The Girl No One Will Play With

January 30, 2012 in lessons for moms,prayer,substitute teaching

Welcome to part 4, the last in a series of posts on what God has taught me so far through substitute teaching.

Getting paid to spy on my girls and their friends is a bonus of subbing at their school. School policy prevents me from subbing in their classrooms, but I can sub as a lunch aide and get paid to wander around the playground, watch what my girls actually eat, take note of who is bossy all while making sure everyone is safe. Sounds glamorous, doesn’t it?

Recent jobs as the office secretary and the school lunch aide taught me why my 9-year-old sometimes collapses into a puddle of tears or yells, “You just don’t understand” in the hours after school.


The playground is a treacherous world for budding mini-women. At my girls’ schools, there are at least 75 kids in each grade. Teachers, who know personalities and manipulative habits well, are on lunch break and not present. So the kids run, scream, play, and tear down each others’ emotions. Constantly, they are testing each other with an unspoken question: How important am I to you? And the answer is derived from perceptions, based on whether or not the BFF of the day wants to play with her, wants to play what she wants to play, and if the BFF acts excited to do both. If the BFF wants to play something else or wants to include a girl who changes the rules of the game too much, the little girl feels unimportant, left out, angry.

Here’s where the parents, safe from the drama in their cubicles and homes, play a role. Parents, operating only on the stories from their daughter’s mouth, instruct their daughter that certain kids should be avoided. “They have family problems” or “They are not nice.” Sometimes these are true statements. Sometimes this parental advice is based on faulty information. Generally though the parental advice stops with the one liner. The little girl takes that parental advice and throws it at other girls to hurt her or just to put an end to the girl drama so the game of tag can resume.

Once this ugly game starts, other little girls are drawn to the drama. Feeling full of their own kindness, they start acting as messengers between the different angry/hurt girls. The messenger girls usually run between both sides but actually think only one girl is justified. And the story spirals down into the puddle of tears or angry outbursts we hear at home.  Because by the time the they reach home, they’ve been holding all this hurt inside for hours.

Such stories are daily occurrences for some girls starting in the fourth grade. Third graders play these emotional games a bit too, but they are less brutal and less frequent.

As a mom, the most obvious solution, especially if you believe your daughter is telling the truth, is to find the common thread in the stories. Often there is one girl that is the center of the drama, and so you advise your daughter to avoid her or wish that girl would leave the school.  Avoiding a girl at elementary school is harder than most moms imagine. On the playground, it is not uncommon for the avoided girl to follow your daughter around and ask her why she isn’t her friend any more. And when your daughter says it is because she is mean, the mean girl will send endless messengers begging your daughter to be her friend again. Or worse, the mean girl will get a group around her and start rumors about your daughter and follow her around the playground taunting her. Again, the puddles and outbursts are the signs you witness at home.

Now consider the mean girl, the one multiple parents have advised their daughters to avoid. She showed up in the office the other day while I was subbing. Sobbing. No one likes her she said. No one wants to play with her.

“Why?” the too-curious substitute secretary asks.
“They say I am a bad influence.”
Now what, nosy substitute secretary? Now what do you say?
“Why would they say that?”
“Because I can’t control my anger.”
She’s a perceptive little girl. I wonder what her story is. What has happened to her? What people skills has she been taught? Has anyone helped manager her anger? My brain was interrupted by a loud outburst of sobs and declarations of
“Why am I even alive? What is my purpose?”
Whoa little 4th grader. You are too young for such big questions. Let me hug you and pull you aside and tell you about a source of hope and love.
The principal heard the outbursts and the little girl was whisked from the waiting chair and behind her heavy wooden door.
But that little girl, she’s on my prayer list now.
And I don’t know what to tell my daughter about her now.

Moms, daily, pray for your girl, pray for her friends. The drama on the playground is intense. And every situation is unique, and every girl involved, no matter how mean, is a child created by God. Pray first. Pray long. Teach your daughter to do the same. Action may be necessary but remove your momma bear claws long enough to pray.

Follow these links to read previous posts in this series
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{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

Alene January 30, 2012 at 4:26 pm

I’m loving your lessons from substituting. This one is awesome and so true. Love that stop – Pray first. Pray long. Beautiful.

Hopping over to let you know you won the $20 gift coupon for DaySpring. Email me and I’ll get you the code so you can enjoy!


