THE TEACHER'S STORY

"I'll be the mother," Annie asserted. "You be the sister, Sara, and Ginny's the Grandma." "But I wanna be the mommy and give the little baby a bath," Sara protested. Ginny had objections to Annie's plan, too. But all three apparently agreed to ignore Lily, who was standing there yearning to be included. Soon enough, though, she got the message and wandered off.

"Well, they ignored her, but at least they didn't tease her," I thought, although that wasn't much consolation. Poor Lily just doesn't seem to fit in with the other 5- and 6-year-olds. She's a bit overweight and awkward, and a few children called her "fatso" at the beginning of the year.

I've been able to stop the name-calling, but I can't seem to do more to improve Lily's situation. And it's painful to see how hurt she feels when she's ignored. Her sad expression and slumped shoulders said it all when she walked away from the dramatic-play area. Lately, though, she's been befriended by Belinda, a hearing-impaired child in our kindergarten. It's gratifying to see them laugh and play so well together, despite their limited verbal interaction. Even with two hearing aids, Belinda needs to be talked to with a special microphone that only I am able to use. Still, after Lily's frustrating experience in the dramatic-play area, I was glad to see her join Belinda and go to work on a difficult puzzle. I'm more and more concerned about the toll Lily's social troubles may be having on her self-esteem and worry about what's going to happen when she gets to first grade. I certainly don't want her to be locked into being a scapegoat. I guess I'll talk it all over with her parents at our year-end conference.

THE PARENT'S STORY

We're so worried about our Lily. She's having a hard time making friends, and we just don't understand it. She's so sweet, kind, and gentle-especially with younger children and animals. Her baby brother adores her. In fact, the little guy just lights up when she comes home. I'm glad she gets this warm greeting because she's often near tears after school.

Although, thanks to her teacher, the name-calling seems to have stopped, Lily still feels left out. One week it's a birthday party she hasn't been invited to, and the next I'll hear her cry, "Nobody wants to play with me!" Lily is a bit overweight and perhaps not as comfortable with physical activities as some kids her age. But neither of those things explains why her classmates so often avoid or exclude her. Our whole family could use some regular exercise and a better diet. We're trying to cut back on fast food. But we're just so busy it's hard to find time for regularly scheduled meals. I will find the time to see Lily's teacher as soon as possible, though, because I'm very worried about my daughter. I don't want to see her going into first grade with her only friend being a child who, as a result of being hearing-impaired, also has trouble fitting in.

DR. BRODKIN'S ASSESSMENT

Young children often play out their own fears of being an outsider by leaving someone else out. The outcast is likely to change from day to day or game to game. But sometimes, one child is singled out. Like Lily, the regular scapegoat is likely to be visibly different in some way and easily upset by the rejection and teasing. Fortunately, in Lily's case, her teacher and parents are aware and concerned. Their desire to turn things around before the scapegoat role becomes ingrained bodes well for her.

What the Teacher Can Do

The teacher should continue to work with the group to discourage cruelty and encourage kindness. At every opportunity she can praise Lily for her efforts, particularly her kindness to Belinda. That friendship is precious and should be encouraged by sending the two girls off to the library together or pairing them for class chores. It would also help to show an interest in whatever Lily does and encourage whatever interests her. The teacher's praise and other appreciative words can go a long way toward raising Lily's standing with the group. Finally, it would be best to meet soon and explain all these things to Lily's parents. It may even be necessary to have more than one meeting before the year-end conference to work together toward turning things around.

What the Parent Can Do

Lily does so well with the immediate family, and she might do just as well in extended family or friends-of-the-family groups. It could help, too, to widen her social circle, enabling her to start fresh with neighborhood friends or socialize through a dance class, gymnastics program, or other activity she may be interested in. Perhaps the family can learn some sport together-which could help them to become more physically fit and confident. They should also try hard to enjoy at least one healthy meal a day together.

Above all, home should be a place where Lily can count on receiving limitless love and praise, not pity. Her parents can guide Lily to stand up to her critics, and suggest she communicate her sad and mad feelings to those who love and understand her. If, despite these efforts, Lily's social problems continue, even into her new classroom next year, it might be wise to seek professional help. Lily is entitled to whatever it takes to prevent her permanent identity becoming that of an "outsider." Happily, such changes usually do occur on their own.

http://www.tolerance.org/teach/magazine/features.jsp?cid=322