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Being kind to outcasts

  • Chicago Tribune
  • Published Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, at 10:26 p.m.

You want to encourage your daughter to befriend the elementary class outcast. Smart? Possible?

It’s both smart and possible, says family therapist Fran Walfish, provided you do it with an eye toward your own child’s well-being.

“Before you encourage your daughter to embrace this other girl, sit down with her alone and get her thoughts,” says Walfish, author of “The Self-Aware Parent” (Palgrave Macmillan). “You want to find out why she thinks this girl is not included. Let her give you her laundry list of reasons before you ask any exploratory questions.”

It’s possible, after all, your daughter is using her own instincts to avoid a child who has mistreated her or her classmates. It’s also possible the girl is being unfairly rejected. No way to know until you have a chat with your daughter.

If it sounds like the outcast child is simply in need of a pal or two, you can steer the conversation in that direction.

“Ask your daughter, without telling her what to do, what she thinks of including the other girl in something,” Walfish suggests. “Try to determine whether your daughter is afraid of being rejected or suffering social fallout for befriending her. You don’t want to suggest your daughter goes into a sea of sharks without the coping skills for dealing with sharks.

“Play a ‘what if’ game,” Walfish says. “What if your best friend says, ‘Eww. You want to play with her?’ Do you feel ready for that? What if your friends say, ‘You’re not in our lunch group anymore.’ What’s a good response for that?” This isn’t meant to discourage your daughter from reaching out, but to help her feel prepared for what she might run up against.

“She might begin by suggesting a one-on-one play date — say, bowling, so they start to develop an alliance,” Walfish says. “Then if that goes well … your daughter could suggest a group outing to the movies or the mall with more friends.”

It’s an emotionally charged situation, but try not to position it as a moral obligation for your daughter. “Stay away from the shoulds and should-nots,” she says. “They breed guilt, and we don’t want her to feel guilty if she’s not ready or strong enough to reach out to this other girl.

“I’ve seen kids who had somebody invite them into a group and it changed their lives for the better forever,” Walfish says. “It’s such a profound thing. But you need to be cautious not to come down so heavy-handed that your child, if she doesn’t want to reach out, feels like she failed you.”

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