Dear Coach Richie: My 9 year old daughter has always been a little different than the other kids. She doesn’t make friends as easily and she has a hard time keeping the ones she does make. In her own words, she feels like an outcast. For the past few years I’ve been trying to help her build her social skills and confidence by keeping her in after school activities, arranging play dates, etc. I kept thinking that if she just had enough practice and support, she’d eventually “get it”, and be able to integrate more into her group of peers and form the friendships that she craves.
She became close with a very caring and kind-hearted girl in her class (let’s call her B) which I was thrilled about. B’s mom is the leader of her Girl Scout troop, and is also very nice and fair and always did what she could to build my daughter up and encourage her. B has a large group of friends at school, and I thought that her becoming close with my daughter was just the opportunity she needed to come out of her shell and blossom. Things could not have backfired worse.
B has a sleepover birthday party and my daughter was invited. I was thrilled. There were about 10 girls there, all in her class and I thought it would be a great opportunity for her to become closer to some of them. I was out of town for work this weekend so my mom took her to the party and picked her up. I got a FaceTime call Saturday morning from my daughter in tears telling me what a terrible time she had and how everyone had ignored and excluded her. I was heartbroken and I let her vent and tried to build her up and let her know I was in her corner. I texted B’s mom to find out more, and it soon became apparent that my daughter was a big part of the problem. B’s mom emphasized how she and some of the other girls at the party tried to make my daughter feel included, but she perceived that she was being ignored and was not welcome, and she spent a good bit of the party crying and complaining. Now I’m not going to pretend that there are no mean girls in her class, because there are, and cliquishness is definitely rearing it’s ugly head already. But I trust B’s mom and I know that the way she described the situation sounds exactly like something my daughter would do.
I am still trying to be supportive of her and make her feel like I am on her side so that I can guide her to make better choices and handle herself better in the future. But last night I talked to her and asked how school went Monday and if she talked to B. She said yes and that she also talked to B’s mom when she came to pick her up at aftercare. I asked her to tell me how to conversation went and she said that B and her mom were upset that a few of the girls did not have a good time at the party, and my daughter REITERATED that she DID NOT have a good time.
My jaw dropped. Her lack of tact or social graces or just EMPATHY to know that you don’t further knock a friend down when they’re already upset… it makes me feel sick. I texted B’s mom and asked her to apologize to B on my behalf, and I got back a very graceful and very gentle reply which basically confirmed my fear that B is not going to want to continue the friendship. And my daughter still doesn’t seem to “get it”, that she did anything wrong.
I feel like I’m in so over my head. I thought she just needed more practice to find her way but I’m coming to realize that’s not the case, and I think there is something really wrong with her and she needs help. I’ve got an appointment to talk to her school counselor and I’m trying to figure out how to get her into professional counseling so we can get to the bottom of this, whether the problem is emotional, behavioral, neurological… I just don’t know. She has Medicaid so that’s an added layer of difficulty in getting prompt attention, but I can’t afford private health insurance or to pay out of pocket right now as I’m in school. Her dad and I are also not together and he is showing an astonishing lack of concern about her problems. We split time with her 50/50 right now but I think that that is causing her emotional problems and I’m looking into petitioning for primary custody so that I can give her more stability and support, but that is a whole other can of worms.
A concrete question to end this rant though: should I sit her down and make it clear to her that B does not wish to continue the friendship and her behavior is to blame? Part of me really wants to, because I want it to sink into her head that her behavior towards other people, towards FRIENDS is unacceptable. But if her behavior is stemming from emotional or psychological problems that are outside of her control, i don’t want to pile onto her and make her feel even worse about herself. Besides I’m not even convinced that she is able to get it because I’ve always pointed out how her behaviors might push people away but it doesn’t seem to sink in.
Coach Richie: Parenting should be easy and what I am saying may hit a nerve that bothers you. However, It is what we need to hear as parents when we feel overwhelmed and think our children are broken. Our ego’s tell us that we are bad parents.
There is a lot of things going on here. Your daughter is living with a label that she is an outcast. Helping her build social skills…What does that mean to you? sports, play dates, etc. Is this what she wants? I know that is what we want as parents. To make sure our children our socially acceptable. But how we go about helping them sometimes hurts them because by us thinking we are helping them by sometimes forcing them into doing more things to make friends. We ultimately are reinforcing the label that they are believing about themselves (outcast, social misfit).
Listen to the language you are using. Sink into her head, unacceptable, pile onto her. You tell her that her behaviors push people away. You are validating how crappy she feels about herself. Does your daughter actually make you feel sick. Turn that question back to yourself. The way we view others is usually a reflection of how we see ourselves. Do you think she can feel this negative energy coming from you?
What does coming out of her shell and blossoming mean to you? What are you really afraid of if she doesn’t do this? What are the consequences you see? How does that reflect upon you? What does she need to withhold her truth? Is that a form of social acceptance? What is wrong with telling her friend that she didn’t have a good time? It is honest. She was just going along with the crowd because other’s didn’t have a good time. So you don’t want to her to express her feelings? Do you think suppressing her feelings is good? How do you think that will benefit her in the future?
What does she need to eventually GET?
Are you out of town for work a lot? Does she maybe feel abandoned? Her parents are no longer together? She is being left with her grandmother? What do you need to do in order to understand her world even more? She is only 9 years old. She is not you. She is her own person trying to find herself in this crazy world.
She is also most likely having difficulty with a 50/50 arrangement. Her world is chaos, she has two sets of rules and getting different advice from both of you. Her entire world is falling down around her and nobody is listening to her. Everyone is trying to fix her. I see this in so many parents. They think their child is broke. But what is broke is the relationship we have with our children and the environment they are in. We need to fix us before we can even be there to support our children.
Do you want to help yourself and your daughter? Do you want to save her from turning to her the outside world for advice (she will eventually find friends) but not the friends that you think she should have. The will be outcasts that will poison her mind against you and your ex. You have a small window of opportunity now before you lose her forever to the world. These children end up in prisons and coping with drugs and alcohol. I work with parents and teens every day that end up in this space because nobody heard them and they certainly didn’t see them.
What are you not seeing? What are you not hearing?
She needs some more love not more lecturing and how to act conversations.
This is another window of opportunity to change course. Don’t let it pass by. You can love them or control them. But you can’t do both. All my love and support on your journey.
I would be happy to give you an hour of my time and help you brainstorm some options. However, it is going to be very uncomfortable for you because the focus needs to be on you and not your daughter.
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