380. What We Can and Can’t Do

I have a good friend who respects my thinking about children and parents. He asked me what to do about a situation that’s bothering him. His daughter, Rochelle, is being bothered by a girl named Juliana, who seems to need to be “best” at everything, and to make sure everyone knows it. While I’m flattered to be cast in the “Dear Abby” role, my first reaction was to think I couldn’t help. But like Juliana, I have a reputation to uphold. So I thought for a while, and gave it my best shot.
Abby and all those other givers of advice provide a service, but they also don’t quite know what they’re talking about. Neither do I. I don’t know Juliana. She’s probably having at least as much trouble as Rochelle, but I don’t know that. Besides, I naturally care about my friend and his daughter more than I care about Juliana. But I’ll try to imagine what kind of advice one of Juliana’s parents might ask for:
Dear Abby,
My daughter seems to need to prove herself all the time. She’s very unhappy, and while other children are impressed with her “confidence,” I’m afraid her popularity is going to be short-lived. One girl, Rochelle, is already apparently disenchanted, and while that’s causing problems for Rochelle right now, I think Rochelle’s reaction is only the tip of the iceberg.
I want Juliana to feel good about herself, but not at the expense of other children. And if she continues to build her self-esteem the way she’s building it now, it’s going to have a shaky foundation. How can I help my daughter?
My advice to Juliana’s parent is similar to the advice I gave Rochelle’s father. There are two parts to it. First of all, the social world of children is their world, not ours. We care about our children, and just as I care about my friend and his daughter more than I care about Juliana and her parents, my friend takes Rochelle’s side. And he should. Juliana’s parent or parents are in charge of caring about Juliana. But bottom line number one is that there may not be a whole lot adults can do.
My second bit of advice is to listen to Rochelle and Juliana. Rochelle’s father probably already listens to Rochelle quite well, but caring can make us forget to listen. We get caught up in the problems of those we care about, and we go overboard trying to solve them. Sometimes that makes us forget to listen.
Sometimes, I’ve been able to successfully intervene in a relationship between two children. I once resuscitated two children’s friendship just by sending them on an errand together. But actually, I was only marginally instrumental. More often, I’ve found that there wasn’t a blessed thing I could do. Children have to work things out on their own, and there’s not much we can do but care and listen. Sorry.

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