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Q: My bright and sensitive 11-year-old is in a class of 20 sixth graders who seem to constantly gossip about and harass each other verbally, both boys and girls. Because she is slightly overweight, you can imagine some of the subtle and not-so-subtle remarks. Because there are no girls her age in our immediate neighborhood, good opportunities for other friendships are minimal. I try to listen and support her, but feel her disappointment and frustration at not having a really close peer relationship. In working with her teacher and the principal, a LCSW will be working with the class on relationships. Might you have any other suggestions?
A: This can be such a tumultuous age. A pre-adolescent is already having enough troubles, beginning to grow into a new body, trying to create her own "grown-up" identity, hoping she'll be one of the popular kids, without being subjected daily to a class that seems to have a built-in harassment component. And yes, I'm sure that her being overweight targets her for additional teasing. I certainly would not put her on some rigid diet (as I've seen many parents do) in hopes that if she wasn't overweight she wouldn't get harassed.
Beyond the LCSW's class participation, which is a fine idea, how can your girl find a peer group she can feel comfortable with? I have counseled many kids in your daughter's situation and most all of them have found those good opportunities for friendships from belonging to groups outside the school. I would search your area for social, civic, athletic, religious, volunteer kid's groups. Talk with your daughter about these groups and see which ones appeal to her. My son found affinity groups in a pottery class and summer camp; my daughter found them in scouting and volunteer organizations.
When you join a new organization, be it a theater group or a 4-H group, you get a chance to "reinvent" yourself and leave the trappings of your school identity (the one others have created for you) behind. Good luck with your daughter's new beginnings. And don't be discouraged if the first experience isn't a dramatic success, keep trying.
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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.