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Helping Third Grader with Social Ostracization

QUESTION: My third grade daughter has been ostracized from several groups of other girls, at school recess time and from parties and after school activities. I perceive this to be a result of her preference for more active pursuits than the "girly" ones most of her peers are into. She is definitely concerned about this, as the one girl she used to regularly play with has developed a preference for quieter activities with the others. We have involved her with scouts and sports activities, but have the same problems. How do we help her to deal with this rejection and make new friends?

Your sensitivity and support for your daughter to develop in other than only "girly" ways is laudable. Yet, you have indeed found other more active avenues for her which still end up repeating her experience of rejection from the "group". It is probable that you have not truly ascertained the effect she is having on others in her peer group. In order to help her, you may need to adopt a compassionate but more objective viewpoint.

Arrange to meet with her teachers and/or scout leaders to achieve a more objective understanding of how another adult might view her present social difficulties. Third grade can be a particularly emotional trying time for girls as they learn about triangles and who is "in" or "out". But if your daughter is always on the "outs" regardless of the group or activity, there may be something that she is doing which makes her vulnerable to being "scapegoated". If so, it would be in her best interests to learn more about how she may be affecting others around her.

You may discover new things about your little girl which will help you to help her. For example, she may have the makings of a natural born leader, but be expressing her comfort with dominance by being overly "bossy" in group activities. This could have the paradoxical effect of making her both very attractive initially, but eventually rejected for her inability to share the limelight in some way. If you have raised her to express herself confidently and helped her develop her self-esteem by supporting her very active interests, she may have evolved a strong sense of herself and her own needs, but a weak sense of others.

The most common reason for your daughter's problem is undersocialization in the sense of acquiring an ability to share and take turns in group activities. By 3rd grade (unlike the earlier grades) children begin to experience their power in groups. The ability to cooperate becomes increasingly important. This does not mean that your daughter must squelch herself to be accepted, nor should she. Repetitive rejection across various and different settings could simply point to the need to assess her ability to take pleasure from cooperation as well as healthy competition in group settings.

Continue your wonderful support of her budding personality and seek more objective criteria for what she experiencing. If none of these suggestions seem appropriate, or she continues to experience recurrent rejection, consult with a child therapist who specializes in social skills and school assessments.

You are right to be concerned, as your daughter's self-esteem rests not only on her independence and self-expression, but on her ability to forge rewarding relationships. She is fortunate to have a mother who is looking out for her best interests!


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Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter..

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