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Q: My nine-year-old daughter is about to enter fourth grade. She attends a small private school and has been with many of the children since kindergarten. She really has no close friends at school and is already dreading the social aspects of the new school year. Last year we made a concerted effort to invite classmates over and it helped slightly, but only one child returned the invitation.
She does have two close friends that attend school elsewhere but is anxious for more school friends. The class has developed cliques and my daughter doesn't know how to break into the groups. I think she is immature socially and that puts the others off a bit. She is not quick to compromise and is so easily offended but is not in return sensitive to others' feelings. She wears her desire to belong out in the open and the others have taken advantage of her -- taking her lunch goodies and telling her to bring them candy.
A: It's really difficult for a parent to watch a child be unsuccessful forming friendships. Small schools have lots of advantages, but you have noted one of the major disadvantages -- limited groups of peers with which to make friends. With very small schools a child may be in a classroom setting with the same group of children every year, and as you have found the options for friends are small.
The classroom teacher is probably aware of the friendship problem in the class. The teacher or the school counselor could begin the new school year with some activities for the entire class on making friends and being a good friend.
During fourth and fifth grades, children (especially girls) are becoming more independent and branching out from their friends, and even those who have been best friends since kindergarten may have problems getting along. Your daughter will probably see some of the cliques beginning to shift this year, which is another reason for whole class friendship activities. The school counselor could also be asked to work with small groups or with your daughter individually on friendship and assertiveness skills.
Continue to invite the other children to your house, and encourage your daughter to keep up her friendships with the girls at the other school. She may even want to invite those friends over when she has girls from her school over so that they can see what a good friend she can be.
Finally, you can talk with your daughter as well about how friends should treat each other. The word "compromise" is an important one for her to learn. She can also practice with you ways to be assertive so that the other girls no longer take advantage of her.
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Barbara Potts has worked as an elementary school counselor for many years. She has a BA in psychology from Wake Forest University, and an M.Ed. in Guidance and Counseling from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.