Not too long ago, we were sitting at family dinner when my 6-year-old informed me that she had to sit on the “friend bench” at recess. Upon further questioning, I discovered “the friend bench” was the kindergarten teacher’s clever way of helping kids recognize and include other kids who were being left out and needed a friend to play with. My kid sat on the bench by herself. I was heart-broken. I had volunteered in her classroom a lot. She had lots of friends at school and in her class. I had to figure out what was going on. If you’ve ever found yourself in the same situation, here’s what I did to solve the problem:

  1. Ask lots of specific questions. Who was playing what? Did you approach the kids? What did you say? What did they say in response?
    1. In my child’s case, she was a minute late to recess. When she got there, the other girls were already playing a game (typically, she is the leader and suggests something). When she approached the girls, she said “I’m going to play x,y,z….” The girls just looked at her and didn’t want to play. My daughter then walked away defeated and alone.
  2. Gauge your child’s stress.
    1. My daughter (admittedly, a bit inclined to the dramatic) was very stressed by the situation and dramatically declared she had no friends. I knew from that I needed to do a little damage control.
    2. If your child isn’t bothered by the situation, try not to project your own stress for the child. Steer clear of the phrases, “I’m so sorry you got left out, it’s terrible to not be included.” That sort of talk will only make the situation worse.
  3. Reassure.
    1. I told my daughter that we would work it out. I told her that I knew the girls in the class and I knew that they liked her. I told her that they were just already playing something else.
    2. In the case of a child who doesn’t seem really bothered, maybe a simple phrase like, “maybe we could try a few different things so you can play some of the fun games with other kids.”
  4. Offer very specific, situational solutions.
    1. In my daughter’s situation, I told her to decide who she wanted to play with and see what they were playing. Rather than insisting that they stop and play her game, she was to join their game (at the back of the line, etc.). If the girls are playing “grocery shopping,” approach the girls and offer to be a customer (rather than the more popular cashier). If the other girls are playing a team game, offer to join the team with fewer players to help even the teams out. If all the girls are playing a game of “freeze tag,” just go join as one of the kids running around. I essentially told her to join in without being pushy or demanding. If the situation involves a very small number of girls, I suggested approaching with a compliment.
  5. Role play.
    1. I found it most helpful to initially let my daughter pretend she was other girls (who she wanted to play with). Role playing my daughter’s part, I dramatically acted pushy and insisted on them playing what I wanted. It gave my daughter a chance to see why the other girls didn’t want to do what she suggested. I then had my daughter correct my mistakes, and in so doing, get practice in a non-threatening environment.
  6. Follow up.
    1. The next day at dinner, I asked how it went. I was surprised to hear that at “first recess,” she decided to play with a little boy that was sitting by himself on the “friend bench.” She told me that he needed a friend and was by himself. I wondered if she would have even noticed him had it not been for her own experience the day previous. At the “second recess,” she successfully implemented the plan and approached a group of girls playing “lava on the swing set.” I was so happy. One small, parent victory.

Hope these ideas help. Good luck!!!

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About The Author

Dr. Monica Wonnacott

I'm a pediatrician and a mom. I've been doing this doctor thing for 10 years, and love it. I'm known for giving parents the straight scoop without always sugar-coating it. And I believe in educating parents. The more you know, the better care you give your kids.

Dr. Monica Wonnacott, Pediatric Answers ™

I'm a pediatrician and a mom. Pediatric AnswersTM is where parents can get the straight scoop on their child's health, largely based on my experience in the office and at home. I don't diagnose on the site, so please don't ask. These are just my opinions. Use this site as a resource. And trust your parent gut.

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