Laura January 30, 2012 at 9:25 pm

Yippee. Thanks for the encouragement Alene.


HKS January 31, 2012 at 6:42 pm

Amanda shared this on facebook. I just read all 4 Sub lessons. Thanks for sharing. I needed to hear what happens at school. Thanks for the reminder to pray and what to pray about.


Laura January 31, 2012 at 10:50 pm

Thank you Heather. I so appreciate knowing you’ve been encouraged. Encouraging comments help me remember that the time spent writing is time well spent.


Shannon October 13, 2012 at 11:04 pm

Happy Blogiversary! I hope you have many more years to celebrate.


Kathy Penney @ Sparkles And A Stove December 4, 2012 at 1:43 pm

You have such a keen eye and are so pereceptive! I remember all of these scenarios growing up and seeing them again in my preteen niece. I have a 1 year old daughter and it’s such a daunting task to raise a strong, secure woman and I love your website and advice.


pruningprincesses December 4, 2012 at 3:24 pm

Hi Kathy, I’ve been to your site before when it was Pinner Takes All. You are one of those creative moms. I have to work soo hard to be crafty. As you raise your daughter, please let me know if you have questions about raising girls. I am thinking of starting a Q&A section where moms write their questions and 2 or 3 of the different mentor moms answer.


Angi December 4, 2012 at 1:44 pm

Yikes! I’m glad to know you’re there, observant and helping out when you can. Those days can be pretty scary for a kid who doesn’t know how to handle it. I find that having 3 girls playing together is always trickier than 2…one is ALWAYS feeling left out.
Happy SITS day!


Nellie December 4, 2012 at 1:54 pm

Awesome post. I think what people forget is that children are just that CHILDREN. You can’t pass judgement and labels onto kids, they will carry it around with them forever.

Visiting from SITS!


Rabia @ TheLiebers December 4, 2012 at 2:03 pm

Happy SITS day! My daughter is in the middle of this stuff too! She is very innocent and immature ( in a good way). She plays with two boys who seem (to me) to be quite the outcasts. She gets teased constantly for it. But she persists in playing with these boys (who are good friends to her). Imagine my surprise when I find out that one of the kids teasing her is a boy who frequently comes over to our house to play. Initially I didn’t want to let him back in the house after finding that out. Then he came over to tell me he was moving. I was concerned and asked where he was moving to. “A hotel” is what he said. Broke my heart! He is likely being evicted from the public housing unit they live in. It really made me think about my perceptions of the kids my daughter goes to school with and makes me more determined to pray for all of them.


pruningprincesses December 5, 2012 at 1:52 am

Oh. What a heartbreaking story. I do love it when God gives us a fuller perspective. My daughter is immature in a good way too but sometimes it makes relating to the others girls her age a struggle. Our mommy hearts get so concerned and achy over watching our girls struggle. Thank you for commenting (3 times!) and for sharing this story. I will pray for this little boy and your daughter too. I hope you will return here so we can continue to support each other.


Sheila Skillingstead December 4, 2012 at 2:33 pm

At the age of 61 this brings back memories–not all of them pleasant. You’ve got a good eye and a great way of sharing what you saw. I’d forgotten about the messenger girls flying back and forth. Hopefully we can hold all the children in our hearts so they grow up to be moms who do what you do.

Enjoy your SITS Day.


pruningprincesses December 5, 2012 at 1:45 am

Hi Sheila. So nice to “meet” you. I had forgotten about those messenger girls too until I witnessed the playground myself. Funny how culture can change but certain dynamics of a group of girls do not. You speak the love language of bloggers well. Sheila (comments are the love language). You are creative and encouraging at the same time. And I do hope you will start getting in those pictures! But I am the picture taker in our family too and usually I just don’t remember to ask…..


misssrobin December 4, 2012 at 2:37 pm

So sad, but so true. I think the most important part is to keep listening and validate. Sometimes we hear one sentence and think we know what is happening. If we will sit down and really spend some time with the child, she will usually unfold the entire story. But it can take a long time and we often aren’t patient enough. And we need to treat her feelings with respect. Too often parents hear a story and realize that it’s not going to matter in a week or two. But children hurt now. They don’t care how it will feel later. We need them to know that their feelings matter and should be respected. And we need to teach them to think of others and look for motivations. If a girl is repeatedly mean, they may need to limit contact where they can — we don’t want to raise martyrs. But they can be taught to study out the situation as well. They can observe the girl and see if they can figure out why she is mean. They can be taught how to decide if they should reach out to her. And most importantly, they can be taught to pray for the mean little girl, that her life might become a little less heavy.

