sad little dude
February 11, 2007 5:33 PM   Subscribe

What is a good way for an eight year old to respond when he feels that his friends/playmates are ganging up on him?

My little brother had this issue tonight and we told him they were just kidding and playing around, be he was not mollified. Is there something he can do himself when he begins to feel this way, or is there something we should be telling him to make him feel better? This seems to come up on a fairly regular basis, although from watching their interactions I believe that his friends are good kids and are probably just playing a bit too rough for my very sensitive little bro. (To be more specific - he felt ganged up on because the other kids were throwing their toys at him, the toys being plastic hamburgers and carrots.)
posted by ohio to Human Relations (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I suggest a second conversation with your brother, with maybe a slightly different approach. I am a professional mentor with first-third grade children, and we draw upon a clinical model called Collaborative Problem Solving in our work with them. In this situation, it might play out something like this (apologies for the length here, I just hope this is useful):

1. Validate his feelings and assesment of his own situation -- While you may be right that his friends have good intentions but rough play habits, your brother's feelings should be acknowledged. It's not wrong for him to be sensitive, and it's not wrong for him to believe that others are ganging up on him. They probably are, even if it is only sometimes and only in good fun. And his situation must be really hard; children can be pretty mean to each other (even to their friends). Let him know that his feelings are justified.

It's amazing how far this step can get you in a conversation with children. Children are always being molded and taught and corrected by adults - so when adults take time to really listen to them, then then acknowledge that listening by validation/reflection, children can really open up.

2. Find out what his real concern is -- sure, he doesn't want them to throw toys at him, but what else is going on? Is there a ringleader to the group that has singled him out? Does the group only play games that he doesn't like? Is he getting teased because his shoes are ugly? There is probably some cause or causes that are contributing to this problem. By taking the time to really listen in step one, you will be more likely to find those causes in a deeper conversation. Once you know your brother's concern, try to also guess at the concerns of his friends - are they trying to be mean? do they just want to play? are they mad at your brother for stealing their crayons? do they like your brother? Conflicts may have more than two sides, but each side has its own set of concerns that inform their behavior. It is useful to know what everyone's concern is.

In this part of the conversation, you are helping him define the problem from something that is impossible to deal with (ex: they all hate me!) to something that can be solved (ex: they don't understand how to pronounce my name and so they tease me about it).

3. Come up with a solution together -- it is very important that you not just tell him what he ought to do. In your previous conversation, you proposed a solution for him - that he needs to not be so worried about what is happening and just play along with the kidding. This might well work, if he were to do it, but it isn't his solution and he's probably not going to do it. Even if a solution is painfully obvious to you, it's still better to approach it by asking something like "well, what do you think we can do about this?" Once you've defined the problem together, he may well be able to come up with a solution on his own. If he's still stuck, you could ask pointed questions, reference a similar situation and your own solution, or offer a few options. Emphasize that you are available to help with the implemation of the solution (talking to a teacher, or parents of his friends, or whatever else seems necessary).

Point is -- eight year olds need to learn how to solve their own problems. You are being a great older brother by trying to help him out, and you can best help by being there to guide him through his own thought process to arrive at his own solution. This way, he can practice the skill of problem solving, and he also learns that his older brother is a great person to go to for help with his problems.
posted by cubby at 6:29 PM on February 11, 2007 [9 favorites]

Try being on "his side" when he gets down. Ask him what happened, how he feels, and let him know that it's reasonable for him to feel that way (something like "Yeah, even if it's just having plastic food thrown at you, it feels bad when your friends seem like they're in on something that you're not," or "Yeah, I wouldn't like it much if my friends did that."). Really try to put yourself in his shoes and see why it's upsetting to him. It would also help him to know if you've been in similar situations and how it made you feel. After he's gotten the message that what he's feeling is normal and that he has a safe place to express this stuff, ask him how he could respond to his friends. He's old enough to come up with his own set of things to try out. They could range from "I could not invite them over any more" to "I could tell them to stop" to "I could grab all the food and get behind the sofa and pummel them back with a big laugh." What's helpful for him in the long term is to be able to calibrate his feelings (name them, normalize them) and find the responses he's comfortable with. It sounds like he's got a good sibling!

