In the first few weeks of second grade, my daughter came home and reported that she was having problems at school. There were some girls who were excluding her from play. With tears in her eyes, she asked me to solve the problem by calling the girls’ parents and tell them to make the kids include her. Every fiber in my being wanted to call these other parents and give them my two cents about how their daughters were behaving. I felt so awful for my daughter and wanted to take that pain away from her. She was just seven years old! But I knew that there was nothing I could do to actually fix the problem.
The challenge of problem solving for parents
I could intervene and possibly get those kids to stop excluding my daughter. But doing so would deprive my daughter of an opportunity to fix the problem. It would fail to empower her to work on her own solutions. And anyway, when has forced inclusion ever worked? I mean, really worked. I knew there was no simple parenting fix.
I told her that I could see how difficult this situation was for her. And I asked her if she could think of any ways to fix the problem that didn’t involve me calling the parents. She thought for a moment and suggested that maybe she could tell her teacher.
“Okay,” I said, trying out my best parenting. “What else could you do?” Again she considered it and said that she could go up to the girls and tell them that being excluded didn’t feel good and that she wanted to be included.
“Any other ideas of what you can do to fix the problem?” She paused for a little longer. I could see her brain working. Finally, she said that maybe she could find other kids to play with who wouldn’t exclude her. “Wow,” I said. “Those are three interesting ideas. What do you think you want to do?” She said she wasn’t sure, but I could tell she was playing the ideas out in her mind.
What did she do?
The next night at dinner, I asked how things went with the girls at school. My daughter said that decided to play with some other kids. Thus, she made some new friends who were really nice! Her face showed happiness and pride. She solved what had seemed like a massive problem (for a seven-year-old) all by herself (she didn’t say it, but I knew she internalized my safe and supportive role). As a result, the lightness in her speech and body language was something that calling the other parents would never have accomplished.
Believe me when I say that watching and waiting was tough. With one call, I could have “solved” the problem for her and her evening would’ve been carefree. Instead, I was filled with angst and felt unsettled. But I trusted the long game and had faith that it would pay off in the long run. And in this case, it certainly did.