Great post.


pruningprincesses December 5, 2012 at 12:25 pm

Oh Miss Robin. You are full of wisdom. You nailed the dilemma on the head. We are not raising martyrs. And we don’t play with the mean girls either. But we pray for them and have compassion and kindness (hopefully). Thank you for being such a kind commenter over the months. I really appreciate it.


Rachel @ Architecture of a Mom December 4, 2012 at 2:42 pm

Stopping by from SITS…and I love this post. My oldest starts kindergarten next year, but she’s already a pro at daycare. I already see the drama. Thanks for the reminder to pray for my girls’ friends, every day.


pruningprincesses December 6, 2012 at 2:27 am

Hi Rachel! So nice to meet you. Guiding our girls through friendships is tough. We want them to be kind and compassionate but not doormats. I think prayer is our best guide because every situation is different. And I’ve learned that my daughter’s version of the situation only represents one side of the story! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.


Whitney December 4, 2012 at 2:48 pm

This continues in middle school now, but I remember a few years ago when my youngest was in the 5th grade, she had some pretty rough days with her friends. She wants to be liked by her peers so bad that she was willing to take mean behavior as a sense of friendship. We talk about behaviors all the time, and trust me I make sure my daughter recognizes her bad behavior when she’s with her friends. Great post, gonna read the others. Happy SITS Day.


pruningprincesses December 6, 2012 at 2:25 am

Hi Whitney. Oh my momma hear aches reading your story. Did you happen to find the most recent mentor mom post on my site? It’s called Friend or Frenemy. Another post on friendship called Make Friends In Different Places might help too. I pray your girl finds a true friend.


KyFireWife December 4, 2012 at 3:29 pm

Sadly I know these stories all too well. They don’t start in 4th, or even 3rd grade. I’m dealing with this now with my preschooler. Already 🙁


pruningprincesses December 6, 2012 at 2:30 am

Hello! I am so sorry your girl is already dealing with these issues. In preschool, I found that good teacher have a lot of influence and can often nip the mean behavior without any consequences toward your daughter. Those little ones are so eager to please. When your girl is a bit older, you might share with her the ideas in the post Friend or Frenemy? It is a mentor mom post with some great advice in it. Thanks for stopping by. I hope you return soon.


Doris Blaine December 4, 2012 at 3:34 pm

Great advice.


Mothering From Scratch December 4, 2012 at 3:58 pm

{Melinda} Usually there is a lot beneath the surface that we don’t know about. I see that more and more in the teenager world that my daughter inhabits. The meanness and the drama only escalates. I tell my daughter over and over in regards to certain girls in her sphere, “You know she has some rough issues to deal with. It doesn’t excuse her behavior, but it does explain it.”

It’s so hard. Prayer. Lots of prayer.

Happy SITS Day! You are so deserving of the attention!


Michelle G December 4, 2012 at 4:00 pm

So heartbreaking:( I know what it feels like to be the little girl no one would play with. Keep praying for her!


pruningprincesses December 4, 2012 at 7:32 pm

Michelle, thanks for the encouragement. Honestly, I thought I knew exactly what to tell my girls about the drama on the playground until I met the little girl in the office. The encounter completely changed my perspective. She left the school a few weeks later but I still wonder about her. I doubt things improved for her just by switching schools. Let’s both pray for her. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, it blesses me.


Michelle G December 4, 2012 at 7:37 pm

I’m sorry to hear she moved to a different school. I personally homeschool my two youngest children but my older two went through the public school system. My oldest daughter ended up coming home to finish high school because of bullying. Nothing will rip a mother’s heart out more than knowing your child is being hurt by peers.


Rebecca Rider December 4, 2012 at 4:31 pm

What a wonderful reminder! Thank you for sharing this wisdom! My son is only an infant now – hope I can handle it as he grows older!!


pruningprincesses December 4, 2012 at 7:23 pm

Rebecca, you will be able to handle it. The only danger is with mothers who are so busy they do not know what it going on. Seek advice from the seasoned veterans of motherhood, they will inspire and challenge you. Thank you for taking time to comment.


