So our 6-year-old daughter is quite a sensitive person and she finds it difficult when the other kids at school argue with her (or even with each other).

We're normally quite a quiet family. We wouldn't normally shout unless something was really wrong. So she has trouble laughing it off when other kids shout at her at school - to her it's really upsetting.

Of course this is all part of normal life, I want to help her learn to cope with it.

I think what she needs to come up with is an assertive response, rather than bursting into tears. She tries to stop herself but she doesn't have much success.

Can anyone recommend resources - maybe a book or DVD? - that might be helpful? Or other recommendations for ways we could help her to cope?

We've tried role-playing with me / her mum playing the part of the other child, but she finds even that too upsetting.

She's not being bullied - this doesn't happen very often, and it's the kind of thing which many other kids her age would laugh off or even enjoy and treat as a game. I want to help her understand that she doesn't have to treat it as the end of the world when someone else has a cross tone of voice - they might not mean it (with her classmates, usually they don't mean it) and even if they do mean it, I want her to learn to be a bit more thick-skinned, because I think that would make her feel happier.

It's the group-dynamics type stuff that she has a problem with. The standard 'establishing a pecking order in a group' stuff that even adults do. She finds the 'storming' stage of group participation extremely painful.

5 Answers 5


Your description of how she reacts when kids at school argue with each other struck a nerve. My daughter, who fearlessly defends herself and her friends against bullies, gets VERY upset when her cousins fight with each other (siblings, slightly older than she is). We worked out a solution there where she tells them how much it upsets her when they argue, and helps them figure out a workable compromise. Since she's naturally empathetic and nurturing (at 3, she didn't challenge for the ball in soccer, preferring instead to go pick up teammates who fell down), this has been a good solution for her.

Have you looked into extracurricular activities where being loud and assertive could be encouraged? I'm thinking specifically of martial arts, but I'm sure there are others out there that would fit the bill.

One more thought: you mention that it's not bullying, but how does she view it? My daughter has experienced bullying since age 4 (Pre-K) and is 6 now, so it does exist even at this tender age (which is depressing, but that's another rant). We gave our kids three steps they can follow with bullies, which in my daughter's case have worked SPECTACULARLY (and hilariously) well:

  1. YELL at them to stop. And when I say yell, I mean EMBARRASS the heck out of them for bothering you.
  2. If the behavior continues, tell the person in charge (teacher, after-school care person) what's going on. They should stop it.
  3. If for whatever reason it does not stop, my kid has my explicit permission to MAKE IT STOP. I intentionally leave this vague, and do not give suggestions of what to do (other than reminders that initiating violence is not how we roll in our family). But I have told them that if I get a call from the principal, I will ask two questions. First, of my child, did you tell the teacher? Second, of the teacher, why didn't you make it stop? And if it's justified, the child will NOT be in trouble with me or my partner.

My daughter has never had to go to step 3 (and hopefully never will) but the confidence that we and her teachers (this is a discussion we also have with all her teachers and care professionals) have her back has helped ENORMOUSLY in dealing with untoward behavior from her peers.

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    +1 for the martial arts suggestion. Karate classes have given my daughter (10) more self-confidence and poise, and she is more capable of dealing with any level of conflict: friendly, boisterous, bullying, or even threats from an adult. (And the response isn't always "fight," it's more like the three-step process you describe -- but she is unlikely to freeze up and/or let her distress override what needs to be done.)
    – Acire
    Nov 13, 2014 at 12:21
  • Thanks @Valkyrie, that's really helpful. "Empathic and nurturing" hits the nail on the head. Will think about martial arts as a possibility.
    – A E
    Nov 13, 2014 at 12:43
  • Your 3 steps match ours amazingly closely. It works very well. My eldest has had to go to 3 once. The headmaster tried to blame him, but after we went through the questions it was obvious even to her that she was pointing the finger at the wrong person
    – Rory Alsop
    Nov 13, 2014 at 15:31
  • The thing is, the behaviour that she's finding difficult in other children is not necessarily 'naughty' behaviour. It's not necessarily things that a teacher would be right to stop.
    – A E
    Nov 13, 2014 at 19:08
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    The thing is, it's no use to go and tell the teacher about behaviour that isn't particularly naughty or wrong. Even yelling would be an over-reaction (as is the current bursting into tears).
    – A E
    Nov 13, 2014 at 19:59

It sounds as if your family members rarely raise their voices, have fierce arguments or hurl insults at each other. All of which makes for a great healthy family environment but also means your small daughter lacks the antibodies for when she does come face to face with people expressing their anger or being verbally cruel (another manifestation of one's anger) to another.

Perhaps you should take your six-year-old to a match, any sports game where she'll witness people getting upset and angry over a referee's decision, or their team losing. She should get used to the idea that different people have different ways of reacting and coping with stress. Some get more carried away than others. Many people behave quite differently at a sports stadium than at home.

Maybe she should join a team sport? Football (soccer), volleyball. How about fencing? A disciplined and elegant sport, but one where a certain assertiveness and aggression is required; you aim your foil at the opponent, you "attack" in order to gain points and vice versa you run the risk of being "hit" yourself (but obviously without the pain). It's a popular sport among girls/women in Italy, but boys also love this sport. Perhaps fencing might be a way of desensitizing her, a bit like becoming vaccinated. In other words she needs "safe" exposure.

Eventually, she'll understand that anger = aggression is not necessarily "bad", nor something to be scared of.

