THE TEACHER'S STORY
This morning, Alice went over to a group of children who were busy playing supermarket. They had carefully divided their tasks: Someone was sorting produce, someone else was stacking cans, and a third child was busy at the checkout counter with the "clerk" who was bagging her groceries.
"You're not supposed to do it like that," Alice said to no one in particular. "I can show you how. Let me be the checkout person." The other children ignored her remark, and when she didn't get the hint, they abandoned the game. Alice moved over to an easel and announced she was about to paint the most beautiful flower in the world.
This was not the first time I'd noticed that Alice has a hard time making friends. She is an attractive, poised 5-year-old, but the sad fact is that her bossiness puts children off. Although she doesn't seem flushed when she's rejected, I suspect her bravado hides sadness. Social acceptance is very important to young children. I wish I could find a way to help Alice gain it quickly.
THE PARENT'S STORY
I just heard through the neighborhood grapevine that a child in Alice's kindergarten had a big birthday party and didn't invite my daughter. For a while now, she's been saying she doesn't like her new school, and maybe it's because she hasn't made friends. I've called a few parents about playdates but have had no successes so far.
I have to conclude that other kids don't want to play with Alice, but it's hard for our family to understand why she isn't popular. Sure, she can be bossy at times, but everyone in our house finds her adorable, and that includes her grandmother, two aunts, my husband, and me. Alice is the darling of the block, too, especially with the teenagers. They give her piggyback rides and let her win games.
Alice isn't used to losing, sharing, or taking turns, and that concerns me because I want her to be liked. I've thought about calling the teacher, but I don't want her to think I'm being critical of her class or my child.
DR. BRODKIN'S ASSESSMENT
Making friends and being included in group play are vital tasks of early childhood. So both adults' concerns are well founded. Children who are consistently ignored or disliked, especially those who make no friends at all, often have trouble succeeding in school. Fortunately, there is a growing body of research that offers guidance for improving children's social skills, and it's still early enough in the school year to draw on it to help Alice.
What the Teacher Can Do
The teacher was wise to observe carefully enough to see that Alice's bossing is a big part of the problem. Alice needs help in learning to consider how other children might feel, which is not surprising for a child who has inhabited an almost exclusively adult world.
The teacher should try to be at Alice's side with active guidance as much as possible. If Alice wants to join the supermarket game, for example, the teacher might suggest that Alice ask a child, by name, whether she could sell fish or cheese. "Maybe the supermarket people would like help in unloading food from delivery trucks," the teacher might also say. "Let's ask."
In addition to individual guidance, group discussion embedded in the curriculum can be very helpful. Story time offers many opportunities. Books such as Franklin is Bossy by Paulette Bourgeois and Clifford's Best Friend by Norman Bridwell can reinforce the importance of considering other people's feelings. Reading and discussing Stellaluna by Janell Cannon can help encourage Alice's classmates to give her a chance.
What the Parent Can Do
Alice's mom should not hesitate to contact the teacher to create a shared plan. The parents should also make every effort to broaden Alice's mainly adult world. They can take her to neighborhood parks where they might guide her social interactions and where she might make a friend who lives in the neighborhood. Another option is to invite relatives or friends over with their young children and encourage Alice with specific suggestions. Rather than directing her to "share" or "take turns," they might say, "You have used that swing for quite a while. Now it's Neil's rum. Why don't you start a castle in the sandbox? Later, you and Neil could make it even bigger and better by working together!"