Help! What Do You Do When Your Child is Excluded?

Posted October 9, 2008 by

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School started off with a bang this year, and all seemed to be going well until last week, when my 5-year-old son began coming home and reporting that “no one would play with him” and “nobody wanted to be his friend.” My stomach twisted into a knot as I watched him dejectedly kicking the rocks on our way home from the bus stop.  Apparently, one little cherub in his class has even been saying things to him like, “I don’t like you. You can’t sit here. I wish you were in another school,” and of course, it happens to be the girl he has his first crush on. The mama bear in me wanted to march down to the school and pull some pony tails, but (with great restraint) I managed to control myself.

But what to do? Another piece of the puzzle here is that I was bullied for a few years in elementary school, and so, as you can imagine, this situation presses all kinds of nasty childhood buttons with me.

This past week, when I talked to my son about what’s going on at school, I tried not to sound like a raving lunatic, but I could hear my voice creeping up to the high, screechy, only-dogs-can-hear-me-now-register as I pumped him for information. “What do you mean they won’t play with you? What did you do when they said that to you? Where was your teacher?”

“Mom, you’re hurting my ears,” Alex finally said, and ran from the room. (Good one, Mom. Nice job.)

I called my friend  Jody, who gently suggested I let my husband handle this one. Only, here’s the thing — my husband Joe is Mr. “Let-it-roll-off-your-back” Cool. I am more like Squirrel Nutkin on Espresso. When I was bullied in school, the hardest part was that I didn’t know how to fight back or what to say to the kids who were excluding me. And, horror of horrors, in this respect, it seems my son is just like me.

I tried to do a role play with him the other day, but it just made him more upset. In the mean time, he seems sadder and more discouraged each day he gets off the bus.

Help! Anyone have any suggestions out there?


Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.

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  1. D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor Report

    To “Sarah”: Thank you for taking the time to ask a very thoughtful question. It can be exceedingly difficult to watch our children struggle with issues. I can understand your frustration. You’ve done a great job taking the time to role play with your son and working with him on witty comebacks. Those are some of the suggestions Debbie Pincus makes in her article Child and Teen Bullying: How to Help When Your Kid is Bullied. And, as Peggy Moss outlines in the article My Child is Being Bullied—What Should I Do?, helping your son learn to solve the problem on his own terms is a great way of helping him address the situation. One thing that Janet Lehman suggests in the article Is Your Child Being Bullied? 9 Steps You Can Take as a Parent is to help your child feel good about himself by finding something he’s good at. This can be very valuable in helping your son develop his self-esteem. Getting him involved in afterschool activities where he could interact with other kids outside of the school setting could also help with this. Another suggestion Janet makes is enlisting the help of school personnel. Perhaps they could provide opportunities for your son to be involved in classroom activities with the other kids or help him out in other ways while he is at school. One other resource that may be helpful for your situation is We wish you and your family luck as you work through this challenging issue. Take care.

  2. Sarah Report

    My son is 6 years old and has also been excluded at school and picked on, he has a much better attitude than mine but it’s still an issue because a lot of kids bother him to fit in with the group, I’ve tried role playing, witty comebacks and have gotten good results but he is still being excluted, it’s frustrating because I teach him to respect others, not to make fun of other children, and he is such a good kid he treats everybody with respect but I feel he’s at disadvantage because he’s being a good person, and I don’t want to compromise my values, but should I teach him to be mean for him to have self preservation?

  3. Jen Report

    My 7 year old son has been experiencing many of the same situations. He is in the first grade with a group of boys who are led around by a ring leader. He was in kindergarten with the ring leader and considers him his friend. However the ring leader doesn’t consider my son his friend – which is heartbreaking in itself. He has actually told my son he isn’t cool. The ring leader is a confident (at least on the surface) vivacious boy who dictates who eats lunch with him and who plays on the playground with him. For a while my son would ask if he could sit next to him at lunch and this boy would tell him he was holding the seat for someone or his imaginary friend was sitting there. After a while the other kids started doing the same to my son. My son was crushed. He used to be happy and always smiling, but has turned inward and much more serious.
    My husband told my son not to ask anymore and to just sit where he wanted. We thought this had solved the problem, however my son told us tonight that now when he sits down the ring leader and all his friends get up and go to another table, leaving him sitting there by himself. This is in first grade! I can’t believe this is happening at such a young age and that the school allows it! It tears at my soul. We have talked to his teacher about it now multiple times this year, and she has said she has looked in on him during lunch and spoken to the other children, (she has not acknowledged witnessing any of the problems though) however it does not seem to make a difference. My son can sometimes be a little goofy, but not much more than the other children. He is very kind, smart and pretty athletic. He can be shy, epecially after the problems at school and I think the kids prey on that.
    He isnt only excluded at lunch. They exclude him on the playground as well. The boys have a club, formed by the ring leader, and they do not include my son. Thanks to this blog we plan to try role playing tomorrow to help him deal with the rejection and ways to brush off this kid and we have told him to find other children to play with, but it is tough because he wants so badly to be accepted by this little punk and his friends.
    In the beginning of the year I called various parents and tried to arrange play dates, but was given excuses or no return call. He gets invited to birthday parties but no after school play dates. He does sometimes play with some children down the street but they are not in his class.

  4. Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor Report

    Hi Carmen. It sounds like it’s been very heartbreaking for you to watch your son struggle to find a place amongst this group of boys at school. It sounds like you have done a wonderful job keeping the lines of communication open with his teacher and checking in with her—we do recommend that because sometimes when you stop communicating about a problem your child is having at school, the school assumes the problem has been resolved. I wonder if you and the teacher might have different ideas of what this exclusion issue looks like. It might be helpful to share this specific incident that you observed with her with the purpose of bringing some clarity to the issue and discussing what might be done from here to improve the situation. You might also decide to talk to a school administrator if you feel that you have done all you can to communicate with the teacher about this and things aren’t improving for your son. You might also talk to your son about how he might reach out to one of these boys and invite one over for a play date. Sometimes groups can be intimidating for kids and finding just one friend first can be helpful. You can talk to your son about how he might go about this—what can he say, when can he say it, etc.. Here is an article with some more information and ideas for you: When Your Child Says, “I Don’t Fit In.” We know this is tough and we wish you and your son luck as you continue to work through this. Take care.

