Q. My daughter is in kindergarten, and already there's a girl in her class who tries to exclude her. The child also tries to get other children to leave my daughter out. Unfortunately, my little girl doesn't get the concept of ignoring this child and moving on. - Mother in Cornelius.
Both girls want to fit into their new classroom, and both need to learn how.
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Adult logic of ignoring hurtful behavior doesn't make sense to young children, anti-bullying experts have found. Advice to walk away doesn't fix a child's sad feelings. Compassion for both girls - not just the child who feels hurt - needs to be the centerpiece of any solution, says Jodee Blanco, who teaches anti-bullying programs in schools nationwide.
"Compassion is the best antidote to this form of cruelty, and it must be taught in the home by example from an early age and then reinforced at school by teachers," says Blanco, an author who describes herself as a bully victim turned activist.
Research into the social nature of children shows that some girls start excluding others even before kindergarten, some as young as age 3 1/2. At that age, in the day-to-day whirl of little girls fussing over who has which baby doll or pink boa, a common exclusionary tactic typically is not vindictive: "You're not coming to my birthday party."
Exclusion that is vindictive is one of the most damaging forms of bullying that kids of any age can engage in, because it makes the victim say to him or herself, "There must be something wrong with me," says Blanco, author of "Please Stop Laughing at Me" and a sequel, "Please Stop Laughing at Us" (BenBella Books, 2008).
"But in kindergarten through fourth grade, while exclusion is hurtful, it's not likely to cause lifelong damage," she says. "When kids start forming cliques, from fifth grade on up, that's when exclusion becomes a serious problem."
To boost your young child's confidence when coping with peers, tell her to look the other child in the eye and say, "Stop. You're hurting my feelings," says Blanco.
Also coach your child by talking about how her classmate "is acting this way because something else is making her angry or sad. It's not you."
Without overreacting, it may become necessary to explore with the teacher in a nonaccusatory way: "Why is this happening?"