Teaching Your Child To Not Be The Victim

by admin on November 6, 2013

My daughter Em is in 5th grade at a fairly small private school. We moved to the area three years ago, and quickly realized that the girls in her class are exceptionally clique-y. She has done a good job of making friends since second grade, and feels comfortable with her classmates, but the dynamic hasn’t changed much, especially for new students.

Last year, a new little girl came to the school and apparently had a very hard time making friends. We will call her Lizzie. I encouraged Em to try and be friendly with Lizzie, knowing that it can be hard for ‘the new kid.’ Em would routinely come home with stories of Lizzie getting into loud, vicious arguments with basically everyone in the class, and said she wasn’t comfortable pursuing a friendship with her because she wasn’t nice. I let it go, and told Em that as long as she wasn’t actively being mean to anyone, she didn’t have to hang out with Lizzie.

At the beginning of this year, I was at Back to School Night and met a woman who turned out to be Lizzie’s mom. She launched into long, complicated tale of how she moved here to escape Lizzie’s abusive father and to get medical treatment for Lizzie’s rare cancer at the children’s hospital in the city. She told me that Lizzie had a hard time in fourth grade but all she really wanted was a friend, and that she was really very sweet but scared and sick and that manifested itself as her being aggressive. She gave me her phone number and asked if we could try to get the girls together.

I went home and had a long talk with Em about Lizzie, and we suggested that maybe she would be nicer if she had some close friends to spend time with, that she probably felt like an outsider and was just hostile because she had a hard life. Em resolved to try to be her friend, and I was privately very proud that she had decided to show compassion and kindness to someone who was not particularly nice to her without my prompting.

Well, that was two months ago, and I cannot even begin to describe what an absolute disaster it’s been. Lizzie is by turns outright cruel to Em, ignores her, obsessively calls her and follows her around, and then the cycle begins again. She will send her a nasty text messages saying that Em is a stupid loser and that she is embarrassed to be seen with her, and then she will call her an hour later and invite her stay the night. The next week at school, Em will say hi to her, and she will tell her that in school they shouldn’t speak because she only wants to talk to ‘popular’ kids. She has pulled her chair out from under Em at lunch, and accused her of stealing from her desk, and been generally terrible. Em has decided that she is just going to ignore her, and I agree.

Unfortunately, Lizzie’s mom still texts or calls frequently to get the girls together, and I am torn whether to just sort of give her the brush off, or to actually tell her how Lizzie is acting and because of that, Em doesn’t wish to be her friend.

I have contacted the school, and they are no help, they ‘make it their policy not to get involved in playground disputes.’ So it’s basically up to me to either ignore this woman, which I don’t feel is right, or to add to her already significant burden by telling her that her sick daughter is acting improperly. It’s my opinion that those who seem the least lovable are the most in need of love, but I don’t want to teach my daughter to be a doormat. Help! 1103-13

I know some parents will try to use other children to address behavioral issues with their own….BTDT.   Years ago a mother told me how much she loved when our DSs got together because mine was such a good influence on hers and she proceeded to tell me of her son’s problems.    Hmmmm……  I wasn’t aware there were behavior issues with the other boy and subsequently began to scale back the amount of time the boys were together in the belief that it is not my pre-teen kid’s job to be a supervisor, cop, teacher or in any way responsible for training another person’s child.

Lizzie needs professional counseling because she is profoundly angry at the world for dealing her a harsh hand.    Her father is abusive and she must deal with the stress of cancer which is hard enough as an adult, let alone by a child. Lizzie cannot control much about her life so she is being manipulative to control other people’s emotions and lives.   It’s sad and she needs help.*   Lizzie’s mother needs to be made aware of what it looks like from the “friend of my daughter” perspective and why her daughter is having such a hard time making friends.  You are not doing Lizzie or her mother any favors by being discreet regarding Lizzie’s behavior.

Train your daughter to recognize the source of certain behaviors and how to confront bad behavior from alleged “friends” because Lizzie will not be the last manipulative person Em will encounter in her life.   Lizzie is the type of manipulative person who tells two different narratives which confuses the intended victim.   Lizzie is exercising power over Em by jerking her back and forth emotionally.     Em needs to learn to recognize when this happens and basically call the manipulative bluff by forcing Lizzie to be honest to one narrative only.  For example,  being invited for a stay over hours after receiving a nasty text message….Em can respond as follows, “Lizzie, you are being manipulative and I am not playing this game.   I won’t be jerked around by you this way.  You texted me that you were embarrassed to be seen with me and I am taking you at your word that this is how you view our relationship so I am declining your insincere offer to stay over tonight.”   Ditto for the “shouldn’t speak (to me)  because she only wants to talk to ‘popular’ kids” scenario.   Once Lizzie has played this manipulative card, Em can rebuff future friendly overtures as both insincere and yet another avenue to manipulate her emotionally.   Em takes control of her life back and learns how to be the one who determines the outcome of a difficult manipulation attempt.

*Suggest to Lizzie’s mom that she look into a therapeutic horseback riding program.   It’s not just for people with physical disabilities.   There is something about handling a 1000+pound animal that is good for the soul of a troubled child.  It is a large, powerful creature that can be controlled  when everything else feels out of control.   Horses are very honest and will give you exactly what you input into them, i.e. try to be manipulative by asking the horse to go forward with the legs but not go forward with the reins and you’ll likely get bucked off because that is exactly what you told the horse to do.   You’ve commanded it to move in the only direction it can…up.    Kids learn to respect the horse as a partner and that partnership can yield wonderful results.

{ 119 comments… read them below or add one }

Puzzled November 6, 2013 at 6:24 am

That’s an awfully long speech for a 5th grader to make. I can’t really see that happening. The situation sounds serious enough to speak with the child’s mother about her daughter’s behavior. They are still at an age that parents need to step in. I know if I were a mom, I would want to know what is going on so I could make sure my child got the help she needed.

