Thursday, October 20, 2011

Friends, Exclusion, and Name Calling - A Positive Discipline Approach

The dilemma—what to do when your child is being excluded by “friends” —or subjected to name-calling and put-downs. If you interfere are you being over protective and just making things worse for your child? If you don’t interfere, are you allowing your child to be subjected to experiences that could be traumatizing for life?

Alison Wishard Guerra shared the following response on the Positive Discipline Social Network where she points out that it is not whether or not you should interfere—but how.

We have had this issue with the girls on our street and our daughter who is at least 6 months younger than the youngest (ages 3.5, 4, 5, and 6). Girls can be very savvy when it comes to excluding and social power! Rather than intervening at the moment we started having a chat with all the kids every time they were together and going to play, reviewing what the rules are.

Above all else, the primary rules of interaction are to respect one another and to be kind and courteous. We discuss whether excluding people is being respectful and whether calling someone "bad" is respectful or kind.  They are old enough to help generate the rules and determine which behaviors are respectful, kind, and courteous. They can also participate in generating solutions for what to do when some one is not being respectful, kind, and courteous.

We encourage children to first tell the other child that they don't like to be called names, or trying to enforce the rule themselves. Otherwise, if they can't follow the rules or work it out, the play date is over. 

After having this discussion just a few times when we first get together they learned to interact much better and felt empowered by having come up with such good ideas on how to get along. We have only had to end the play date once in a one-on-one play-date with one of the older girls in the neighborhood. It sends the message very quickly if you follow through with what you say you will do rather than continue to give warnings.

Bring them in to the problem solving conversation BEFORE they begin playing and giving them the opportunity to generate solutions, demonstrate positive behavior, and have some autonomy in their social interactions.

When I asked Alison if I could share her response she responded:

Yes of course. I might add that we got the idea from reading your books and listening to one of your lectures. This is also the approach they take in our daughter's Montessori preschool, so she is used to it. The other kids who go to traditional schools are more accustomed to not having adults mind if they aren't respectful, or giving continual warnings without any real response.

One other comment is that we would have these conversations while the other parents were around, but not purposefully including them. This also clued them in a bit more that there are other ways of handling these situations and that it is ok and appropriate to expect children to understand how to be respectful and kind. I noticed a slight change in the parents' responses to the children as well, where they agreed that if the children could not work it out then the play date would be over. So we all learned here, children and adults.

Thanks for providing the guidance to us parents!


I want to thank Alison for being one of those parents who “gets” the spirit and the principles of the Positive Discipline (instead of just techniques) and is so generous in sharing her understanding with others seeking help.

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