Dear Rachel,

A good friend of mine invited us over for dinner and she has a little girl who is in school with my daughter. When I told my daughter we were going there, she started to cry and said she didn’t want to go because this girl is the meanest girl in the school. And the truth is, in the situations that I have seen her, she really does seem pretty obnoxious. Her mother is the nicest woman and I am sure would be horrified to know that kids are saying this, but I am not sure if I should tell her or not. At the same time, she is really bothering my child. What should I do?

Palm Beach, FL

Dear Torn,

There is no question that hearing that another child is hurting your own is very painful and upsetting. And naturally, as a parent, we want to stand up for our child and right the apparent wrong. Probably if you did not know the mother of this child, things would be much easier for you, and you would either call that mother directly or perhaps explain to a teacher what is happening to speak to the parent about this. Yet, the fact that you are a close friend of the mother seemingly makes things harder, but in many ways, you may find it actually makes things easier.

For starters, before you even approach the other mother, it is a good idea to sit down with your daughter and try to better understand the situation. Often children are quick to see how others are mistreating them, and do not always realize or take responsibility for the way they treat others. I am not trying to imply that your daughter is at fault, but even if in this situation she has done nothing wrong to the other girl, it is a wonderful opportunity to teach her a lesson in how mistreatment causes so much hurt and pain, and hopefully she will be all the less likely in the future to hurt other children.

Also, when you speak to your daughter, as much as you want to comfort her and let her know that you support her, feel her pain and believe her, try to think and to get her to think of why this other child is behaving in such a way. It is no surprise that often the biggest bullies are the children who are most insecure and are trying to establish themselves through negative behavior. Being that there is no guarantee that in speaking to the other mother you will be able to influence this other child or how she acts, the more you can help your daughter see the situation in a different light, the better it will be for her to deal with.

Another important thing is to find out from your child all the things this other girl is good at. Is she a good student? Is she nice to anyone? What does she do that is positive? This will not only be beneficial to your daughter in trying to seek out the good in another, but will give you a better way of approaching the mother.

And yes, you need to approach the mother. Otherwise, it is unfair to you, to your daughter, to her and to her daughter. No one wants to feel that their child is problematic, but worse than having to hear that news, is to not hear it and somehow discover that others are thinking it. Specifically because you are her friend, you have a responsibility to her to let her know what other children are saying about her child.

Yet, as stated before, children are not always objective (who is when we are hurt?) and therefore, rather than stating anything as fact, state how your daughter is feeling and not what you think her daughter may have done. If you can approach the mother and tell her that there is a situation and you would like her help solving it, then she will feel a part of the solution and not just the problem. Explain to her that your daughter is feeling very hurt and feels that her daughter is mistreating her and being mean to her. Never accuse her daughter of that behavior, rather legitimize that this is how your daughter feels, whether or not her daughter has actually done anything.

Furthermore, make sure to mention the positive things your daughter has said about her. Tell her that all the kids think that her daughter is the smartest in the class or the best athlete or most popular or whatever they think about her. You want her to know that you also hear and know good things about her child, and not just the negative.

Hopefully, the mother will realize that you are not only being a good mother in confronting this, but a good friend and will appreciate your honesty and desire to work things out. And maybe, part of the solution, can be for you and your friend, along with your two daughters, to spend an afternoon together, without other kids around, and make a real effort to teach your children how they need to treat one another. I have no doubt that with the sensitivity you clearly have, that you will be successful in working this out!