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LadyLelan November 6, 2013 at 6:35 am

“Unfortunately, Lizzie’s mom still texts or calls frequently to get the girls together, and I am torn whether to just sort of give her the brush off, or to actually tell her how Lizzie is acting and because of that, Em doesn’t wish to be her friend.”

OP, I’m afraid I don’t understand what you are torn about. Your daughter was molested, mistreated, manipulated, shouted out, insulted, etc, by Lizzie.

IMO, Lizzie’s mother HAS to be informed of her daughter’s behavior, politely but clearly, and to be told that because of such appalling behavior, Em does not wish to be Lizzie’s friend any longer.

This poor child urgently needs counselling, she sure has a deeply harsh background to deal with, but this is absolutely no excuse to the way she’s treating the people she interacts with.

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Charliesmum November 6, 2013 at 6:40 am

I’m no psychologist, but it seems to me that Lizzie has learned her behaviour from her abusive father. And her mother, because of the abuse, probably doesn’t have the skill set needed to learn how to stop that behaviour. They both need therapy, I would think. And I agree that it isn’t your place or your daughter’s place to try to fix the girl’s problem.

This line in general made me wonder about the school – they say their policy is ‘not to get involved in playground disputes.’ That, to me is tantamount to saying ‘we don’t care if kids bully other kids.’ I know the ‘zero tolerance’ thing gets out of hand sometimes, but if a kid is bullying – which is exactly what Lizzie is doing – they need to step in and do something. The fact that their policy is to look the other way is troubling to me. It IS the school’s job to step in and say to the mother ‘We’ve noticed some problems with Lizzie. We suggest you seek professional help’ or whatever it is they can legally say and do.

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lkb November 6, 2013 at 7:33 am

Because this is an etiquette website, perhaps the best advice to give would be to train Em in Ehell approved phrases: “I’m sorry, that won’t be possible.” “That’s an interesting assumption.” etc. And of course, cold silence when Lizzie crosses the line yet again.

As the Admin says, this won’t be the last manipulative person Em meets. Perhaps this can be the training ground she needs to learn to deal with such people all her life.

BTW, I am sympathetic to what the OP and her daughter are going through, having been there myself as a child and as a mom. It ain’t easy, especially when the school won’t help. Sigh. I would also suggest reporting incidents to the teacher and the administrators and also document everything. You may never have to use it (and I hope not), but if things escalate…

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Skittle November 6, 2013 at 8:01 am

I love the suggestion that Lizzie gets into a therapeutic riding program. For me, that approach would be preferable, and more likely to help, then a therapist or counselor. Great advice Admin.

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Lo November 6, 2013 at 8:19 am

Your obligation is to protect your daughter. Your compassion for the other girl is nice but irrelevant to the situation at hand.

I was bullied by other children my entire life. I can’t imagine how much worse it would have been if my parents had tried to push me to be friends with my tormentors. Having no friends is better than having bad friends. Your daughter needs to learn this lesson immediately.

There’s no need to get the school involved. Just tell the other mother your daughter can’t see her daughter anymore and tell her what kind of a child her daughter is.

“Lizzie” is not just a victim, she’s a bully. Cancer and abuse are reasons for bad behavior but they are not excuses. They do not give this girl a free pass to mistreat your daughter.

Admin is spot on about this not being the last manipulative person your daughter will encounter. Your daughter is in for a lifetime of meeting potential abusers, manipulators, bullies, etc. As are we all. The sooner we learn not to be jerked around by them, the better.

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Cherry91 November 6, 2013 at 8:22 am

Ah, I know this situation well.

I used to have a horrible “frienemy” who behaved a lot like Lizzie, only missing the troubled background (to my knowledge anyway). Even when I tried to pull away from her, I’d often get dragged back in because her parents and mine were friends, and her mother would regularly tell me how happy she was that we got along, because Frienemy had never had many friends (my response was usually to nod and smile while biting my tongue practically until it bled so I didn’t point out there was a reason for that).

When Frienemy crossed a line in the sand far worse than anything she’d ever done before (I told her I didn’t want to be friends anymore; she told her teachers I was bullying her and tried to get me in trouble that could have gotten me suspended) my mother called hers, and Frienemy’s mother was SHOCKED. Although she was aware that Frienemy could be quite unfriendly, she had no idea how bad her daughter could get. She told myself and my mother that if anything else happened we were to tell her right away and she would *deal with it*.

Mothers can often be blinded to their children’s flaws. I recommend that the OP tell Lizzie’s mother exactly WHY their daughters will not be spending time together anymore.

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Jinx November 6, 2013 at 8:23 am

Lizzie does have a very terrible story, and Em has been more than generous and kind to allow Lizzie to get past her new tough girl “act”. Sadly, it’s not an act.

I agree that Em shouldn’t be friends with her any more. It’s not a good example that if someone has a sad story, they can verbally abuse you and boss you around, as long as they invite you out after. It’s terrible to say, but it sounds very much like the standard cycle of abusive relationships. I can tell Em is a compassionate soul and deserves better than that. I hope Em knows how inappropriate Lizzie’s behaviour is and that Em is not way responsible for the meanness she receives, please tell her she should never have to put up with that over and over, no matter how hard someone’s life has been.

It is a sad tale. I’m surprised Lizzie hasn’t already received counseling/therapy. Unfortunately, there is a stigma around mental health that makes it very difficult to suggest therapy to someone we are not close to, even when one has gone through heaps of mental trauma.

As a mother, it is your job to protect your daughter from/steer away from harm as best you can. This relationship with Lizzie seems nothing but harmful.

You know Lizzie’s mother better than I do. Is there a way to word “Lizzie is verbally abusive and mean towards Em, after all this time (last year?), and it’s not healthy for Em to be in a relationship with someone like that. I feel for Lizzie, but it seems she has a lot of anger she needs to work through…”

If not, whenever asked if Em can meet up with Lizzie, “I’m sorry that won’t be possible”
lather, rinse, repeat.