  5. Carmen Report

    Hi! I’m having similar issues as most the others have mentioned. My 10 year old son has been in the same school since kindergarten and has been excluded since 2nd grade by most of the boys in his class. These are the same kids from year to year, so it’s not a different set of kids doing the exclusion every year. I’m not sure why it started and have continuously worked with the teacher and counselor to help him. He’s had the same teacher for two out of the three years since this began. He is now in 4th grade. I’ve exonstantly been told that my son’s a very sweet kid and nice to everyone and that it’s shocking to hear because it doesn’t happen in class. Well very recently I witnessed it myself and was shocked that it happened in front of this very same teacher and the parents! However, nothing was done about it and basically by allowing the kids to exclude my son they are being encouraged by these same adults to do so! All the while, dismissing my son’s feeling of exclusion to sensitivity and indirectly blaming him for allowing the behavior! How is a 10 year old suppose to know how to make things better for himself when these adults are doing nothing to intervene??? I am beyond disgusted with what I witnessed first hand and probably would not have believed that adults which included 2 teachers could behave this way at the expense of a 10 year old boy! This is happening at a small public school in an affluent neighborhood. Where those same parents are very prominent in the school and do a lot for the teacher and school. My heart breaks into a million
    Pieces for my son and the thought of having to send him back into that cruelty even for one more day, but the year is almost over. You guys have offered some great advice, but all of the boys have basically turned their back on him and I really can’t advice him to shrug it off and find someone else to play with because their is no one else. I know his self esteem is on the floor and how important is is to have a couple of good friends for a child’s self esteem and well being. I’ve tried to be objective and asked the teacher repeatedly is it something my son does, but she has continuously reassured me that it’s not and that she has never seen it happen. I don’t think my son is the problem as other than not being a malicious child, he’s very loyal and nice to the friends he does have outside of school. After recently witnessing these actions by these kids and seeing the reaction of these parents and teachers (or lack of it) I a became mother bear and told my son I wanted him near me for the remainder of the trip we were on. My son got upset and told me he was just a kid and wanted to be with them, to which I answered they do not want you there and are excluding you! His reply to me was “mom, that’s why I sometimes tell you i want to go to another school. There must be something wrong with my looks or me because I don’t understand why this is happening to me or why no one wants to be my friend. I’m nice to them and never trod anything mean to them.” I reassured him that there was absolutely nothing wrong with him or his looks, that he wasn’t the
    problem they were. As you all can imagine, this was heart wrenching and the realization of the extent of all of it has been extremely difficult to swallow. Although, for a long time we tried to work on our son’s self esteem
    and confidence I realize this would have never fixed the problem. I’m just so angry at myself for not seeing this before and removed him from this situation much sooner! All the interventions the school pretended to take where just a huge farce and truly not helping the situation at all! I still don’t understand why nor do I care anymore! I’m just not sure on how or where to go with this. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

  6. Beth Report

    I’m witnessing a not to dissimalar situation with my 8 yr old daughter. She attends a private school with only 1 class of 3rd graders and 10 girls in the class and has been going to the same school since kindergarten. While she has been included in class birthday parties she has never been invited to smaller gatherings, she has never had a play date with any of the other girls and she is consistently excluded outside of school.

    They’ll sit at the same table with her to eat lunch and play games with her during recess/lunch but that is it.

    The other mother’s have tried to encourage their daughters to include mine but more than once the other girls have suggested an alternative when my daughter is suggested

    I’ve had the opportunity to witness this as I do volunteer at the school at least 1x a month.

    My daughter does have a couple of friends outside of class but only sees them occasionally.

    I have her involved in several extra curricular activities to give her more opportunities to meet new people and less time to sit around and ponder this issue.

    I carry a heavy heart not only because I regress into my own miserable experiences when I was a child but because when I had the opportunity in kindergarten to start things on the right foot as a full time working mother who lived some distance from the school, it was impossible for me to schedule a time where I could stay for a few hours with the mother while the children played.

    I am so tired of going to the school and seeing these children go off with each other after school. I am so tired of hearing the greet and saying good bye to one another without acknowledging my daughter.

    I try very hard to keep my concerns to myself as I do not want to encourage any co dependent or self pitying behavior on her part but my mother’s guilt weighs so heavily.

    As an aside, her grandfather/my father is the principal of the school.

    She has only complained/felt sorry for herself a few times. I have asked her more than once if she would prefer to go to another school and each time she has responded with enthusiasm that she loves the school.

    She gets along with boys pretty well and I’ve noticed several boys seek her out and want to talk to/play with her.

    I don’t know what else to do…

  7. Nicole Report

    Thank you all for the powerful advice. I was sleepless worrying because my 12 year old son at the end of the summer started to be ignored by his best friend. As the school year has progressed his best friend has buddied up with other boys who now let him hang with them but pretty much ignore him in conversations, don’t pass him the ball in football, and most recently did not invite him to a birthday party (of course they talk about it in front of him).
    One of the things my son says is that the other boys talk about a particular video game all the time. This is a bloody, shot and kill video game that is rated for mature audiences. I have been pretty firm on my thoughts about these games and do not allow them. My son has told me he is fine with not playing these as he really does not like them either. I know it is more than the video games and that my son needs to explore other friends with his same interest at the same time I wondered if I am too strict with my thoughts on these video games. I find it sad that kids can not seem to find other things to do and discuss other than violent video games (I have to force this same friend of my sons to quite playing video games all the time when he is at our house and usually he seems to have fun.) Any others have advise on the video game issue?
    That’s the other piece I struggle with is that this “best” friend still comes over to our house all the time and I think that is great but what hurts is that he is the ring leader at school of ignoring my son or goes along with it to be friends with these others. His best friend seems to be one that has to be in control and would boss my son around all the time. This really bothered my son and I think he let his friend know that this summer because all of sudden their relationship changed.
    I am a “fixer” and want to fix this but like many have mentioned I think I best empower my son with confidence, other opportunities for friendships and actions he can take when he is feeling left out.
    Appreciate others thoughts.

    • Elisabeth Wilkins Report

      Hi Nicole. Sorry to hear about what your son is going through. It’s so hard when your child is excluded — especially from friends he really cares about. I don’t think you are being to strict about the video games — these are the rules of your household, and it’s good that you’re sticking to them. Besides our own common sense telling us it’s so, many studies have been done that say that violent video games are not healthy for young kids. Trust your gut. Also, putting myself in your shoes (because I would be having the same inner debate that you are having, trust me ;)) if you change your policy, isn’t that the same as telling your son, “I have rules, but I’m willing to bend them in order for you to be more popular.”

