"I think parents should not intervene unless it's a really big problem. If it's an attitude problem or a problem with a friend at school, don't do anything and let your daughter figure it out. For a first- or second-grade girl, then it's OK to talk to the teacher, but after that you will just embarrass the girl. By the time you get to middle school, I would actually rather have someone publicly humiliate me than have a parent intervene."
-- 13-year-old girl
"This girl raises some interesting points from her perspective. However, I would never tell a parent not to intervene if the social problem is serious, but I don't believe parents can 'fix' every small social conflict. I always tell parents to support their children in finding solutions to social problems and intervene only when they need you to, not because you need to."
Michael Thompson, Ph.D.
Co-author, Best Friends, Worst Enemies
If your elementary-school girl comes home in tears, or has a conflict at a play date, you can help her with some strategies for resolving issues on her own. "I am more of a believer in getting elementary-school girls to do their own thinking and helping them brainstorm solutions, even if they are different from the parent solutions," says Lawrence Cohen. "Guiding her to solve it independently (with a little help from you) will help her far more than you rushing to call the other girls' parents." Here are some questions that might help her solve the problem:
"What did you try?"
"How did it work?"
"What else can you try?"
"These questions help parents get out of the trap of telling kids what to do," says Cohen. Even if the answer to the first question is 'nothing,' your second question then becomes, 'How did nothing work?' "
Here's how one parent tried this with his nine-year-old:
"When my daughter Lucy went into fourth grade, her best friend Annie dropped her for another girl, her old best friend Sally. Lucy was devastated. We talked to Lucy's teacher and we talked to Annie's mother, but we decided not to intervene, partly because Lucy asked us not to. Instead, we listened and we sympathized. Lucy would come home with stories about how mean Annie and Sally were. We asked Lucy how this made her feel and what she would like to do about it, and encouraged her to play with other kids. Lucy would describe how disappointed she was, but she was closed to any suggestion to talk to Annie, because she said she was too shy. We brainstormed with Lucy ways of talking to Annie. We didn't tell her what to say; instead, we asked her what she would say, if she had the nerve.
"A few weeks later, Lucy came home, proud. 'I talked to Annie at recess. I told her I felt left out when she was with Sally, that it made me sad. Annie said that she was friends with Sally and friends with me, but that Sally and I weren't friends and I should get to know Sally better.' Lucy was optimistic. We told her how proud we were of her for expressing her feelings. That's the real victory here. It's likely she will still experience some heartbreak with these two girls. But the important thing is that our shy daughter took a stand in a positive way, and explained her feelings directly and successfully, without us doing it for her."
Next: Middle School Survival