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My 7 and 6 year old daughters (Alyssa and Alex respectively) are very loving, caring and generally considerate toward one another. Notwithstanding normal little spats and being highly competitive and mildly possessive with their toys and clothes, they play beautifully with one another and Alyssa is a very nurturing though somewhat shy older sister while Alex is very sociably confident.

The problem begins with the situation that my wife's best friend has a daughter (Scarlett) who is Alex's age. Alex and Scarlett are best friends but all three girls are often together simply because my wife spends a lot of time with her best friend with the kids (carpooling to school, at our house and in general) and this results in Alyssa find herself in the position of a third wheel and left to play with herself.

The worse part of this scenario is that Scarlett who is (extroverted and self-confident like Alex) deliberately plays in a way to exclude Alyssa in order to keep Alex to herself and is chronically and calculatingly mean to Alyssa . Alex is aware of this on a conscious level and tries to include Alyssa but Scarlet plays my two girls off against one another in a manner that almost always results in Alyssa being excluded. The situation is further exacerbated by the fact that Alex and Scarlett have sleep-overs at Scarlett's house and Alyssa is once again left out.

My wife and I have tried to address this by actively seeking out play-dates and arranging sleep-overs for Alyssa with her two best friends, but my wife's friendship with Scarlett's mom and the consequent time all three girls are together creates an unavoidable imbalance.

I am not in a position to admonish Scarlett for being mean to Alyssa and her mom who I have to admit treats both my daughters with genuine love and affection is nevertheless willfully blind to her daughter's mean conduct toward Alyssa.

My wife's friendship with Scarletts mom has previously also to an extent blinded her toward the problem and she has previously been very harsh with Alyssa when Alyssa acts out against the patently unfair situation. But after we had a few discussions she now recognizes it and we are both trying to fill in by specifically spending time with Alyssa when Scarlett is over, but this still leaves a great deal of time where the three girls are essentially together with adult supervision but not direct interaction - and consequently Alyssa is vulnerable.

This has been going on for the last three years and I had hoped that it would sort itself out but is has unfortunately gotten more insidious and has clearly taken a toll on Alyssa.

Can anyone suggest how my wife and I may hand this with Scarlett and her mom in as kind a gentle a manner as possible?

AJ

  • By any chance, does this happen more at Scarlett's home than at yours? – WRX May 7 '17 at 21:20
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    It's so glaring that I have not noticed any difference based on location; however the kids are far more often at our house than Scarlett's. Also the meanness mostly verbally/psychological rather than physical whether: sharing toys or snaks with Alex and delberately telling Alyssa that she will not share with her or criticising or disagreeing with Alyssa's - but all in disquietingly matter of fact tone... Because I am concerned about taking an approach that might make things worse I don't get directly involved other than to say "that's not nice..." I do get vicariously hurt though... – Dad of two Grade-School Girls May 7 '17 at 23:42
  • I will think it over, but hope someone has some good ideas. – WRX May 8 '17 at 0:18
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    Maybe Scarlett just dislikes your eldest daughter. There's a million little things that could cause this. After all she is only 6 and hasn't developed the ability to just act nice. There are a lot of adults who haven't either. – Snowlockk May 9 '17 at 13:03
  • Snowlock. Thanks for your observation. Scarlett definitely seems to dislike Alyssa, however my experience is that this manifests primarily when all three are together since Alyssa represents competition for Alex's attention. When Alex was on a few occasions either ill or absent for some reason Scarlett happily played with Alyssa - so at the very least she knows how to be nice even if she may simply dislike Alyssa beyond just competion for Alex's attention. – Dad of two Grade-School Girls May 9 '17 at 18:40
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I have a general idea but it's 'not soup'.

Could Alyssa be put in control of some aspects of play? For example, she is the one serving snack to the three girls. She keeps the board games in her closet or drawer.

I assume that this is a concern shared by your wife. If she can't tell her best friend there is a problem, suggest that the girls play closer to where the adults are. Yes, it is noisier, but you need to protect Alyssa.

Could you try taking a 'home movie' and then let the movie speak for itself. I am not talking about spying -- everyone knows the camera is there.

This article discusses some ideas for helping children assert themselves.

  1. Talk About Boundaries
  2. Explain Why Assertiveness is Important
  3. Respect and Praise Your Child’s Assertions
  4. Respect Your Child’s Privacy
  5. Encourage Your Child to Express Feelings
  6. Encourage Extracurricular Activities
  7. Model Assertiveness
  8. Put Your Child in Charge of Decisions
  9. Teach Your Child to Manage Emotions and Handle Disappointment
  10. Teach Your Child to Follow Through

Perhaps the most important part of teaching children to be assertive is teaching them to follow through with what they say. If your child has told his sibling that he doesn’t want him going into his room and taking his toys but then says nothing if it happens again, he is not following through on his words.

