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.