      I strongly believe that a really good thing to do would be to try to get your son involved in something outside this group of friends. It will make him feel more confident if he makes friends outside that group, especially if it’s around doing something that he likes to do. He won’t “need” that best friend as much. Also, the good news is that kids do get over stuff eventually, especially if the friendship is real. If that best friend really cares about your son, hopefully he’ll come around eventually.

      Wishing you and your son the best, Nicole. Please keep in touch and let us know how it goes.

  8. drc Report

    HI. All of these stories break my heart. It is so difficult to protect you child, but teach them to stand up for themselves! I have a 7 year old daughter who is being excluded by a certain 8 year old. When they first met, my daughter went our of her way to be nice and welcome her to the neighborhood… introducing her to friends. At one of those first play dates, this girl said to another great friend of my daughters “Isn’t she annoying”. Being a great friend, she came to me to tell me what was said. I was furious! So, I thanked the one little girl and kept an eye on the situation. We distanced ourselves from the family for a while… which was difficult because my son enjoyed playing the the other girls brother. Recently we have been in situations where a few families will get together at community pool. This one particular girl will almost monopolize the other girls and leave my daughter out. My daughter goes to a different school and does not know these other girls very well. But, when we see the other girls out… not with the “ring leader”, my daughter and the other girls play really well together. I have always taught my kids to included everyone… especially if they have just felt as if they have been excluded, hopefully to instill empathy!! I have told myself that she just needs to meet new friends and when the families get together, I need to make sure my daughter has a friend to bring with her. My daughter thinks the world of the little girl. I know there is an age difference of a year… and school age, 2 years. I understand that there are just kids that don’t mix. But, we have been in situations where the other little girl we to a party and did not know anyone… I brought my daughter aside and encouraged her to include the other girl so she would not feel left out. So, she did. The other little girl will play with my daughter if there is nobody else around… but I have been backing away from doing that. I’m lost because I am friends with the Mom and my son is friends with her son. We live in a community that does a lot together. Any suggestions?

  9. Elisabeth Wilkins Report

    Dear Sean: Thank you for writing in. I’m so sorry to hear that you’re going through this. I was also bullied at your age and I remember how hard it is — plus, it really is hard to think of a comeback sometimes! (I always thought of what to say a few days later. 🙁 )

    Here’s the thing — I think that your friend has proven that he’s really not a friend at all — he’s a bully, and he tricked you and lied to you. I would stay away from him if you can. Try to sit with someone else at lunch, or find someone else who’s nice to hang out with.

    Another thing you can try is to think of some general comebacks and write them down. Sometimes the best thing to do is be direct. You can say something like, “You lied to me. That’s not cool, and I don’t like it.” Then, just turn around and walk away. Leave him standing there and don’t argue with him.

    I would also talk to your school guidance counselor or a teacher and tell him or her what happened. Tell your parents or an aunt or uncle. It’s so important to have a grown-up you can talk to when kids are picking on you.

    Sean, good luck to you. I know you will get through this. What I really wish as an adult is that I could go back and tell my 10-year-old self, “Don’t worry, you’re going to be OK. These kids are bullies and they’re making you feel bad right now, but your life is going to turn out just fine.” Keep telling yourself that, and don’t let this other boy get you down. 🙂

  10. Sean Report

    Hi Im only 10 years old but im being bulled at school. One of my friends was friendly at first but now he just being mean to me.And by that I mean he is teaming up with my other friend and going agenst me.I try to use combacks but my friend is like the master of coombacks.Heres an example of my friend being mean to me:My friend wanted me to do him a favor, I said ok , but he had a book I really wanted. I said I would do it if I could borrow that book. He said ok. But the next day he said it wasn’t a fair trade. So I didn’t get my book.

  11. What's Wrong With These Kids! Report

    I think it is ridiculous that parent allow their kids to behave in this manor. If I found out my children were bullying someone they would be punished and I would take them over to the childs house to apoligize. Parents need to set examples for their children and make sure they are treating others the way they want to be treated.

  12. lynn Report

    Thanks for all you comments and ideas on how to deal with difficult situations as a parent.
    My situation is about my 9 year old son. He is a tall thin, 54 inch, 62 pound kid who can swim, ski, and play the non agressive sports pretty well. However, he recently invited some of the local boys to join him in a Boy and Girls club floor hockey session. Subsequently, one boy in particular has told him repeatedly to get off the floor as a sub more than anyone else, this boy is a round year hockey and regular football player and fanatic. Also, he is telling him he sucks at the game and that he is stupid. I, unfortunately became in involved and asked the mom to talk to him and ask him to stop doing it. She took it only so well. Now the boy is telling everyone he hates my son. We have traveled on nice vacations with this family and enjoy their company, I felt pretty close to be able to talk to her, but now not sure it was good.
    My latest strategy is NEW AND OLDER friends! Anyone have other tips for me? Thnks!!

  13. Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor Report

    Mary Beth:
    Wow, what a really difficult situation. I can see why it’s so tricky — you’re probably wondering how you can teach your son to handle tough situations in life, but also protect him from this other boy — who frankly sounds like a real bully.

    I have a question for you. When your son has a friend over and the other boy comes to the door, can you say to him, “I’m sorry John, but Sam has a friend over. I’ll tell him to call you later.” What would happen if you simply sent him home?

    I think if this boy is saying bad things about your son at school or on their sports teams, you could talk to the coaches of those team(s) or the teachers at school. I don’t think you will be seen as a whiner. This boy is a bully, and it sounds like a lot of other kids have had the same experience with him.

    I think lastly, you can talk to your son about ways he can deal with this boy. Ask him how you can be helpful to him, and how *he* would like to resolve the situation.

    Mary Beth, hang in there. Please keep in touch and let us know how it goes…even though this is a tough situation, it might be a great learning opportunity for your son.

