Children need friends
Dear Dr. Missy: My 6 year-old daughter complains that she does not have any friends at school. At home she’s independent and likes to have her way because she’s the oldest. She argues with her younger brother, but that’s what kids do. She’s never been in trouble at school. She says the kids are mean to her at recess and won’t let her play with them. And they don’t want to set by her on the bus or in the cafeteria. I’ve talked to the teacher and the school counselor and they say she is assertive with classmates and likes to be the leader. –Puzzled Parent
Dear Puzzled Parent: I understand your concern. The emotional pain of a rejected child hurts the parents, too. Current research shows that playtime and school recess are worthwhile for children’s emotional and social development. A child who stands alone on a busy playground is missing out on relational learning.
Humans innately need to belong. That’s just how our brains are wired. We want to be significant, not just to our family, but to our peers. Learning how to be in relationships during childhood constructs a blueprint for our future adult relationships.
Picture this true scenario. Kids’ dash and dart in response to the recess bell. A 6 year-old girl slumps against the playground fence. Day after day. Nobody wants to play with her. Loneliness. Sadness. Confusion. “What’s wrong with me? Why won’t the kids play with me? Why don’t they like me?” she wonders and may even ask others. Recess after recess.
Her mother brought her to counseling. “She cries because no one will play with her.” The mom talked to the teacher on several occasions, but the recess ostracism continued.
I consulted with the teacher and the school counselor. This student was not a troublemaker in class and she did well in academics, but she tended to be bossy with classmates and tried to be first in line. The playground banishment persisted. Neither girls nor boys interacted with her.
Further assessment revealed that her younger brother and male cousins shunned her during playtime. Was this a tree house keep-out against girls or something else?
I invited her into my play therapy room with other children and observed. She grabbed their toys without asking permission. “I need that,” she shouted when another child protested. When she tried to boss them around, they ignored her. When the group played a game, she demanded to go first and win. “That’s not how you play it,” she stated matter-of-factually as she made up her own rules.
Hmm. The playground dilemma came to light. Sometimes the parent is too close to the situation to see it clearly. This little girl was bossy and domineering with other kids.
Alfred Adler, a psychiatrist and theorist suggested that birth order influences personality. Firstborn children are used to being the center of attention and when the sibling arrives they may engage in sibling rivalry; embrace competition; become authoritarian and socially dominant; and strive for power.
Her leadership qualities needed to be balanced with learning empathy for others. Being the oldest, she was used to being the leader in play with her brother. She needed to learn the art of cooperation and negotiation.
No matter what the cause of loneliness and sadness, a child’s emotions need to be understood and validated. Both painful and pleasant emotions are part of the human experience. While validating her feelings of rejection, loneliness, and sadness, I used picture books to teach social skills, empathy skill-building and relational skills. But, these skills needed to be practiced with other children.
In due course, she learned that to have a friend you need to be a friend. You will be pleased to know that she did make changes in her behaviors and she did make friends at school. She still tries to boss her younger brother around.
I suggest the following picture books for your daughter:
Learning to Get Along® Series Interactive Software by Cheri Meiners includes 15 books that teaches young children how to deal with their emotions, make positive choices, solve problems, resolve conflicts, resist impulsive behavior, form relationships, and work cooperatively. www.freespirit.com.
Free Spirit Publishing is an award-winning publisher of learning tools that support young people’s social-emotional health and their educational needs..
Bossy Flossy by Paulette Bogan (2016, Henry Holt and Co.)
Cake & I Scream!; being bossy isn’t sweet by Michael Genhart, Ph.D. (2017, Magination Press).
Be persistent and consistent with your daughter while her strong personality is tamed and she learns empathy and social skills.
Melissa Martin, Ph.D. is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, Registered Play Therapist, and Behavioral Health Consultant. Email your questions to the Scioto County Candor at firstname.lastname@example.org and put “Dr. Missy” in the subject line.
Ask Dr. Missy is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician, mental health professional, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.