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My 2nd grader is coming home talking about how there are two 'teams' (her term) of girls who talk about each other, are mean to each other, and try not to allow 'their friends' to be friends with the girls from the other social team.

My daughter doesn't understand this, and while she doesn't like everyone (naturally) she is very upset and is having trouble navigating the social scene.

I have talked to her about being friends with everyone, that that is okay and the right thing to do, that talking about other children is not right and against our religion. She agrees and wants to do this.

How do I teach her how to do this, as it is not easy for adults, therefore more difficult for an 8 year old.

We talked this morning about playing with one 'team' at morning recess and one at afternoon recess as she does not have the power to solve the problem, although her desire to do this is great.

Suggestions on how to navigate this type of social scene (which I see as bullying from her perspective) would be most appreciated.

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3 Answers

When our daughter was in second grade and faced with a situation such as the one your daughter is/was in, her immediate response was always "WHY would I want to be friends with someone like that?" Our daughter is friendly to everyone, but naturally chooses NOT to be friends with kids who talk negatively about others and who are exclusive. She instinctively values kindness above everything and chooses to be with people who show kindness to others as well. As for your daughter, instead of trying to be accepted by either of the "teams" and possibly worried about what they could say about her, she might want to focus on what SHE thinks about them and ask herself if a friendship with any of these girls would be a high quality friendship.

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Does your school have any programs or advice that you can build on?

My town has delivered clear messages -- in the elementary schools on up -- that bullying isn't acceptable. They're also quite clear on the wide range of behaviors that qualify.

You can repeat these messages to her, and remind her of whatever mechanisms the school has put in place (e.g., telling a teacher) i order to get the help of an adult who is on the scene.

More generally, it sounds like the 50/50 plan you suggested is a good start.

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I think this type of bullying or social castigation is especially common in female circles. It's interesting that you posted this because one of our local morning radio programs spent a large portion of the show a couple of weeks ago discussing bullying, the new movie Bully that's just come out, and they had some bullying experts on the show who pointed out some very important points about bullying.

First and foremost, they stressed the difference between bullying and conflict. Both situations obviously make you uncomfortable, but bullying only occurs when there is an obvious imbalance of power or strength and one child has difficulty defending him or herself. Conflict, however, involves antagonism between two or more people, and it sort of sounds like what you have here is more conflict than bullying. However, from my experience, in female groups bullying and conflict sort of go hand-in-hand (in other words, both groups are involved in spreading rumors and calling names which is bullying).

Now, there can be a slippery slope from conflict into bullying, especially if your daughter is concerned that if she spends time with both groups of girls that she will ultimately be ostracized by both groups--and social isolation is a common form of bullying. Is she receiving negative feedback from either group because she's trying to hang out with both groups? If not, then I think you're doing the right thing by encouraging her to be friends with girls of different groups and helping her manage her anxiety about that.

However, if her friends are starting to turn on her because she's trying to be friends with girls from other groups, then that is something that needs to be addressed differently. I don't have a great answer, but I can recommend what the local radio show told its listeners (and I know this will work for you since you're here in the United States). They recommended that you contact your area Anti-Defamation League who has gotten really involved with its anti-bullying campaign and has a lot of stuff on its website about bullying. If you can't find the answers on their website, you can contact them directly and speak to someone about your situation and they might be able to tell you how to handle the situation better.

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Our school is actually working with the ADL in the middle school grades, so maybe I will mention to the admin that they should speak to them about the lower grades as well. –  morah hochman Apr 20 '12 at 12:32
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