Classic NYer December 4, 2012 at 5:02 pm

Playground drama is no joke. That’s how little girls grow up to be emotionally distressed adults. It starts there, on the playground.


pruningprincesses December 4, 2012 at 7:21 pm

As a sociologist, the playground is fascinating. As a mother it is terrifying. But it is part of life and lessons learned there will be influential. As a mom, I think I can just hope to guide my girls through it. And as for the Pinterest-effect, I think life is messy so taking pictures of pretty, controllable things, appeals to people, especially women. Thanks for taking the time to comment (twice!).


Tracy Larson December 4, 2012 at 5:40 pm

What a thought provoking post. I have two tween boys and it’s not any better on this side of the species. I really was intrigued by parents saying to avoid the child who is “being mean”. I am a volunteer recess teacher and I observe that pretty much every child in some way has said or done something that a parent would consider mean. It’s complicated out there on the playground and it continues into the workplace and dealing with other moms. I agree with everyone, it’s hard, very hard and very complicated. Thank you for you post and have a very happy SITS Day!


pruningprincesses December 5, 2012 at 1:33 am

Tracy, if you are a volunteer recess teacher you must know exactly what I was struggling with in this post. I finally decided I couldn’t ask my daughter to make friends with the meanest girls on the playground but I could ask them to be the ones who don’t avoid or don’t make fun. I can model compassion and kindness. And to say it is complicated is an understatement. I am sure you could teach mom many lessons from you playground monitoring job! Maybe you should write a blog post!


Kristiina December 4, 2012 at 6:55 pm

It is so hard to know how to handle that sort of thing. It sounds like you know what you are doing though.


pruningprincesses December 5, 2012 at 1:31 am

Kristiina, I am not sure any mom knows what they doing. Meeting that girl in the office certainly made me stop and wonder about the advice I had been giving my girl. We can’t expect our girls to make friends with all the mean girls just because they have tough backrounds, but I think we model compassion and kindness. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. I hope you will return.


Denise December 4, 2012 at 7:32 pm

We all went through this drama when we were kids…it’s a good reminder that little girls need help becoming compassionate women. Looks like your girls are off to a good start.


Britton December 4, 2012 at 8:18 pm

I LOVE This post! My daughter is four and just began school this year and I sometimes worry that she will be the “girl no one wants to play with”. I cringe when I hear a story of a new BFF or a story about the girl who said she hates her, only because I know she has SO much to learn about the word “friend”. I’m almost 30 and I am STILL learning who my friends really are! GREAT POST!


pruningprincesses December 6, 2012 at 2:08 am

Hi Britton, there are several other great posts on Pruning Princesses to help your daughter learn about friendship. Check out Make Friends in Different Places and Friend or Frenemy?
I hope these posts help. Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. I pray that your girl finds a BFF that you both love!


Twingle Mommy December 4, 2012 at 9:37 pm

My daughter’s preschool requires one day a month of parent particpation and I love it since it allows me to look into my daughter’s world. But the girl drama starts even younger than we think. My daughter was told by a classmate on Thursday that she didn’t want to play with her since she was weird. My heart broke for her watching this unfold. I didn’t realize that the mean girls started at age four.

Over from SITS!


pruningprincesses December 6, 2012 at 2:02 am

Hi Ally! The girl drama beginnings shocked me in how young it started. But lots of things shock me (like how many girls start to develop as early as 2nd grade!). At the preschool age a good teacher should be able to nip meanness in the bud. I hope your daughter’s teacher is able to correct the behavior. Thanks for stopping by.


Lisa December 4, 2012 at 10:00 pm

Most always there is a reason for the way they are acting.


Jean Lynd December 9, 2012 at 11:33 pm

I ended up deciding to homeschool when my oldest was finishing up 2nd grade due to a kid who would torture my son. I never looked back. He’s now a scholarship attendee at U of South AL, and I now have 3 other children, each homeschooled. It’s hard to keep the Mama Bear from busting out all over everyone when our kids are done wrong! Happy SITS day, late.


pruningprincesses December 11, 2012 at 11:44 am

Hi Jean. Actually we just started homeschooling this year. Not because of bullying issues though. Sometimes my struggle with homeschool is wishing those hard friend situations were still there. It teaches my kids character that a book cannot. But I know the education is better and I love the time together. If you have homeschooling advice for a newbie, let me know!


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