time. Your instinct gut reaction is to want to fix things, and fix them now. Kids are indeed resilient, and they will move on much quicker than we do. The most difficult task for me is to remain calm, get the facts, don’t show too much emotions, and don’t feed into her need for sympathy. I admit, I don’t always manage to do that. Often kids just want to vent, and just needs someone to listen. Teaching them how to deal with adversity might help them for later on in life.
    I know that right now, best thing for me is to talk, talk, talk to my daughter, and instill in her the confidence that she will need to make the right decisions, especially later when the consequences can be much, much more serious. The desire to fit in, and be accepted, at all costs, can be quite dangerous. I tell her often – move on, if someone is mean to you or excluding you, just find someone else who is friendlier, or go do something fun. I also tell her – don’t be afraid to stand for who you are, because not all kids are the same, and you do not need to fit a certain image.

    I do wonder though – wouldn’t the other parent would like to know if/when their kids might not be the nicest with some other kids? I know I would! I asked myself often: maybe my kids are not the nice kids that I see at home, maybe out there on the playground, when they know there are no adults watching, maybe are saying or doing things that would not make me the proudest parent of the day. I don’t think that is the case. I am sure all parents think the same though! All the best to everyone.

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