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Best friends: Should children in preschool be separated from their friends?

Published: April 3, 2013 | By | 5 Replies Continue Reading
Best Friends: It's normal for kids to prefer some schoolmates over others.

Best Friends: It’s normal for kids to prefer some schoolmates over others.

A preschool teacher separates a child from her best friends, which leads to problems in the classroom and at home.


Dear Irene,

My daughter is in her second year of preschool and has become really attached to two little girls in her class, her best friends. I have been chalking it up to kids being kids, but now the teacher brought this up to me twice as a problem and I’m at a loss.

I had my second parent-teacher conference at school the other day and the teacher brought it up a second time mentioning how my daughter is really attached to her best friend. So she implemented assigned seating during snack time and has sat my daughter next to other kids whom she generally doesn’t interact with, on purpose, to see how see reacts.

Well the teacher tells me it hasn’t been going well. My daughter yells at them and says mean things and makes a fist at them. She’s friendly with most of the other kids; the problem is limited to these three or four kids.

This year, she seems to be thinking about old friendships she had last school year or about children of friends, with whom I’ve lost contact with for one reason or another, and she seems so sad.  She will just sit there and cry for 20-30 minutes over this, and nothing seems to help console her.

As a mother, this breaks my heart and I wish I could fix things but I can’t. Since I wasn’t sure what to do, I googled “attachment issues,” but none of that really sounded like what is going on with her.

Signed, Cindy


Hi Cindy,

It’s perfectly normal that children of this age would prefer to be friends with some children rather than others. I’m not quite sure why the teacher was suggesting your daughter is “too attached” to her best friends unless she was making these or other children in the class so uncomfortable that it was disruptive.

Seating your daughter with children whom she doesn’t like or get along with seems like a recipe for disaster. Since your daughter’s problem is likely to be related to what has been happening recently at school, you need to involve the preschool teacher in remedying it.

Because your daughter is so young, you have to be her advocate.  I realize this may be uncomfortable for you but I would suggest that you set up a time to speak to the teacher and calmly let her know how upset your daughter is. See if she has a rational explanation for her decision to keep your daughter from her friends that makes sense to you.

If she doesn’t, explain that you want your daughter to sit with at least one friend so she is comfortable in school. If you meet complete resistance, you may need to raise this issue with the administrator of the school.

It’s common to have a hard time standing up to teachers and to feel ashamed and helpless when teachers tell them their children aren’t behaving. But I think you need to go with your gut and help your daughter change this arrangement at school. Of course, you also need to explain to your daughter that you understand how hurt she feels, but she needs to treat everyone in her class with respect and that you are trying to help fix things at school.

Hope this helps.

My best, Irene

You may want to read this earlier post on The Friendship Blog. I think it could be helpful to you:

Should a child be allowed to have a best friend?

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Category: Helping children deal with friendship problems

Comments (5)

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  1. Bronwyn says:

    The misbehavior didn’t start until the child was moved. It sounds to me like the teacher created a problem where none previously existed. I agree that sometimes parents try to jump in too quickly and solve all their kids’ problems, but this doesn’t sound like that kind of parent.

    Many of us grew up in an era where the teacher’s judgment was never questioned — even to the extent that corporal punishment was inflicted on us and we were too terrified to tell our parents. A teacher should not wield that kind of power — in a classroom or in the life of a child.

    I’d ask for specific examples of why this child had to be separated from ALL of her friends. If they weren’t creating a classroom disturbance, then it sounds to me like the teacher’s got a few control issues of her own that need to be resolved.

    Pre-school teachers do not necessarily have that much of an educational background (unlike Amy), and sometimes make assessments for which they are not professionally qualified. Teachers do have their own issues and they are not always competent at leaving them outside the classroom. And let’s not pretend that teachers do not form dislikes for certain children. It happens and manifests itself in various forms far more often than we’d like to admit. And teachers will often act very differently depending upon whether or not another adult is observing them.