  14. Mary Beth says: Report

    My son is middle school age. There are several boys who live in our neighborhood, go to the same school and play sports together. They are all very good athletes and most are good students. One particular boy has been friends with my son since kindergarten. They have been on the same sports teams since kindergarten. Both are very competitive. Anyway, my problem is this. This boy undermines my son and causes problems for him with the other boys on the sports teams and in the neighborhood. Examples: Each time my son has another boy spend the night, this kid invites himself over too and then takes over. He has even gone so far as to ask me instead of my son if he can stay too. His parents and my brother are very good friends and have been for years, and so I try not to make any waves. This boy is charismatic and has a way with the other children. If I say that he can’t stay or if he is unaware at the time that my child has had a friend over, when he finds out he will invite that same child over to his house the next weekend and talk about my son. I have this first hand from one of the other boys. He is very persuasive and the other children just go along with him. He is very sneaky about what he does also. My son can be a very sensitive person and wants to be this child’s friend. He just doesn’t understand why this kid does this. If he has someone at his house, he always excludes my child and makes him feel unwelcome. I have suggested that the kid is probably jealous, has low self-esteem, etc…, but it is still hard to take. I have also told my child just to try to be nice to the other boys and treat them right and everything will all work out. Hopefully when they mature they will see this kid for what he is, but I don’t want my child to feel bad about himself because of this kid. Trying to stay away from him is not an option. They are constantly thrown together on middle school sports teams, and we live in a relatively small town – Friday night football, etc… Several years ago I even had a few parents at the ball park tell me that their children just try to “fly under the radar,” but nobody is willing to confront it or do anything about it. How long does this kid get to get away with it? I know if I say anything I will be perceived as a whiner or crazy and then things will just be worse for my son, so I’ve just kept my mouth shut and tried to get along. But when someone tries to undermine every relationship that my son has it gets pretty hard to take. Any suggestions?

  15. Marie McMullen Report

    My heart goes out to parents who have faced some kind of bullying with there children. The fear for there safety and the pain of seeing them hurting is very real for us and runs deep in our souls. my daughter has faced this stuff to the point where she has ran home from school scared and shaking in my arms because some one wanted to beat her up and punch her in the face. I have confronted the mother and the kids parents can be just as bad. they refuse to think that there children can do anything wrong. This person has refused to respect my wishes and i have asked this child not to knock on my door. I want to protect my daughter and not let this girl near her. After i told my daughter not ot hang out with the her the mother of the bully would tell her that my child had her permission too. it was very disturbing to feel that someone you dont even know feels that they have a right to parent your child. Sometimes i feel like i’m being mean but every time the teens play together the girl ends up bullying my daughter.

  16. Heather Report

    My 8 year old son is being excluded in the neighborhood by one boy with another boy(who doesnt even live here but is here all the time due to relatives). My son is being blamed for not being nice when the bully is the one that excludes him and makes the other boy do the same. The parents are friends so therefore they are not at all concerned because their little cherubs are having no problems. My son has cried or teared up (he is sensitive) when they do this and I am teaching him to say “so/whatever/oh well” and turn around and come home, but not to let them see him cry. (Cry at home because home is where you can be yourself) It, I think is making the bully empowered and watching himself pushing buttons and getting reactions from my child. I think the bully is jealous of my child becoming friends with his families friend’s relative/nephew”. But yesterday my son did say “whatever” to a comment that was said to him that was mean and excluding and he did not reacting by crying (we practiced before) and came home. The visiting boy later told my son that he wanted to play with him (because he had told him he didnt want to play with him -when the bully was standing beside him). I am thinking the strategy is going to work, to not let his buttons be pushed at least by not showing his feelings to it. The mama bear is out but I do feel better knowing that there are others in my shoes and they are upset too. It is hard watching your child be excluded in his own neighborhood.

  17. Jodie (another mama-bear) Report

    Our middle daughter has been bullied since 1st grade, she’s now in 5th. The teachers have done nothing to help the bully or my daughter. This girl is the sneakiest bully I’ve ever encountered. She would wipe boogers on the floor “moments before” my daughter sat down. She would get other girls to befriend my daughter by making up lies. She even has the power to get other kids to do the bullying for her. She once convinced a boy to try and push another girl “backwards” off the monkey bars. The latest incidents… she had another girl send nasty text messages to my oldest daughter (in college) about my middle daughter. When confronted by my oldest daughter, she blamed the other girl… and yesterday she sent the “new” girl to disrupt a game my daughter and her friends were playing by making annoying noises and ruining the game. I have given up on the schools help. My daughter has been doing Karate since she was 4 and know has her black belt (confidence booster), she also made a top soccer team, loves fashion and writing. But if she talks about herself in any positive way, she’s a “bragger” (she just can’t win). I’ve empowered my daughter to “just be nice”. She doesn’t have to be friends with the bully or any of her cronies, but she can’t play their game by saying or doing mean things back. She just walks away and says “no thanks” to any of their requests, she has also blocked their emails. Thankfully, she has a wonderful support system in us, her family. She’s making new friends and seems happier, less stressed out and more confident. Next year she will be in middle school (some difficult years) and all these other girls will be going to another school… Thank God! Good luck to everyone and their wonderful children.

  18. Brie Report

    Our meeting went well – they offered a lot of the suggestions you mentioned. Setting up playdates (which I am terrible at and always put off) and they invited me to come in and read with the class at library time, spending more time at school etc. I am going to make an effort to do all of these things. My daughter is quite spirited and I think some of the kids my be a little intimidated/frightened by her “exhuberance” The teachers also suggested her hurt feelings by it all was a step in the right direction with her social development. She is now feeling a little cause and effort where in the past she was not putting that piece of the puzzle together.

    I’ll definitely check back in, I love this forum! There really is nothing worse than having a sad kid on your hands with no quick fix. It’s comforting to know there are other parents out there with similar issues/resolutions we can all learn from. Thanks 🙂

    I am going to put some extra effort in developing her social life a bit more. She is the youngest of four, I feel like we are always running around and free time is at a minimum but this is important and something I need to MAKE the time for.