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Susan Purcell November 6, 2013 at 8:33 am

Your daughter certainly does no to be continually harassed by this girl. Seems Lizzie needs help. If the school is unwilling to help, that might not be the best school. No, your daughter needs a short phrase. No, I can’t hang out anymore. I am busy by. That’s it. Honestly Lizzie sends a nasty text and a hour later wants to hang out. Mom, protect your child. Don’t worry about Lizzie’s feelings.
Don’t any teachers see a problem. I would no longer be friendly with the Mom. You can block numbers on your cell phone. Call your provider and ask.

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Roslyn November 6, 2013 at 8:40 am

My empathy for another child stops when my child is being harmed. My child comes first. Period.

I can feel sorry for Lizzie’s situation and her Mother’s troubles all day, but that comes to a crashing halt when MY child is being damaged. I would have no issue at all with telling Lizzie’s mom how she was treating my daughter and their relationship was coming to an end, at my hand.

It isn’t your job to help someone else’s child, you can bring the behavior to her mother’s attention, but get your daughter out of that. Teach her to stand up for herself and not be controlled by others by teaching her to WALK AWAY from people like this. It is NOT your daughter’s job to somehow “help” this child by sacrificing her own emotions and stability in life for a dysfunctional family. That is just too heavy of a burden for such a young child.

And schools? Well, that is another story. They want to put on big productions for “anti-bullying” but when it comes down to the nitty gritty and getting their hands in the battle they shy away and say there isn’t anything they can do. It’s a load of bull, but more and more that is the norm.

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Mae November 6, 2013 at 9:11 am

I agree wholeheartedly with @Roslyn (comment #7) . I agree with the other comments as well, but Roslyn said exactly what I feel.

OP- Em tried to be friends with Lizzie and it just didn’t work. I fully support you telling Em she should not put up with the abuse any longer and just ignore Lizzie. My son had a fair-weather friend this year and when my son wised up to his game, all requests to hang out where met with “I’m busy” or “I have something else to do”.

The school not wanting to get “involved with playground disputes”?? Really?? A student at their school is being harassed and bullied by another student and they don’t want to get involved?? So if Lizzie causes Em injury by pulling chairs out from under her or she suddenly feels the need to punch Em in the face, the school is going NOT going to get involved?

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Mae November 6, 2013 at 9:12 am

Oops, make that @Roslyn comment #10

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DGS November 6, 2013 at 9:15 am

(I am a psychologist, although I typically work with adults and with adolescents, not with children). Assuming that what OP is saying is indeed, accurate, Lizzie sounds like a very troubled child who needs serious professional interventions. If there is in fact an abusive father (or mother), a history of cancer, or simply the tumult of a divorce and a move, she is clearly struggling and is not currently able to engage in healthy emotional relationships. I would encourage OP to speak to Lizzie’s mother (calmly, factually, politely) about what Em has reported to her, and I would also encourage OP to communicate with both girls’ teachers about Lizzie’s purported acting out (is it as bad as Em says it is; there is always a possibility that children exaggerate, although even if half of what is being reported is true, it is still something to warrant interventions). Even if the school has a policy to not intervene in playground disputes, a troubled child needs to have appropriate attention directed to help her, and teachers may have noticed Lizzie’s volatile nature and acting out behavior. A school guidance counselor may help facilitate some brief short-term counseling and a referral for Lizzie and her mother for individual and family therapy and potential psychiatric evaluation/consultation.

Meanwhile, it is perfectly appropriate to not have Em and Lizzie play and socialize together outside of school and to encourage Em to be civil and polite to Lizzie but to not socialize with her and to speak to her teachers if Lizzie acts out towards her.

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Phoebe161 November 6, 2013 at 9:23 am

I would caution that OP watch out for the mother’s reaction to the news. She may or may not take it well. In an abusive relationship, both sides (the abuser and the victim) learn and display unhealthy behavior, not only in their relationship, but in relationships outside the marriage.

Second, I am appalled at the school’s hands-off policy! No wonder there are cliques–there’s no repercussions for unacceptable behavior!

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L.J. November 6, 2013 at 9:24 am

I’d watch out for the school suddenly breaking its policy of non-involvement when Em refuses to be Lizzie’s punching bag anymore. Be particularly wary of the phrase “forgive and forget.” It is used to get victims back in line for more abuse.

OP, you are supposed to protect your daughter. Don’t try to do good deeds through her. She had a better instinct for staying away from Lizzie than you did, because she saw more of the situation than you did. Parents are often quick to urge their children to befriend kids like Lizzie, even though they themselves avoid the adult Lizzies at work.

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Saucygirl November 6, 2013 at 9:26 am

I agree with telling the mom, and if she seems receptive, suggesting therapy. I also think though, that you need to prepare em for the fallout that will most likely occur. Because if lizzy is that mean when they are friends, she will most likely be much worse if they aren’t. And I would keep reporting things to the school, regardless of their policy. As an other poster said, at some point they as professionals need to step in and give their professional opinion. Because this situation is way beyond a little playground spat.

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flora November 6, 2013 at 9:35 am

At the point Lizzie’s mom asked to get the girls together was the perfect time for you to tell her your daughter already tried being friends and while Em is willing to be polite and friendly, you aren’t going to push a friendship on her.
I am probably biased, I remember being pushed into a few friendships when I was a kid and I resented it. Lizzie needs more help then just a simple friendship.

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Cady November 6, 2013 at 9:41 am

I would also take your complaint to the school board or school district. This is not a “playground dispute”; it’s bullying. You should at least know if the policy to allow bullying to continue is district-wide, or if this school is dropping the ball on something the district actually wants to address.

Bottom line for Lizzie: It doesn’t matter how crappy a hand life deals you, you have no right to treat other people like crap. She is young and would probably benefit from counseling, but neither Em nor anyone else has to put up with her abuse.