On preview, what cubby said.
posted by cocoagirl at 6:37 PM on February 11, 2007

I think the response of 'they are just kidding around' is, although well intentioned, not a great one. What it is really saying to the kid is 'You are wrong. You aren't being picked on' ... and as someone who was a sensitive kid when I was a ... well .. a kid, I think the impact can be quite long lasting.

Again this may be just me, but I found that I shared less with my parents/family when similar issues arose because I didn't think they believed me. What is the best solution? To be honest, I'm not sure. I spent most of my childhood desperately trying to avoid situations like this. I think Cubby's method has a lot of merit. Certainly I believe that simply being believed would have gone a long way to making me feel better.
posted by tobtoh at 7:06 PM on February 11, 2007

Help him develop a biting sarcastic wit that can immediately defuse any and all ganging up upon.
posted by pwally at 8:00 PM on February 11, 2007

I'm not sure if this is good advice or not, at eight. But my inclination would be to make the point that they are probably largely motivated by getting a rise out of him, and that he might try brushing it off/ignoring their actions to not give them the satisfaction. Cultivating this attitude - bored indifference, basically - seemed to do more for me in response to teasing/picking on than anything else when I was a kid.

I agree with the point that attempts to convince him it isn't a big deal are probably counter-productive. He knows how he feels, even if it is an overreaction, it is real to him. On the other hand, getting across the subtly different point that his friends are maybe being mean because they are thoughtless or childish, not because they dislike him or really want to hurt his feelings, might make him feel better. But start out by acknowledging his feelings - making it clear that you understand why he feels that way and you don't think it's right that his friends make him feel that way, and that you are on his side. Just having that feeling of support may make a big difference.
posted by nanojath at 9:08 PM on February 11, 2007

Definitely acknowledge his feelings. Great advice above.

However, would it be possible for you to somehow observe his interactions with these kids? Invite them over to your home. Perhaps you can get a better handle on what's going on.

It is absolutely crucial for children to learn problem-solving on their own. However, sometimes, children (including those who gang up on others) need a little supervision and guidance. You don't want to be the heavy, of course, but perhaps there's something an adult can do here. Sometimes, even the mere presence of an adult is enough to get kids to buckle down a little more.
posted by acoutu at 9:44 PM on February 11, 2007

Is it possible that they're being worse to him when there's nobody around to make sure your brother isn't being bullied? I put up with the worst torments a nine-year-old girl could withstand for months before I finally tearfully confessed to my mom that I was entirely willing to switch schools if it meant I could get away from the girl who was being mean to me. From there, my school administration got involved and the bullying stopped.

I may be way off here, but make sure you know the whole story.
posted by crinklebat at 11:12 PM on February 11, 2007

Best answer: In any group of children there is almost always a leader, particularly when that group is ganging up on someone. Little dude needs to stick up for himself, but instead of going after the group as a whole, he needs to target the leader and ignore the rest. See if you can find out who the primary source of the trouble was. These things always start out as "they" but with a little bit of detective work, wind up as a "him" in short order. In any peer group the biggest fear is being cast out, which leads to a pack mentality where everyone will go along with a strong leader in order not to rock the boat. If your little brother is going to stand up to anyone, it needs to be this person alone--the rest are just distractions.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:36 AM on February 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Semi-related: my son, who is close in age--his best friends become his enemies and vice versa with some rapidity. He also keeps an ongoing list of who is at the top of his list. Lately, most of his friends have "become tattletales." this is not to suggest that your little brother wasn't being picked on but that eight-year-old status is very volatile.
posted by craniac at 7:19 AM on February 12, 2007

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