  19. Elisabeth Wilkins Report

    Brie, thanks for asking. I’m happy to report that things are getting much better. I think that requesting a meeting with your daughter’s teacher is a really smart move on your part. Sitting down with my son’s teacher was the turning point — since then, she’s really kept an eye on the situation and has been updating me on how things are going for my son socially. She also suggested that I arrange some play dates, which I have started doing, and it’s really paying off in terms of cementing a few friendships for my son. By the way, be sure to ask your daughter’s teacher what she has observed. (Teachers can’t be on top of every conversation that happens in class each day, but putting her on notice will hopefully encourage her to listen in on the girls who are excluding your daughter.) If you can get over to your daughter’s school and volunteer in class for a couple hours some day, it might be a good idea — it will help give you a better idea of what’s going on, and how your daughter is handling things. When I went in to my son’s class last month, I found it to be a great relief. The child who was excluding my son in the beginning of the year is still the same, but my son doesn’t seem to be reacting to her as much anymore, which has taken the bite out of her remarks. He still says that he wants to be friends with her and play with her in spite of everything, but he is learning how to say, “Whatever” and walk away when she doesn’t want to play with him. It’s a step in the right direction, anyway. Brie, please check back in and let us know how it goes with your daughter, OK? And hang in there — this really can be an opportunity to teach our kids some resilience, I think, as painful as it is to watch them go through it.

  20. Brie Report

    Elisabeth, are things any better for you now? I am having similar issues with my 4 year old. It’s heartbreaking to have her come home and tell me “I’m sad b/c nobody will ‘let’ play with me at school” This is so unacceptable to me at any age but particularly troubling to hear the kids are so exclusive at such a young age. I have an appt to meet with her teacher on Monday and discuss my concerns and ask for a little intervention on their part as well. Hopefully this will be a small blip and will work itself out. I too am squirrel nutkin on expresso with issues like this 🙂

  21. mamma mia Report

    Hi. I am in the same situation as so many of you,
    almost daily. My daugter aged 7, is very sensitive, and
    I am very protective!! She often gets excluded, yester
    day it was a two is a company three is a crowd situa-
    tion and she ended up in tears. I also struggle to
    stay calm and my daughter might actually think that I
    am unhappy or upset with her!! When I am upset with the
    meanies!! I will definitely start praying for that
    more specifically, and will try to teach her to be
    more resilient. Thanks.

  22. Elisabeth Wilkins Report

    Chris: It’s so hard to see our kids excluded or bullied. It’s one of those “I wish I could take this pain on for my child” moments, but, as a friend pointed out to me recently, a gut-wrenching situation like this is also a chance for our kids to learn something very important. The lesson here might be that there are always going to be moments where other kids are mean or our children feel left out, but our kids do have the power to learn how to rise above it. I think one of the best things to do is to teach them to walk away from it: the “‘whatever’+shrug” response. (As Brooke suggested above.) In your daughter’s case, I think finding friends outside the neighborhood — or getting some type of after school hobby — might be effective. The hobby could be something she does at home or out in the community. For example, a friend of mine got her daughter into the children’s theater run by their town’s community center. While it didn’t make the kids at school stop bullying her daughter immediately, eventually she acquired a whole new group of friends and gained more confidence. It was a gradual process, but finally, the bullying stopped, and my friend’s daughter (who was in 3rd grade at the time) is now much less affected by teasing and taunting. It’s not easy, but we can help our kids to be more resilient, I think.
    To answer your question, I’m not sure if talking to your neighbors will help — it depends on how well you know them and how defensive they are! (From what they said to your daughter, they don’t sound very receptive or open to hearing about their kids’ bullying behavior.) You might casually report what your daughter has told you, though, and then ask them what they’ve seen happening. At least this will put the situation on their collective radar. Good luck, Chris, and please let us know how it goes!

  23. chris c Report

    I’m so glad a site like this exists. Lately I’ve been noticing my daughter is having trouble with the neighborhood girls excluding her. At first it only happened occassionally and not as harsh as of late. Typical not saying hi to her but to each other right in front of her at the bus stop which happens to be our house. But just the other day she came home crying from a play date saying the girls were rude to her yelled at her to leave, wouldn’t allow her in the girls bedroom and then lied about their where abouts to trick her(saying they were going upstairs and really went outside). Whats worse my duaghter said something on 2 seperate occassions to each of the moms one response was “girls can be mean” and the other responded with “I’ve never known ——- to be mean” I have witnessed the exclusions first hand at my own house and at neighborhood gatherings. I’ve tried to politely state to all of them to include one another to no eval. So my question is do we step it up and say something to our neighbors after all my daughter tried to and got no where. For now my advice to her is to ignore them and not play with them for a while (forever would be fine with me). Two of the girls are in 3rd grade my daughter is in 2nd and one is in first. Way to young to be starting this. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

  24. Lisa B. Report

    We have not had good luck with talking to other parents. In our experience, we had a father angry with us because we did not discuss the issue with him prior to going to school authorities (at the teacher’s suggestion). He was completely unaware that his daughter had threatened our daughter with bodily harm and had in fact tried to intimidate her in front of me. He didn’t want to hear our side of the story. I’ve read several books on bullying/mean girls, etc. They all suggest not talking to the other set of parents – unless there is already a good relationship established.

  25. Angelique McDaniel Report

    When our children are bullied, no matter the age, the key is to give them the words to say to let the perpetrator know that their actions will not be tolerated. It is okay for a child to say, “Hey I do not like that, or you are being mean to me and that is not nice, stop doing that” and its is definitely okay for your child to inform the teacher or person that is watching them that this person did this to me. Let your child know that no child can hurt you the adult and do not under any circumstances let the other child’s parent intimidate you. Sometimes it takes a parent going to another parent and saying something like, “it appears that Tommy and Jessica are having an issue with getting along”. If that is not an option, talk to the principle and inform him/her that you will in no manner accept your child being bullied and that if they can not remedy the situation then you will go to the board if they can not then you will file charges with the local department and notify the media that your school and district think that bullying is okay. Trust me action will be taken to ensure that the safety of your child and others is always paramount. We want our kids to be educated not harrassed or bullied. Just make sure that you take action that is not aggressive, but responsible in that you utilize appropiate actions for the responses that you get from either the teacher, principle, board, police and or media.

  26. Shelia Report

    I love Linda’s suggestion for her grandaughter!

    I really try to encourage my 3 kids (14,12,10) to choose the friends they hang out with carefully…and we discuss the subject frequently. I expect them to be respectful to everyone, and encourage them to expect the same from others….and to avoid people that are rude and disrespectful. My kids are a little older, and of course we’ve had issues with bullys at times (one of mine even did the bulling last year…which was devastating to my husband & I). My kids aren’t generally in the most “popular” crowd, but for the most part their self- esteem seems healthy and their friends families have values similar to ours.