    Yes, the little girl must be taught to treat all children with respect. It’s a lesson the teacher might benefit from learning as well.

  2. Suzanna says:

    Yeah I beleive the teacher most likely had her reasons. Wht I have seen numerous times, is the same chid who has extreme dislikes of certain kids also has extreme likes of certain kids. These extreme reations are not always returned- I have seen litlle girls almost fixate on another girl-her best friend, but the other child does not view her as her best friend instead feels smothered but her possessiveness.
    One thing I feel certain the teacher wants peace in the classroom, she moved the girl because she either had another parent request the child moved away or she thought it was the best solution to some problem.

    • Amy says:

      Very good points, I wasn’t even thinking from the “classroom as a whole” perspective. I find that many parents are too eager to jump in and try to fix any discomfort their child experiences, the “blame the teacher for any perceived problems” phenomenon. Heck I have two friends who are college profs and they’ve both had helicopter parents trying to get grades changed…more than once.
      I don’t mean to suggest ignoring your daughter’s discomfort, but empathize on her feelings without trying to fix the problem. Keep dialoguing with the teacher about any social problems she might be experiencing, role play more appropriate ways of interacting using dolls or stuffed animals, observe the classroom (though your daughter might not act the same with you present).
      If you notice changes in your daughter’s eating, sleeping, overall behavior, take her to her per. or a therapist, because spending snack period around different kids shouldn’t disrupt her daily routine. If this happens the problem is more severe than not sitting with her friends.

  3. Amy says:

    Sorry, I gotta disagree with Irene on this one. I’ve worked with many children with social issues and have studied extensively various developmental theories. I actually agree with the teacher on this front. Preschool is an important time in a child’s development. Kids are beginning to develop from toddler stage parallel play to learning to interact with each other. We also see the difference between typical interactions between boys and boys, which is often more active and less conversational, and girls and girls. Unfortunately, we’re also seeing the beginnings of cliques, and sometimes bullying and social isolation with girls. Educators also notice that some friendships develop where one friend is dominant and another is passive. These unhealthy relationships can be the beginning of patterns that follow kids into grade school and beyond.
    Snack time is a short, structured activity–eating. It’s easily monitored by adults, because all the kids are in the same space, doing the same thing. It’s not free play, or creative time. Even as a preschooler, your daughter needs to learn to be civil to children she wouldn’t necessarily choose as friends. If your daughter is shy, this is a good opportunity to practice social skills with different kids, particularly if she gravitates only to one or two other kids. If she’s aggressive and tends to dominate other kids, being around other strong personalities for a short time in a controlled setting would be helpful so that she doesn’t develop bully tendencies.
    I’d be concerned if the teacher never wanted your daughter to be around her friends, but this sounds like a good exercise for your daughter. Sometimes parents of young kids, particularly only children or oldest children have difficulty viewing their kids in context normal childhood development or understanding what’s healthy because they don’t have anything to compare their child’s process against. You might want to come in to observe your daughter during snack time, so you can see firsthand issues that may be of concern in and out of school. The older your daughter gets, the harder changing maladaptive behaviors will be, so if the teacher recognizes problems and can gently steer your daughter toward healthier behaviors, this can save a lot of future angst.

    • Anonymous says:

      I dont’ disagree with Irene. It sounds like this girl is misbehaving because it is her only way to communicate not being
      able to interact with people whe prefers. Forming attachments and bonds and having special, closer friends is just as important as being open to all people. I can see if she grouped the girls with others during class assignments but not during free times such as lunch, free play and recess. I do think parents sometimes can overdo concern, but people’s including teacher’s judgments and opinions are all over the place these days. The teacher could be setting this child up for attachment confusion, vis a vis, you have to be taken away from your natural intuitivve inclinations of preference for certain people. I have had this done to me and it hurts, and has served no productive purpose. Getting along with everyone is different than being forced to resonate on an intimate close friend level with everyone. Just my humble opinion!

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