Saturday 16 December 2017

Family Life: How do I help my daughter with her controlling friend?

Dynamics: Small jealousies within groups of girls can easily arise – as comically shown in the film 'Mean Girls'' – for example about things like popularity in the group.
Dynamics: Small jealousies within groups of girls can easily arise – as comically shown in the film 'Mean Girls'' – for example about things like popularity in the group.
David Coleman

David Coleman

Q: I have a five-year-old daughter in senior infants. She mixes well and seems happy in school but one problem keeps cropping up again and again.

She made friends with another girl when she started school and since Easter of last year there always seems to be a spat going on!

I have a good relationship with my daughter and she always seems to take note of any suggestions I make to her when she's upset (although she seems to take no notice whilst we are actually talking). I always suggest that she go play with someone else when these spats occur as this other girl appears to be a bossy, dominant type.

I have recently had a few occasions on which to observe the situation and have noticed that when my daughter goes to play with someone else, this girl will not then let my daughter play with that other child, or alone. Instead, she torments and bothers my child (usually along with another girl) and makes it totally impossible for her to engage with someone else.

The school is small and there are only a few girls in her class so she has not that many options. My daughter seems very well able to express her feelings. I don't worry about the spats, but about the control that this girl attempts to exert over my daughter. What should I do?

A: You seem to have a very good insight into the situation and you are already taking important steps to protect your daughter from the possible impact of this other child's controlling behaviour.

It is a credit to your daughter that at age five she has the presence of mind to remember your advice, to just walk away and find someone else to play with.

For any child in such circumstances it is easy to feel that there must be something wrong with them that they attract such tormenting. It's great that your daughter seems so well able to express her feelings about what happens in school.

The difficulty that you and she face is -- as you recognise -- that in a small school her options for keeping a low profile and avoiding the trouble that this situation might provoke is limited.

If I were to speculate, it seems to me that this other young child may be insecure and may feel emotionally threatened by your daughter.

Small jealousies within groups of girls can easily arise, for example about things like popularity in the group. Unless such jealousies are helped to be resolved they can often fester.

If the issue isn't addressed then it can become a big problem that could drag through many years of their school life.

Since it will be hard for them to avoid each other it might be better to try to nip the problem in the bud and see if you can work out what the source of the niggling, bossy, tormenting behaviour is.

Once you understand this then the two girls, in theory, stand a greater chance of being able to get along better.

If you would like your daughter to be able to develop this more positive relationship with the girl then the most direct route is to talk to her parents. Such a discussion is not about apportioning blame, but it is about recognising that for some reason the two girls don't seem to get along some of the time.

This is also an opportunity to problem-solve how to help them to relate better.

It may be that her parents are not aware of any issue between the girls. They may even have the view that your daughter is responsible for the problem and that their daughter is more of a target.

By talking with her parents you will also get more of an insight into how and why their daughter takes the attitude that she does. You may be better able to understand why she behaves as she does towards your daughter.

Depending on how that conversation goes you may feel more or less like it is worth resolving and, more importantly, that it is capable of being resolved.

If her parents share your view, that it would be good if the girls could get on more, then they may be willing to talk to their daughter.

Then you can work between both sets of parents to monitor and facilitate the girls on respective visits to each other's homes so that you can help them to work out whatever problems are there currently.

If you feel it is not worth even trying to get the girls back on track (for example you may feel that this girl is not a good influence in any event) then you have little option but to continue your advice to your daughter to keep clear of this girl.

No matter which route you follow I think it is also worth bringing your observations to the attention of the teacher. Whether you are trying to help the girls to get on better or just to stay apart their teacher can help.

I also think you are right to keep emotionally supporting your daughter as I am sure you don't want her self-esteem to be too negatively affected by what happens in school.

To foster your daughter's self-esteem make sure you can find lots of opportunities, in school and at home, to help her feel loved for the good person that she is and to feel capable in her own ability to be influential in the world.

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