    One other note: Sometimes things do backfire. Recently my 14 yr old responded to his very rude & disrespectful soccer coach with “whatever”!! My husband & I were speechless! He later appologized….but it also forced us to discuss how to deal with adult bullies!!!

    Parenting is always a learning experience, isn’t it???!!!

  27. Elisabeth Report

    Dr. Joan, I know deep down that you’re right. My husband Joe has been stepping in and having heart-to-hearts with our son and giving him good examples of what to do when he’s being bullied…maybe it’s time for me to just let Joe handle it, since I get so anxious (and am starting to doubt my effectiveness here!) And Marion, I think homeschooling in a bullying situation is definitely an option I’d consider. I also got my son into Karate last year, and it’s been nothing short of amazing. Like your son, he will use blocking moves to protect himself, but unfortunately, it doesn’t work against words. (Still, we’ve noticed that he’s gotten more confident physically, which is good, since he’s one of the smallest kids in his class at school.) I really encourage any parent out there whose child is having similar problems to try getting them into martial arts!

  28. Marion Report

    Hi. I put my son in a karate class last spring and his confidence soared. He went to summer camp and a kid kept bugging him, finally that child threatened him royal and then took a swing at my son and my son just blocked the blow and the poor kid said “ow………” and didn’t bother him the rest of the week. He didn’t want to do the class at first, but I told him it was required and now he is very happy.

    I pulled my kids out of school and home schooled. I know that this may not be for everyone, but my son is much more confident now. I have him in a public charter school where he takes some enrichment classes and meets with an advisor. He also uses the computer for math which has been fantastic. If at all possible try taking your kid out of school, especially during junior high school. My son is now 13 and much happier than when he was in school. He never wants to go back there.

  29. Dr. Joan Report

    I really like the idea of Dad stepping in here. Sometimes one parent (and I put myself at the top of the list) reacts more emotionally to these situations and makes things worse. When my middle child was being excluded, I found myself doing a lot of interrogating and becoming increasingly emotional to the point of hysteria. My husband (thankfully) stepped in and told my son, “Look, there’s always going to be one kid who feels badly about himself so he’ll try to make you feel bad too. Don’t listen to him. Just walk away and find someone else to play with. I am certain you can do this!” And you know what? He did it. Now, he has a nice circle of friends. Yes, there’s still that one child who likes to try to get the best of him, and he still is ignoring that kid. As with so many of these issues, our kids gauge their reactions based on how WE react. It’s not easy, but it’s important to try to be the calm one in these situations!

  30. Bill Report

    To Lisa in St. Louis who is contemplating Military School.

    The reasons I went to Military school may be different than the reasons you would put your kids into a Military school.

    In my case I had undiagnosed ADD and would perform above average on aptitude tests, yet almost failed out of 4th and 6th grades, 5th grade I had a strict teacher that made sure I did my home work.

    If you suspect that your kids have ADHD or something similar I would try and treat that separately. I have very fond memories of Military school. It has done me well. I actually went to a Junior High military school and a different one for High School. At both I made lifelong friends, had a blast, and gained a great education.

  31. Lisa B. Report

    Thanks Elisabeth! Hadn’t thot about a writing class, but will check into it. We’ve gotten our daughter involved in a couple of sports to see how she likes them and she does okay, but she still keeps herself isolated and does not try to make new friends (she does have 1 or 2 close friends at school, but will not venture out past those limited friendships). The bullying issue was mostly over within 4 months of starting, but the after effects seem to be long term. A support group for this would be great!

  32. Kimberly Report

    Hi Elisabeth and readers…
    I also have had this situation with both my daughter and son. On my daughter’s first day of preschool a rather vivacious preschooler punched her in the stomach. Unfortunately even in preschool there are cliques. Both of my older children are now in elementary school and have experienced exclusion, teasing, bullying and ridicule in many forms. I have tried to talk with my children, role-play, problem solve and even lately, I have had the opportunity to hangout for a little while after school. I have actually spoken up about bullying that I see (both towards my children and others). I recently confronted a boy that was storming angrily across the playground with his fists clenched. I intervened as he pursued a girl as though he were intending to hit her. I stopped him and said, “wow! you look really angry! I want you to know that it is not ok that you are chasing this girl to hit her. He stated that he had no intention of hitting her that instead he was just really upset. I drew his attention to the fact that his body language clearly indicated he was angry…turns out he is one of the sweetest boys I’ve met! He started to cry and confess his dismay about this girl telling another girl that he liked her. I apologized but made it clear that it is ok to be upset. I offered language he could use to let her know that he was mad. I heard him a little while later using those words with her. I praised him for this and we have greeted one another with a smile ever since.
    Also having the opportunity to see kids play, my own children have pointed out kids that have bullied them. One incident was one of intimidation towards my son over a swing. I crouched down and I said, “you know what? You are bigger than this child and that does not make it okay for you to push him around or say mean things to him. That sounds like bullying and a bully is just something that you I don’t think you are….!” I have tried to equip both of my children with the language that is empowering to who they are and work to find ways to help them have some positive experiences (staged or not) and I’ve enlisted teachers, other children and even other parents. I cannot always be with my children but often encourage them to ask the offender ‘why are you doing that? or what are you trying to say?’ I would like to see more of the Teaching Tolerance approach used in our schools. Southern Poverty Law School has a great program called Starting Small. I strongly think that we should call it as we see it. If you see it happening no matter where you are or who it is…say something!
    Hope some of anything I have rambled on about helps!

  33. Linda Report

    My granddaughter had a girl say something to her that was mean. I told my granddaughter if it happened again to say “That wasn’t very nice. I wouldn’t say that to you.” I asked my granddaughter what the girl said and she just said “Oh” and wasn’t mean to her again.

  34. Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor Report

    Here are some ideas for you, speaking as a writer and a person who was bullied as a child. Your daughter likes to write — how about signing her up for a creative writing class in your community? (This may sound simplistic, but I believe it can be extremely cathartic and empowering to write our stories, especially if you’ve been made to feel invisible. Also, I think a class or group *outside* the school would be good for your daughter.)You might also shop around for a different counselor, if you think your daughter could still benefit from seeing one. Hang in there, and please let us know how it goes.
    P.S. I wish there was such a thing as a support group for kids who have been bullied. Wouldn’t that be empowering for kids, to know that others understand what they’ve been through?