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Rap November 6, 2013 at 9:44 am

“And schools? Well, that is another story. They want to put on big productions for “anti-bullying” but when it comes down to the nitty gritty and getting their hands in the battle they shy away and say there isn’t anything they can do. It’s a load of bull, but more and more that is the norm.”

In fairness Roslyn, having taught in a school, and I no longer teach in part because of things like this, let me explain what happens when a kid like Lizzy is called out on her behavior. Her mom will insist it didn’t happen and the other kid is a liar. Also, if it was teacher witnessed, the teacher is a liar and hates her child and btw Lizzy was defending herself and has health issue x, y and z and therefore anyone who crosses Lizzy is looking at a lawsuit.

Someone else made the comment that “my child comes first” and I assure you, there are very few parents these days who don’t immediately fly off the handle when its their kid being called the bully. Parents pull the “how dare you attempt to question my parenting” routine. Thats why schools won’t do anything – – because parents won’t back them up, because its never ever their parenting or their little precious who is really the problem, its the school and someone else’s kid. Because when their kid is accused, these days, most parents put their kid first and defend them to the max even if the kid was being a holy terror.

That is why schools resort to zero tolerance policies – if they don’t then every parent plays the “my child comes first and I want an exception!” card.

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ketchup November 6, 2013 at 9:46 am

Your daughter had explained what she thought of her classmate. She didn’t like her. Then you met Lizzie’s mother, and she convinced you to have your daughter befriend Lizzie. I don’t understand this at all actually. Mothers are often the most unreliable sources on their children’s behaviour. They are often completely unaware of how mean their child can be. Your daughter however, she knew! Trust her a little bit more about these things, eh?

And yes, your daughter first.
That doesn’t mean you can’t help Lizzie and her mother though. Tell Lizzie’s mum what her child’s doing, in honest words. No fibbing, no euphemisms.

And some advice for your child’s protection. Tell her to keep her head up, walk straight. Look strong. They tend to pick on the ones that look weak. It’s best if she cries with you, and doesn’t at school. So be there for her, at all times. Make sure she knows this. (My mum and dad weren’t there for me when I needed them, and it’s taken me years to understand how I could help myself not to be bullied.) Yes, it’s the bullies that do the bullying, and yes, it’s not the bullied ones’ fault, but victims can do something to protect themselves.

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Cat November 6, 2013 at 9:56 am

If Lizzie is in school, having sleep-overs and has the energy to bully a child, I rather think her illness is under control, but her behavior is not.
Several responders have hit the nail on the head-a school which will not respond to bullying and dismisses it as “playground” disputes while a child is being tormented needs a wake-up call.
Em can say to Lizzie, “You are mean to me and I don’t like being treated that way. Leave me alone.”
Lizzie’s mom needs a clear understanding of her daughter’s behavior and that you will not allow your daughter to be maltreated. Don’t make it Em’s decision; you tell Lizzie’s mom that you don’t want the girls to be together.
It’s true that Lizzie’s behavior might be a result of her father’s treatment and that her illness had a part to play in it. It may also be true that Lizzie would be this way regardless of her homelife. I grew up with a sociopathic brother and it wasn’t the home environment or illness that made him that way.

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AS November 6, 2013 at 10:01 am

You have taught your child to be empathetic. She has tried, without the success that Lizzie’s mother expected. That is enough. Your primary school daughter does not have to take up the job of a trained psychiatrist for a troubled classmate.

As everyone else said, you have to tell Lizzie’s mother. Maybe she is not aware if the situation. Maybe she is just blind to abuse at the moment. But you are completely justified at saying that you cannot let your daughter face anymore emotional abuse from Lizzie. And I think that you have to do the talking to the mother and not make your daughter say everything. You can tell in a very kind and understanding manner – which is true, you are empathetic about her situation.

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Asharah November 6, 2013 at 10:12 am

I think somebody once said that when dealing wirh schools that refuse to protect your child, the appropriate phrase is, “My child is being harrassed by _____, and if you don’t take proper action to protect her, I will take legal action against you.”

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Amy November 6, 2013 at 10:14 am

Just a couple of observations on the story as published. (I realize it may have been shortened for clarity or the author may have changed or left out things to protect identities).

The thing that struck me most about this is that Lizzie seems to have a great deal of energy for a child undergoing treatment for a rare cancer. When you move to get treatment for something like that, the treatments are often brutal and taxing. As I mentioned, evidence of serious illness may have been left out of the story, but it does make me wonder.

Regarding the school’s reluctance to help, I would at the very least keep in the back of my mind finding another school for my child. This is a fairly minor issue in the grand scheme of bullying, but it is still bullying, and it’s perplexing to see that the school is not interested in at least intervening in the incidents on their property. I would contact the teachers instead of the administrators (if the admin was who gave the brush off) or I would talk to the admin if the teacher had been called and claimed that “playground disputes” are something they don’t get involved in. I would wonder, given the mentioned clique-ish nature of the school, if either the teacher(s) use a ‘designated victim’ to manage bullies or if the administration looks the other way if a parent is paying full tuition and/or is generous in other ways.

Regardless of what is going on, this Lizzie girl needs help and Em needs protection, and Madam Admin has made several excellent suggestions. One other one I would make is finding an outside of school activity for Em that she enjoys and has no overlap of classmates from school. That way she has another space to make friends and be herself without all the baggage of her school relationships, plus an outlet to have fun/be creative/play sports/whatever.

Also, do consider that “small and private” may be an excellent school, or at least have an excellent reputation, but may *not* be the best place for every child.

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acr November 6, 2013 at 10:17 am

Does Em still have any of Lizzie’s mean texts? Perhaps the OP can forward them to Lizzie’s mom, with an attached message: This friendship is not working out. I will no longer allow Em to spend time with Lizzie. Then block Lizzie and Lizzie’s mom on cellphones, FaceBook, etc.