Anyways first time I've posted here, so please be gentle with me :)

EDIT: I found the following links which I thought might be of help

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    Welcome, Mari, and thanks for the good post. I'm not sure fencing is something you can find a class for a 6 year old (at least where I live, in the US), but in general the concept seems valid; here you'd usually go for martial arts for this sort of thing (Karate, Tae Kwan Do, etc.), which is certainly something I'd consider a great idea.
    – Joe
    Dec 5, 2014 at 23:17
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    Thanks Mari-Lou, and hi from ELU. :) Some really good ideas there.
    – A E
    Dec 6, 2014 at 1:57

Sorry to hear about your daughters situation, there is book called cool, calm,confident by Lisa schab. It does refer to bullying, but there are some good pointers you could glean from it. Does she have any siblings at the school, if not do you know any of the classmates. A good tip for building their confidence is being a little more independent, can you tell me if you car pool / walk to school? Maybe a good idea to bring other kids into the mix when you are there, then you will be able to see her and the others first hand, and be in a better position to advise her. Speak to her teacher, she would be able to give her a small role in class that pushed her comfort zone a little! Its good that you are recognising this now and working on it, but, don't get too worked up about it. Maybe let your daughter see how you deal with things like this (set up a role play without her knowledge) and when she sees that you are able to shrug it off, or deal with it, she will Learn from that. Good luck. I have a daughter who was so shy she didn't speak at school for 2 years, she is now 19, left home to study at university and although she is still quiet, she is confident able and happy. You will get there

  • thanks @wilma. The think is she isn't shy, she's just very sensitive to anything that could be perceived as mean behaviour (even if it's just the standard selfishness that's normal with 6-year-olds and which she sometimes displays herself).
    – A E
    Nov 13, 2014 at 12:47

Personally playing games with multiple players and winning and losing has really helped our family. That way if one child gets upset you can calmly explain to the other the reasons why, and that she is in a safe place even though the other child is upset. Also when your daughter doesn't win or gets frustrated or someone gets frustrated with her, you can be there not to stop it, but to let her know that she is safe whilst it's going on. That is, if it's a safety issue which it may well be. Basically put her in a position where there will be conflict, but make sure she knows that she is safe whilst it's going on. Even get some of her friends round or some kids from school.

Of course, children that age have little idea of how to describe their feelings let alone what triggers them. But it's about making the child feel safe in the environment. Socialise with other families and try to organise some events where there will be some points of conflict or upset (any winning or losing almost always gets this). But it's important to keep your daughter feeling safe, and that she has a voice and can use it to ask people to stop and that she has the power to walk away.

  • thanks @David. She's actually quite good at being a 'good loser' at board games. It's the group-dynamics type stuff that she has a problem with. The standard 'establishing a pecking order in a group' stuff that even adults do.
    – A E
    Nov 13, 2014 at 12:48
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    Excellent -- then she gets to watch the others argue, which kind of what I was trying to get at. When there is a disagreement between the other players as she starts to feel safe in those environments, then she'll realise that she also has a voice in those environments to assert her opinion. Especially if she's a good loser and there are those playing who aren't. Nov 13, 2014 at 14:33

There are two facets to your question: the assertiveness and the sensitivity. I'll address them separately.

The schoolyard, where there's one supervising adult per several classes of children, is not really the ideal place to learn assertiveness. The kids who are good at it are either naturally assertive or have already learned from older siblings. You need to arrange for real situations where you can be there to coach her: birthday parties, play dates, etc.

My 5 year-old daughter was extremely shy, to the point we thought she might have selective mutism. She would go to sunday school and not speak a word the entire time. What helped with her was giving her lots of opportunities to practice being assertive with our coaching. Sometimes parents unconsciously step in to protect a sensitive child, which reinforces the idea that they need protection. We consciously made an effort to avoid that.

For example, if she wanted something at a restaurant, we made her ask for it, but we told her what to say. If she came to us with a problem about another child, we made her solve it, but we told her what to say. If she wanted to play in a group and couldn't figure out how to engage, we coached her on what to do. It worked well enough that we're presently trying to dial it back the other way, to get her to recognize situations where she should ask us to intervene.

My daughter is still fairly sensitive though, and this is where I differ somewhat from other parents. While sensitivity can be a liability, it is also an asset. Thicker skin comes naturally over time, there's no need to rush it.

On that front, I would validate your daughter's feelings, explain the other kids' feelings, and help her recognize alternatives.

Validation means recognizing that her feelings are natural and okay. You don't want her to feel that something's wrong with her because of how she feels. Don't say things like, "You shouldn't feel sad." Say, "I know it's scary when people yell at you."

Explain what the other kids' actions mean. Your daughter doesn't have enough experience to put herself in other people's shoes yet. Say things like, "They're not yelling because they're mad. They just think they need to do it so others will pay attention to them."

Teach her to recognize alternatives. There are other children at school in her exact same situation. They are just harder to notice because they are not as assertive. Teach your daughter to actively look for those kids who are like her. Chances are she will be much happier in a group that plays by rules of consensus and courtesy, like your family apparently does.

Recognizing that she has alternatives is empowering, even if she decides she still craves the attention of the boisterous group. It removes the desperation, which reduces the consequence of failure, which reduces the risk. She will think, "I may as well try to be assertive, because if it doesn't work, or if the yelling gets too much, I can always try to find a quiet friend to play with."

  • Thanks @Karl. Thing is, she isn't an introvert particularly. If anything she's a bit of an extrovert. She's just really dependent on other people's opinions of her. She's always really wanted adult approval and now she really wants approval from her peers as well. And of course she doesn't always get it (how could she?).
    – A E
    Nov 13, 2014 at 15:09
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    Thanks for the feedback. I made a bad assumption because usually those traits go together. See my edits. Nov 13, 2014 at 16:51
  • Thanks @Karl. Yeah, it's good to just hear some other people's thoughts on it.
    – A E
    Nov 13, 2014 at 19:10

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