  35. Lisa Report

    The girl who was bullying our daughter was actually a victim of re-zoning in the school district so she is at a different school. We’re still coping with the damage she caused. Just not sure how to get our daughter to move on. I’ve read a paper she wrote about how empty she feels and how she’ll never trust anyone again. It seems to be pretty serious but she won’t admit any of this to us when we give her an opportunity to talk about it and share her feelings. Just at a loss as to how to help her move on without seeming to brush her feelings aside.

  36. Terri Report

    We have moved a few times, so my oldest two kids (boy in 6th grade and girl in 3rd grade) have experienced this at their last two schools. I know what the momma bear and the knot-in-the-stomach feels like. My boy is the hardest. He is very sensitive and really takes things personally and gets depressed. Some of the things I tried that worked for us were: 1) Work on my own child’s self confidence first. Make sure to spend time doing fun things with them and build a strong family unit. No matter what goes on at school, if they can come home to a fun, supportive atmosphere, I think it can get them through a lot. I stopped asking how their school day was, because it was always bad. Instead, I would ask, “What did you learn in school today?” “What was your favorite project you did today?” I also let them know in a subjective way (not a mommy way) that they were great kids and told them why–care for others, very good looking kid:) … I also shared a couple of my challenging stories as a kid. They couldn’t believe I was ever bullied and beat up on the bus. After all, I am such a fun, strong adult. I actually made it through to have a great family of my own.:)
    2) Another of the most important things I think I did was to explain that bullies usually do not have good home lives, and I gave examples of what their lives may be like. I told the kids that they should not give more of the same back to the kids. These kids are out to push buttons. Once they are successful, they will keep going. If they are unsuccessful for a while, they will eventually stop. I explained to my kids how hard it is not to let them push buttons, but that they must not allow it to happen. 3) When kids are in this situation, they tend not to see outside the terrible circle they are currently in. I told them to look around the playground for another kid who didn’t have anybody to play with and go ask them to play. They actually got some rude responses to this, but not bullying ones. 4) I gave one of my examples from when I was in high school. I had a boy bullying me for no reason for an entire year. I prayed every night about it for a year. After that year, that boy became one of my best friends for life. I told my kids, when kids are that mean, sometimes all you can do is to pray about it. God will give you strength. I also agree with the humor aspect. My daughter once had a girl tell her she could not jump imaginary jump rope with her–the jump ropes were imaginary. Our family laughed hard about that one. We still bring it up and laugh about it today. My son finally has a group of about 6-8 friends he hangs out with on a daily basis. My daughter has one best friend and doesn’t really have a group of friends. But, they are both happy and self-confident. They still have challenges, but have better confidence to get through them. It was not easy and took a lot of work and prayers on a daily basis. Sorry this is so long. Good luck with your situation

  37. Shannon Report

    I have to girls and one is outgoing while the other is reserved. She was also excluded in the beging of the year. I seen that the girls in her class had nothing in common with my child. I came up with a plan. It is much easier to make friends with people you already know have the same interest as you. So my child started cheerleading and other activites she enjoys. She is blooming with friends now. Including the girls in her class. I’ll tell you why. Once I out her in surroundings she was comfortable in she began to feel like it was ok to be herself. The more she was okay with herself the more the kids around her seen it in her. If you go with the “it doesn’t matter” and think that will be enough youwill be kidding yourself. Even if they try to tell themselves it doesn’t matter , it still hurts! Good luck.

  38. Elisabeth Report

    Hi Everyone. Thank you so much for the advice — it’s so helpful to hear from other parents who’ve been in the same situation. To those of you whose children are being bullied, I feel your pain. Of all childhood experiences, it’s one of the hardest things to watch your kids go through. As much as I’d like to completely insulate my child from it, unfortunately that’s impossible. I do think the next best course of action is to try to give our kids some armor and weapons (verbal responses) to fight back with. (I’m definitely going to try the “whatever” response, Brooke. Thanks for that suggestion!)
    To Lisa and Amy: The same thing happened to me from 4th~6th grade. In fact, like Lisa’s daughter, I also loved to read. My best friend and I were called “lesbians” by the kids in school, and excluded by the other girls. My mom was empathetic, but unfortunately didn’t have the tools to teach me how to stand up for myself or fight back. One thing that’s stuck with me, after having talked to bullying experts: Try sitting down with your child and asking what would be helpful for them. Do they want to change schools, or would that make them feel like the bullies “won”? (You might be surprised at how they answer you.) I think it’s important to make sure kids have skills to deal with other bullies wherever they go. (I know that I would probably have been picked on again if I hadn’t learned skills to deflect the taunts and insults.) Here are links to several articles on EP — with concrete advice for parents — that I really think will help:
    Finally, Sandy, thanks for your suggestions. I’m trying to get my son into other things, and to set up some play dates with kids in his class. His teacher has been very helpful and is keeping a close watch on what’s going on (now that I’ve alerted her to the problem). I’m also meeting with her next week. So far, the hardest thing has been that my son doesn’t want to discuss it — he just gets upset and can’t understand why some of the kids won’t play with him. So I’m trying to be patient and remain ready for him when he does want to talk.

  39. e monty Report

    To Lisa and Amy
    Put your daughters into another school if possible. This situation can be scarring to a girl of that age. The bigger the school, the better.

  40. Amy Report

    Our daughter is 11 and is excluded most days of the week at school. Some of it has been bullying and the school is taking some action. The girls on the other hand, play by a different set of rules. Like yesterday, she was ‘allowed’ to play with three girls, they had decided to play a game but then didn’t want to follow the rules when it was my daughter’s turn. When she made a comment about the rules, the game was over and my daughter left the game to sit by herself again. We are at a loss as to what we should do. There are only 7 girls in the class, and it is extremely clichy. One teacher told me the girls in the class were vicious. Any advice would be appreciated!