So you and your wife need to teach Alyssa to set boundaries and to follow through on what she says. I'll assume that the other girls play with toys that technically belong to Alyssa. So if Scarlett and Alex are not as kind as they should be, perhaps she can refuse them access to these items.

You are not trying to create a bossy child, and it is a fine line. So you'll also continue to praise your daughters for thoughtfulness, kindness and empathy and give them opportunities to use these skills. Modelling behaviours shows children how we do things in our family and behave as adults.

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    Willow. Many thanks for your thoughtful response which articulates in an organized manner what we have been attempting to do but in a somewhat more haphazzard inexperience manner. I have already deliberately applied some of your enumerated sugggestions and it the instant result was quite remarkable. Eg When I was driving back from school with the girls yesterday from school Alyssa was in front with Alex and Scarlett in the back playing and I gave Alyssa my phone to play with and to call Scarletts mum to let her know we were dropping her off. Alyssa's face lit up in both instances ... – Dad of two Grade-School Girls May 9 '17 at 18:31
  • @DadoftwoGrade-SchoolGirls If I helped even a little, that thrills me to bits. Sometimes just being 'removed' from a problem can help us other people. I hope you'll continue to participate here and I am also certain that your experiences will help other people with questions. Don't hesitate to add your own insights. Thank you. – WRX May 9 '17 at 18:37
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    Upon reflection, while I typically get along very well with kids (including Scarlett's siblings) because of the situation (despite my efforts) I do not behave toward Scarlet as I do with other kids and she senses this and has been somewhat standoffish with me. So I decided to experiment yesterdy at school pick up by asking Scarlett for a hug as I always do with Alex and Alyssa and after a moment of hesitation she leaned in and there was a palpable release of tension. My honest belief is that Scarlett is quite a good child and that I may able to guide friendlier conduct with Alyssa. – Dad of two Grade-School Girls May 9 '17 at 18:53
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    +1 for giving Alyssa her own toys, and control over them. – sharur May 9 '17 at 19:07
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TLDR: Sisters can share many things. Friendships don't necessarily have to be among them. And being one sister's friend does not necessitate being the other sister's friend as well.

This answer is designed as a supplement to Willow's excellent answer: Perhaps, you should find an separate (but fun! By no means should this be a punishment or downgrade) activity for Alyssa to do. Perhaps (best case scenario), you could set up a play date for Alyssa, with one of her friends or class-mates, at the same time that Alex and Scarlett are playing together. The solution to Scarlett wanting an exclusive friendship with Alex is for Alyssa to have a friend as well.

Scarlett is trying to exclude Alyssa, which must be painful for her, but it is a part of human interaction that we all must learn to deal with as we grow up. In a decade or two, would you feel the same way if Alex had a significant other who likewise was differentiating between her and Alyssa?

As Willow has said, boundaries are important. Scarlett, rightly or wrongly, is also setting boundaries. She is trying to establish a friendship, an in-group with Alex, but not Alyssa.

She has made this very clear, especially by inviting Alex, but not Alyssa. Your daughters are independent people, with their own likes, dislikes, and personalities. They are distinct, which means people(like Scarlett) can choose between them, which is what has happened here, with Scarlett indicating a preference for Alex (who is the same age as her) over the older Alyssa.

I have had first-hand experience as a "Scarlett". The situation was different due to a number of factors, but the core element was the same: I was my friend's friend. I was not his younger brother's friend. My friend was a joy for me to be around, and his brother was an active annoyance, so I also would specifically try and invite my friend but not his brother.

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    Wow! Sharur. Many thanks indeed for your supplemental comments which continues to reflects a level sensity and thoughtfulness I'm super delighted to have found on this site. As it happens - a couple of months ago I came to the very same conclusion regarding play-dates and actively seeking to nuture Alyssa's friendships. So for example while we went to Disnay last year with Scarletts family we went this easter with one of Alyssa's best friend's family (who sadly return to Canada in June) and set up several weedend playdates with another of her friends, Alexis who is resident here full time. – Dad of two Grade-School Girls May 9 '17 at 20:00
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    Your other points are also extremely helpful and again are so consistent with the logical approach that I subcribe to that I'd like to think I may have come upwith similar analogous reasoning had this topic not been so close to home. I will continue to experimentally implementing both your and Willow's suggested strategies with a view to sharing the results as they occur over time. Ps. Perhaps I am somewhat naive but my experience with all three girls is that they have much they can share with and benefit from each other and they would be a formidable team if they could learn to get along. – Dad of two Grade-School Girls May 9 '17 at 20:20
  • @DadoftwoGrade-SchoolGirls Glad I could be of assistance. – sharur May 15 '17 at 16:29

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