One day at the playground, Bailey McArthur, 7, of Jesup, Georgia, watched three classmates pretend to be the Powerpuff Girls. When one left, Bailey asked if she could join in. The girls told her to go away. "It shocked me that children this age could be so hurtful for no reason," says her mother, Christine.
It shouldn't have. With improved social skills, 6- to 8-year-olds are learning to make -- and choose -- friends. Before long, they discover that one way to strengthen a bond with one group is by excluding others. Often, these tactics start out unintentionally: A grade-schooler may not want to stop a game in the middle, or may prefer to hang out one-on-one with a buddy.
"There's nothing wrong with liking one child more than another, but leaving someone out just to be mean is a different story," says Melanie Killen, PhD, a developmental psychologist at the University of Maryland, in College Park.When Someone Gets Left Out
If you see your child excluding others, don't embarrass her in front of her friends. Wait for a quiet moment to speak to her, point out the insensitive behavior, and explain why it's wrong ("How do you think it makes Tammy feel to be treated that way?"). Tell her you expect her to treat people with more compassion from now on.
On the other hand, if your child comes home one day and says, "Nobody likes me," calmly ask what happened to make him feel rejected. Did kids on the bus refuse to sit next to him? Was he excluded from a game at recess? You might recount a similar situation you dealt with as a child. "That way, he'll understand it's something all kids go through at some point," says Daniel Koenigsberg, MD, associate professor of child psychiatry at Yale Medical School. Give your child suggestions for dealing with the situation the next time. End your conversation by saying, "I'm glad you told me about this, and we can talk about it anytime you want." This lets him know he can come to you again if the problem doesn't go away.