That “we don’t get involved in playground disputes” is unacceptable. OP, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don’t let the school get away with that. Your daughter is TRAPPED in that place with Lizzie for 40 hours a week. Figure out what you want them to do – it can be very simple. For example, tell them you will instruct Em to leave Lizzie alone and you want them to make sure Lizzie leaves Em alone. If you don’t get an acceptable response, take your complaint up the chain. Be a thorn in their sides. Contact a local anti-bullying group and ask for advice.

I am going to be harsh – I think so far you have really let Em down. You have been more of an advocate for Lizzie than you have for your own daughter. No, Em did not choose to befriend Lizzie of her own volition. You guilt tripped her with your long talk about how hard Lizzie’s life was, how her dad was abusive and how she had cancer and she’s probably just mean because she doesn’t have a close friend. You signed your daughter up to be Lizzie’s whipping girl. And now you’re “torn”? Step up. Take care of your child. Your hand-wringing isn’t doing Em a bit a good.

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Kate November 6, 2013 at 10:32 am

The issue the OP has is that she isn’t sure what to say to Lizzie’s mother. She states that her daughter does not want to spend time with this girl any more, and that she will support that, so there’s no concern there. The only issue is what to say to the mother.
I vote for keeping being honest, but without lowering yourself to insulting the child. A brief explanation of the behaviour that Lizzie has been exhibiting, and inform her that the mixed messages and manipulation upset Emily and she no longer wishes to be friends and you accept that decision, and asking her not to contact you any more.

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Politrix November 6, 2013 at 10:37 am

Jinx wrote: Is there a way to word “Lizzie is verbally abusive and mean towards Em, after all this time (last year?), and it’s not healthy for Em to be in a relationship with someone like that. I feel for Lizzie, but it seems she has a lot of anger she needs to work through…”

I think that’s the perfect way to put it; no re-wording necessary. It’s polite but assertive, and addresses the issue directly but calmly. Lizzie’s mother may not realize it, but she, too, is being manipulative in her own way, with her insistence that both your daughters continue this warped relationship. (I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be the first parent to bring up Lizzie’s behavior with her mom, and if you are, you’re doing her a HUGE favor!) By standing up to Lizzie’s mom, you’re setting an example to your own daughter on how to handle Lizzie.

(I also think the suggestion that the school get involved at this point is a bit of an over-reaction. If the situation escalates to the point where your daughter dreads going to school in the morning, or her schoolwork/social life suffers, then that’s time for the school to intervene; but for now I think you and Em have the ability — and responsibility — to handle it yourselves.)

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mark November 6, 2013 at 10:47 am

Pushing your child to get close to a toxic child like this is just asking for trouble. In my experience it is rarely worth it. Children like this are past masters in lying to get your child in trouble as a manipulation. While all the “after school” specials would have you believe that just a little bit of love is all that is necessary, be very careful giving in to this line of reasoning. It very often isn’t true. And you just end up getting burnt.

I don’t want to sound unsympathetic to Lizzie, I am truly sympathetic, but as others have said, my child will always come first for me and quite honestly my child lacks the experience and training to deal with situations like this. And the school in this situation is not following the law. They absolutely have a legal obligation to step in and stop bullying. Don’t hesitate to point this out to the school in no uncertain terms. They will often take the lazy approach if you allow them.

I also think it unlikely that Lizzie’s mother is unaware of her daughters behavior.

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Allie November 6, 2013 at 10:49 am

I may be way off here, but my spidey senses are tingling so I’m just going to throw this and see if it sticks. You say you are torn because of what you’ve been told about Lizzie’s background and illness. But are you sure Lizzie’s mom is telling the truth? Has Lizzie ever been away from school for “treatments”? I have met so many pathological liars in my time I’m beginning to think at least 1 in 10 people have this condition, maybe more. Lizzie’s mom may be well aware of Lizzie’s conduct, or at least that she can’t manage to keep a friend, and have concocted a sob-story to manipulate you into helping her daughter manipulate Em. After all, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I think both you and your daughter need to end your association with Lizzie and her mother. You both need to agree to do so and present a united front in your respective dealings with mom and daughter. It seems doubtful to me either of them would benefit from the truth, so I wouldn’t bother with explanations. Just decline all their overtures in future and keep you communication with them brief, as suggested by ikb above.

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clairedelune November 6, 2013 at 10:56 am

What a sad situation all around. Maybe the silver lining for sweet Em is learning the *very* valuable lesson that we can have empathy for people, but still not want them in our lives because they are such destructive forces. Cutting off a friendship with Lizzie does not preclude Em from feeling sympathy for her terrible circumstances and wishing her well (from a distance)–or put another way, our sorrow at seeing someone else in pain does not automatically mean that we OWE that person something. Certainly not at the expense of our own well-being.

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denise miller November 6, 2013 at 10:57 am

As the mom of a 4th grade daughter, who just went through a very similar incident with a new student at school, my advice would be to be honest with Lizzie’s mother. Why are you expecting a young girl to do something that the mother isn’t comfortable with?

Because of the hand she’s been dealt, it is most likely that Lizzie is delayed emotionally and would greatly benefit from an adult that can help knowing that she needs it.

I’m fairly confident the story that Lizzie’s mom is getting from Lizzie in regards to the friendship is quite different than the one you are getting.

If at any time Lizzie is causing Em to get hurt on school grounds, the school is required to get involved. Most districts have anti-bully policies that dictate what kind of text messages, emails and phone calls are appropriate between students and obviously touching is never acceptable in most school settings. I would review the district’s policy and let the teacher and principal know that you are up to speed on it and expect it to be followed.

