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Playground Cliques

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: My nine-year-old daughter is being excluded from play cliques on the playground. She has a wonderful teacher who has tried to advise her but, nevertheless, Candace just can't seem to make any loyal friends. She is an only child, very sensitive and big for her age. She also gets top grades in school and enjoys that part of her school experience. She actually gets along quite well with the boys her age, but would much rather have female friends. She is very lonely and miserable, and I am considering taking her out of the school system for a couple of years and homeschooling her. Do you have any suggestions?

A: I think removing her from school because she hasn't made any loyal friends would probably be a mistake. She would know you would be taking her out of school not because she wasn't doing well but because she was having a miserable social life right now. This running away response wouldn't be a very good life lesson for her to learn in terms of her future responses to difficult situations. Also, at present, she's getting good feedback on who she is by how well she is doing in school.

It's not unusual for a 9 year-old who is oversize for her age and smart to be excluded from social cliques and this exclusion plays out dramatically on the playground. I would suggest investigating other experiences outside of school for her to establish a "new identity " in - religious youth organizations, scouting, 4-H, youth sports, youth theater, etc.. Talk to her about what appeals to her most and give them a try. Meanwhile, if there is anyone in her school that she thinks might accept an invitation to come over and play with her, discuss how she might extend that invitation.

You may also wish to meet with the teacher again to brainstorm how your daughter might be integrated more into the social world of her peers; if she is as supportive a teacher as you say, I bet she'll continue to find ways to help your girl. I know it must break your heart to see her so much in need of friends; I believe if she expands her present social world she'll have a much better chance at friendship. Good luck.

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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.

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