  41. Lisa Report

    This is a question for Bill who wrote about going to a military school was it a good experience or a bad one? I have a out of control 15 nearly 16 year old and we are contemplating what would be the best option for him.
    Thank you for responding.
    Lisa in St. Louis

  42. Sandy Report

    Hello Elisabeth,

    You didn’t comment on what age your son is. I have two sons (16 and 20 now…), so I have some experience with this and have found this is a power play at certain ages more than others. I think it exemplifies insecurity on the part of the bully, but still not easy to sit back and watch. I would definitely discuss the issue of this girl’s ‘bad manners’ with your son’s teacher. You might avoid mentioning the word ‘bullying’ at first… but if she/he mentions it, go ahead and concur that it feels like bullying to your son. The teacher may or may not be an empowering one for your son, but at least she will have a heads up about the bully’s behavior, in case other students also encountered her bad manners in the future. I have found that most bullys usually move on to other victims after they tire of same old, same old with an individual child. It’s an attempt to build themselves up and make them appear like queen/king of the hill to those around them. Not that this is your problem, but I believe bullying is usually learned behavior, so remember you never know what a child may be experiencing or taught at home! In the meantime, focus on your child, thinking of fun things you can do at home (make tie-dye t-shirts, brownies, Halloween treats or decorations, etc) to distract him and help him build self-esteem by simple accomplishments and praise. I would also seek out other sources of socialization, such as gymnastics, karate, church youth groups, YMCA, etc. My younger son was picked on when he was 6 or so by some older boys in the neighborhood. I found I just had to keep him busy with other activities outside our neighborhood, which introduced him to other kids to play with. We discovered some local play groups and I became acquainted with other caring moms who had additional connections we followed up on. Good luck. You will one day look back on this and see that you were a loving mom that cared about her child!

  43. Julie Report

    I thought this article from Wondertime was really helpful: The most interesting point I thought it made was that bullies are not totally insecure, as I was led to believe, but are actually pretty secure and proud of themselves. The article talks about how the biggest thing they want is a reaction from the victim, to get him upset, and so the best thing is to teach A. to be calm and collected; I like Brooke’s quick-and-easy suggestion of just saying, “Whatever.” I think you should come up with a good reaction and then do some role playing.

  44. Lori Report

    Humor does work in diffusing a bully but shrugging it off works just as well. A bully is usually someone who feels powerless in his/her own life and needs to gain power from weaker/smaller kids. If you show the bully that he/she is of no consequence then the bully will usually move on to someone else.

  45. Lisa Report

    My now 13 year old daughter (also a middle child) had to deal with a bully last year (7th grade). The bully was sneaky so there was never anything blatant to report. Instead, the bully’s parents had the girls involved pulled into the principal’s office for a chat over “gossip & rumors”. This was devastating to my child because no one every validated her feelings over this other child bullying her. This was serious bullying, calling my child a lesbian because her hair is short, teasing her about being able to read too fast, and actively recruiting people to exclude my child. We found a counselor but after a few sessions she felt like my child could cope better with the situation better and gave her exercises to cope with the anxiety and skills to deal with the bully, etc. Even after a year, my daughter is very sullen about what happened. My oldest daughter discovered stories the younger one had written about how it would be better if she were dead and feeling dumb & ugly. We’ve tried talking to her about it, but she always says there is nothing wrong. Any suggestions – we are nearly desperate.

  46. Gaylene Report

    I think it’s important to teach your children that
    when someone is saying mean things, bullying that it’s about the person who is saying the mean things, maybe
    The girl doesn’t feel good about herself and there’s something that she does she doesn’t want others to notice so, she draws the attention away from her defect or
    habit. Some kids just say mean things to give
    them power over others. Hey, look I’m cool did you
    hear and see what I just did to so and so.
    Teach them empathy for others who feel so low.

  47. Brooke Report

    When my son was bullyed my husband taught him to shrug and say “whatever.”

    Giving him a catch phrase helped and eventually the bully lost his hold on him.

    It took some time so hang in there. I also think you have to experiment with different phrases because maybe you haven’t hit on one that is comfortable for him.

  48. Amy Report

    This year my son has experienced a lot of mean girls. Now, I never believed there was a difference until I had my own sons and witnessed my friends’ girls in action. They are not all mean, please do not take it that way, but their social awareness starts so much earlier. Thus, their social scrutiny starts so much earlier.

    My son (first grade) still sucks his thumb, so this is his weak spot in the armor. In Kindergarten the other kids could not have cared less. This year, the girls really took notice and then started calling him “baby” or “stupid” or “dumb” for his habit.

    The solution (according to my 70+ parents) is to have him stop sucking his thumb, but that is NOT the solution because if it is not his thumb, it will be his hair or his clothes or any number of things. So, I talked to him about his options. I did tell him that whenever he was ready, I could help him stop the thumb habit. He was not ready. That was fine with me… highly anxious kids, like my son, need to make that choice on their own. So, we talked about other options. I did speak with the teacher and she told me that any bullying was not accepted at school, so he could tell her anytime. I also told my son to come up with some funny come backs – nothing diffuses mean like a good round of comedy. So, we worked on some school-appropriate responses. We even practiced.

    My favorite went like this:
    Bully: You look like a baby when you suck your thumb.
    Son: Well thanks! I knew I was cute, but that is so nice of you to notice!

    His favorite was this:
    Bully: You look like a baby when you suck your thumb.
    Son: Would you like to change my diaper?

    Okay, so that one was a bit gross, but he IS a boy after all! HA!

    Good luck… the mother bear in me also gets very defensive about this. So, let me know if you have other suggestions… I’d love to hear them!

  49. Bill Report

    It can be hard to sit back in these situations because after all, you want to protect him and make it good. There is a problem when excessive bullying or confrontations are a real problem. Usually its not in Kindergarden that you have to worry about.

    I was made fun of an excluded a lot, especially after I had a growth on my nose in 4th grade. It did not go away and is still visible to this day. Junior high was tough with teasing but add to that I was sent away to a Military School. This experience was pivotal to me as I had to deal with the teasing myself and I even got into a couple of fights.

    My memories of that time keep me humble to this day. I also think that self esteem that builds from inside is a virtue. Your best best is to give Alex strategies to overcome the problem, one could be to simply avoid this girl. In a short time you will see that it will pass. In the mean time just stick a few pins into a barbie doll as a surrogate for this bratty girl. Your pure hatred will pass too.

  50. Marisol Report

    Elisabeth, I had same problem with my daughter being excluded from the group last year in third grade. Her teacher was helpful, but finally Isabella found new friends in dance class, which was made a huge difference.I also tried to teach her to shrug and walk away instead of inviting the teasing. When you become a parents, you always worry about your kids, no matter what! good luck.



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