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inNM November 6, 2013 at 11:11 am

The school is shirking its responsibilities. If either Lizzie or Em were to be injured in a “playground dispute” then the school is legally responsible, regardless of their policy, since the problem with policies is they cannot be legally enforced (Note, a policy cannot be enforced, but other legal methods can be implemented if the policy is broken). The fact remains that the school is responsible for the safety and well being of the children in takes in, and should one of the children get injured and the school looks the other way, especially if it does not take reasonable steps to prevent it from happening, the school is responsible. It is no different than if Em were injured by slipping and falling in a puddle of water in the hallway that the school ignored because it’s their policy to let evaporation happen on its own. Document everything, including every correspondence/conversation with the school and its administration, so that when things comes to a head, you can show a history of negligence.
As for Lizzie (and future bullies), I like the 3 strike process. Em tells Lizzie that she’s willing to start over but she gets two strikes. The first one may be a misunderstanding, so she’s willing to forgive. The second one she is on shaky ground. The third time it happens, Em is done with her, and will drop her like radioactive waste. No more phonecalls, no texts, no emails. Go so far as to block her phone number from the phone.
As for Lizzie’s mom. She could genuinely not understand the depth of Lizzie’s emotional disturbance, but guessing that she has been in an abusive relationship for so long, she knows but can’t deal with it coming from her daughter. Once again, put all the incidences in writing and in the letter, explain to her that as Em’s mother, you will not continue to encourage a relationship where your daughter is abused. Suggest therapy programs locally in which she could enroll Lizzie and if they provide scholarship programs or financial assistance for single mothers/abusive situations. You can end by stating that ignoring Lizzie’s social problems will not help her in later years, nor will it help the budding friendship between your daughters and neither Em nor you will tolerate being subjected to Lizzie’s abuse any longer.

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Kovi November 6, 2013 at 11:19 am

I agree very much with the Admin’s suggestion of horse riding therapy. I used to volunteer my time at such a program, and it’s great for both physically and mentally disabled kids.

The only thing I might worry about is Lizzie’s potential for wanting to harm and manipulate others. You gave the example of her telling a horse to buck, and while I wouldn’t be too worried about the horse, there are handlers in the arena at all times, controlling horses and helping children. Depending on how far Lizzie might go, I’d worry for their safety.

I’d say trying it would be best, but if things get too dangerous, take her out of the program.

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Anonymous November 6, 2013 at 11:32 am

I had a friend like that from late grade five through grade seven. She was a year ahead of me in school, so by the time I was in grade eight, she’d graduated and gone to high school. Anyway, she had other on-again, off-again “friends,” who would steal and extort things, and do the typical “relational aggression” kinds of things that are typical with girls that age–friends one day, not friends the next, etc. The only thing that made this harder for my parents, and the teachers, was that I WANTED to hang out with the original friend (let’s call her Kayla), because I didn’t really have any other friends, so it was either put up with Kayla et. al, or be alone, and get teased for it. My point is, Em recognizes that Lizzie’s behaviour is unhealthy, and wants out. That’s great–that’s half the battle won already. As for the other half, you might have to be a bit more forceful with the school. Suppose Em and Lizzie were adult co-workers, or college or university students, and Lizzie was doing the same things to Em. In that case, the human resources department, or the people in charge of the college or university, would absolutely intervene. This isn’t a “playground dispute,” it’s a prolonged pattern of harassment. If the school absolutely refuses (or, if you don’t want to try again with them), then it’s probably time for a sit-down with Lizzie’s mother. If anything, you’re doing Lizzie a favour–yes, she has a hard life because of the abuse and the cancer, but she’s making her own life harder for herself, by alienating herself from the other kids at her school. I’d prepare for the talk with Lizzie’s mother, by researching ways to get Lizzie help–a counsellor or a social skills group, for example. There are also specific groups, camps, etc., for kids who have been victims or witnesses of abuse, and other groups for kids who have cancer. One of the latter organizations that immediately comes to mind is Camp Oochigeas, and it’s really good, because the campers can actually receive chemotherapy, etc., directly on site, so they don’t have to leave the camp and interrupt their camp day. They also have traditional camp activities, like swimming, sports, and arts and crafts, and some “not-so-traditional” activities, like waterskiing, all in a supportive environment where nobody feels singled out as “the kid with cancer,” because EVERYONE there has (or had) cancer. Anyway, my point is, Lizzie probably feels a lot of anger at being surrounded by healthy kids from loving, intact families (from her point of view, anyway, because we know that nobody’s home life is perfect), and so, she’s taking it out on them. Lizzie’s mother knows that her daughter is unhappy, so she might be receptive to getting Lizzie the help she needs. If not, then at least you tried. In the meantime, absolutely keep the girls separate, and if Em doesn’t want to put up with Lizzie anymore, she shouldn’t have to. But, if Lizzie and her mother go along with getting help, then after some time, Lizzie might just turn her behaviour around, apologize to Em (and the other kids who she’s hurt), and start having an easier time at school, and in life.

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Hanna November 6, 2013 at 11:46 am

This is petty 5th grade girl stuff. I went through plenty of it when I was that age and I didn’t have my mommy talk to my friend’s mommy. I think it’s important for kids to ‘work it out’ themselves these days, but instead girls like Lizzie are immediately labeled a bully that needs psychological help. Now, I understand Lizzie is going through a much more difficult time than most girls her age and she may find benefit in seeing a therapist anyway. But I’m not sure if, as the mom, I would get involved. If Lizzie’s mom asks why the two girls aren’t hanging out, I would be honest and say something like “You know, Em has been telling me that Lizzie’s been rude to her a few times at school, so I guess Em just wants to kind of keep her distance I guess” and not put too much more thought into it.

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AE November 6, 2013 at 11:49 am

Honestly, I’d tell her Mom that her daughter has been exhibiting abusive behaviors towards mine and that I do not think that continuing their acquaintance is good for my daughter. Then don’t give an inch. That girl certainly needs help, but you and your daughter are not the ones who need to provide it.

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Harley Granny November 6, 2013 at 12:17 pm

I agree with most of what has been said already…but you asked about dealing with the Mom.

I feel for her I really do but……1st off release your daughter from anymore forced contact with this other child. I understand it….poor little girl with a hard life has no friends. I get it…..but the best thing you can do for this child is tell her Mom.

Go to neutral territory…go armed with the texts…go armed with empathy for her. Make sure she knows that you’d rather be anywhere but there having to have this discussion with her.

But also let her know that you don’t feel comfortable exposing your daughter to anymore of this treatment.

You going to bat for your daughter will teach your daughter that you’ve got her back. She probably already knows that your heart was in the right place in asking her to befriend this child but she also needs to know that you’ll protect her no matter what.

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Challis November 6, 2013 at 1:00 pm

I’m with Allie, my immediate thought was that the girl’s illness could very well be a made-up story and the mom is a crazy liar and feeds the behavior that the friend shows to the OP’s daughter.

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Barbarian November 6, 2013 at 1:04 pm

First, I am concerned that Lizzie’s mom may not be telling the truth. Mean manipulative people often raise mean manipulative kids. People have been known to concoct stories of cancer or abuse as a ploy to gain others’ sympathy.

Whether Lizzie’s story is true or false, OP and Em have done their best to help this child and failed.

Now it is up to OP to help Em- a short line to Lizzie like other posters suggested should be enough. If Lizzie tries to hurt Em on the school property, it is the school’s business and ought to be reported.

Next, OP ought to call Lizzie’s mom and say sorry the friendship is over and her child needs counseling for emotional problems. Block Lizzie’s number from EM’s cell phone if needed.

It may seem off-topic but why are 5th graders texting each other anyway? It seems they can communicate the regular way and don’t need this added distraction.

Hopefully, this will defuse the problem as time goes by and distance between the 2 kids is created.

Op said this is a “small, private school that tries to stay out of playground disputes”.

Small private schools can be very good at preventing bullying and having a fair discipline system to provide an academic atmosphere better than a pubic school or unfortunately, they can inconsistently apply their policies for fear of offending wealthy families whose kids misbehave. It sounds like this school may be in the bad category.

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Dee November 6, 2013 at 1:31 pm

I have to agree with @Allie – my first thought was that Lizzie’s mom is telling tall tales. Their seems to be too much drama in Lizzie’s life with little evidence of it in terms of her health or demeanor. I would think at least part of Lizzie’s behaviour would be some sort of sadness and/or withdrawal, which doesn’t seem to be the case at all. If Lizzie’s mom is a pathological liar it would explain Lizzie’s behaviour completely and why she tries to manipulate people so much. But that is just my gut feeling …

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OP November 6, 2013 at 1:34 pm

I am the OP, and I thank you all for the comments, but I feel as though a lot of you are missing the point. My first paragraph, which has been edited out (with good reason, the post is long), asked for the classiest way to handle the situation with regards to the mother. I understand that things need to change, but I don’t think that flying off the handle and running to Lizzie’s mom, or to the school and demanding justice is a good example to set for my daughter either.

I want to address the issues in a way that’s conducive the kids learning, growing, and Lizzie getting help, not in a way that’s embarrassing or punitive to anyone. I’m proud of what my daughter has accomplished, how mature she is being, as well as compassionate AND assertive. Thanks.

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LizaJane November 6, 2013 at 1:39 pm

There’s so much wrong with this it makes my head hurt.
“Someone’s being mean to my child and I don’t know what to doooo”
Show Lizzie’s mom the texts and tell her why her daughter has no friends.
Tell Em to stick up for herself to this bully. Obviously the school won’t have a problem with that since it’s a “playground dispute”, which they ignore.
You’re paying for this “education”?

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chi2kcldy November 6, 2013 at 1:39 pm

OP, you are very polite. However for the sake of your daughter, end this friendship now. Lizzie has shown time and time again that she is in need of serious counseling.

Lizzie’s mother is either clueless to her daughter’s behavior. Or she is hoping her daughter will change by being around well-behaved children. In any case, this is too much for you and your child to deal with.

If the mother contacts you again, tell that the girls are not as close as they once were. That it is best to allow them to develop their own friendships with other peers. I am sure this is not the first time Lizzie’s mother has tried to pawn her daughter off on someone else.

You can speak to Lizzie’s mother, however she may only talk to Lizzie which will make her act out even more. My suggestion is to use this is a learning tool for your daughter. Explain how life events can affect a person’s personality. It is ok to have sympathy for someone. However, regardless of what a person goes through, it is never appropriate to mistreat others.

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J November 6, 2013 at 1:43 pm

I agree with acr. Em’s kindness has been exploited by both her mom and Lizzie. A few times on blog posts or articles about bullying, I’ve seen comments by people who boast that they tell their kids they “have” to be friends with any outcast/different/friendless children, and it always makes me cringe. The parents gets to feel like a hero while their kid assumes all the risk. (Because I was “nice,” I was pressured into several situations like Em’s as a kid, though nothing this extreme.) Of course kids should be taught to be kind to everyone, and hopefully some friendships will flourish, but unfortunately, some kids are struggling socially because of major behavioral problems, and it’s not another kid’s job – especially a kid already at risk of being a doormat – to deal with that.

OP, please stand up for your daughter, even if it makes you uncomfortable.

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Ashley November 6, 2013 at 1:50 pm

If I were OP, I would take my daughters phone with all the abusive texts, take screen shots of any abusive Facebook posts or emails, save any abusive voice mails, and present them all to Lizzie’s mother and say “I am no longer comfortable having my child associate with someone who treats her and speaks to her like this. I understand her illness may be causing her to be angry but I will not stand by and let her take it out on my daughter.” then block everything I could as far as email addresses and phone numbers.

Also, DO NOT let the school stand idly by on this. You can help your daughter at home. You can monitor the computer and her texts and things but you can’t watch her the 40 hours a week at school. If Lizzie is running around pulling chairs out from under people, someone could get hurt, and that’s on the school then for not handling it sooner. They shouldn’t allow bullying period, but strictly from a legal standpoint, I can’t believe they wouldn’t want to cover their own butts to protect themselves from potentially getting sued when someone cracks their head on the ground because Lizzie felt like pulling out a chair.

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June First November 6, 2013 at 1:52 pm

@Cat (#21) “If Lizzie is in school, having sleep-overs and has the energy to bully a child, I rather think her illness is under control, but her behavior is not.”
I think this is beautifully put.

OP, it’s a wonderful thing to teach your child to be inclusive and compassionate, but “toughing out” Lizzie might not be the best way to do it.

The one thing I WILL disagree with from Admin and other posters: Please don’t start your conversation with “You’re manipulative” or “You’re mean”. It’s honest, but I would think that people wouldn’t hear much past that opening. I took a self-esteem class about ten years ago, and they recommended “affirmative statements”: When you do X, I feel Y. I need you to Z.
For your daughter, “Lizzie, when you send me these texts, I feel hurt and don’t want to hang out with you. If we’re going to hang out, please should stop doing that.”

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Jenn50 November 6, 2013 at 2:13 pm

I don’t blame you for encouraging your daughter to make a second effort with Lizzie. My oldest son is usually the one who steps up in that way, and it’s been very rewarding for him, and I’m eternally grateful for the kids who have shown kindness to my special needs daughter, in spite of her sometimes difficult behaviour. BUT…time’s up. You can’t continue to subject your daughter to a campaign of cruelty for any reason, much less the nebulous potential benefit of someone else’s child, no matter what the reason. Her mother should be told the truth; that Lizzie is physically and verbally cruel, and you’ll not tolerate anyone being abusive to your child. Best of luck with that…
At school, Em can tell Lizzie, “You’ve been mean to me. I don’t want to hang out with you.”
And as for the school, this is not a petty little “Playground dispute”. I would look up their policy on bullying. I would bet that it is not written to allow physical bullying, such as pulling a chair out from another child, even if they won’t do anything about the verbal assaults. Use their own words back at them, from the policy. “My daughter is being (harassed, bullied, assaulted, whatever phrase they use in the policy) and I need to know what you plan to do to stop it, before I proceed with legal action against both her aggressor, and the school.” I’m not a fan of threatening lawsuits, but I believe that they are available and necessary in some cases to protect the vulnerable.

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MichelleP November 6, 2013 at 2:14 pm

@LadyLelan, “your daughter was molested”??? Where on earth did you get that?

@acr, you are entirely too harsh on OP. She did not “let her down” and she did not “guilt trip” her.

I was in a similar situation not long ago, only it turned out there were two sides. My daughter told me about another girl in class who was bullying her. That was my take on it, anyway. I didn’t know the girl’s parents, but knew that their family had difficult circumstances. I encouraged my child to just be polite to her, and if she got really ugly, tell the teacher. My daughter is a sensitive child, and tends to take things too personally, so I didn’t take it very seriously at first. Then my daughter came home in tears and described the girl being very cruel to her. I am protective of my child and immediately contacted her teacher. It turns out that yes, the girls had problems, but my daughter was just as much at fault. They wouldn’t leave each other alone, and the teacher tried to keep them separated. It ended up with the girl putting her hands on my daughter three times and my daughter finally had enough and poked her with a pen. It drew (one drop) of blood, and the school suspended my daughter for a week. They have the “Zero tolerance” of weapons and violence as well. It was a nightmare. I was furious with my daughter because I told her to tell the teacher, not give it back. She knew better. However, the other child had put her hands on MY child three times first. It was just a bad situation and thankfully they are now in different schools.

There’s no excuse for Lizzie’s behavior. Tell her mother what she has done and demand that the school keep them separated as much as possible. Em is to ignore her and be polite, and tell the mother when anything happens.

My mother forced me to be in friendships with kids of her friends, and I couldn’t stand it. No behavior as bad as Lizzie’s but it was not fun. I was bullied in school and I survived. I do agree that it needs to be addressed, but we have gone too far in the opposite direction. There’s too much overprotection and lawsuits and suspensions every time a kid looks the wrong way.

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Miss Raven November 6, 2013 at 2:21 pm

OP, you’ve raised your daughter well and you should be proud that she is a compassionate young woman. (IIRC, 5th grade is not a time when children tend to have too much compassion.) This is a teachable moment: Sometimes, no good deed goes unpunished.

As I think everyone agrees, you need to allow your daughter to distance herself from Lizzie, and help her along if need be. Your obligation ends there.

But I think it’s not a bad idea to have a sit-down with Lizzie’s mother and gently explain the situation. You should just be prepared for her reaction. She could be shocked and appalled and resolve to get Lizzie help. You could pull her out of a deep denial and she won’t be shocked, but she will be sad. Or, she could just as easily fly off the handle at you and your daughter for besmirching her precious, perfect angel who has had such a tough time and just wants a friend. Even if you think you know this woman, you should prepare yourself for each scenario.

If she wishes to continue her denial and things get out of hand, extricate yourself immediately, but firmly explain that the girls will no longer be spending time together, and that’s that.

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helen-louise November 6, 2013 at 2:24 pm

I have to admit, the first thing I thought of was wondering whether the cancer story was even true :/

It’s rather sad, and says a lot about the number of pathological liars I’ve seen on the internet.

I would advise ignoring what Lizzie’s mum has told you, and simply going with the evidence you have. It doesn’t matter *why* Lizzie is a messed-up, spiteful child. She needs help, and the only way for her to get it is for you to speak frankly to her mother and to the school.

If the school is unwilling to intervene, then it might be worth asking if your daughter can change to a different class (that is, if it’s large enough to have more than one class per academic year). It might also be worth looking for a different school, although I’m not sure how much difference that will make. When do children move to a new school in the US? What’s the likelihood of your daughter encountering Lizzie again at her next school?

I really like the idea of Amy@24 – find an activity that Em enjoys where she is away from school friends & can make a new set of friends. For me, it was Brownies/Guides (Girl Scouts).

But please don’t leave the situation alone. I’m 37, and I still haven’t recovered from childhood bullying despite a lot of effective therapy. Some children are resilient, others are not, and your daughter may be pretending to feel better than she really does. Teach her how to say “no” and mean it, while also taking the issue up with the girl’s mother and the school.

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