In the New York Times Motherlode, a reader posed a question regarding how to handle a situation where two 4th grade girls, who were excluding her daughter, were instructed by their parents to "ban" the girl when she told the teacher she felt excluded.
Been there. Felt that.
Motherlode asked readers for advice for this Mom and it was colorful. Of course, some pointed out that parents must have knowledge of their children's friends and those friends' parents. In light of the Skittles Parties post, there is no question that parents must know with who their children are socializing.
There is a difference between knowing your children's friends and parents in order to ensure your child's safety AND helicoptering over your child's social life. The first is a necessity - and if a child is "less desireable" because of values or behavior, I believe you need to explain to your child what you observe and disapprove. This reinforces your values explicitly to your child and helps your child learn that the child himself (or herself) is responsible for his/her choices in behavior.
It's entirely different to manipulate your children's friendships to achieve some sort of social strata or in retaliation for a perceived slight. Parents need to actively discourage cliques and schools need to help reinforce a welcoming culture. That's not to say that children should not have and express preferences - but that children must be taught, by their parents, that's its not okay to make someone else feel bad or deliberately hurt someone else though exclusion. It's no different than physical bullying - and this situation sounds like its sanctioned by the parents.
One of the things I really love about our school is that we have a counselor who starts working with the students in 3rd grade to talk about social pressure, exclusion and community values. I love that our teachers actively encourage children to work with every other child and remind the children that they are obligated to be helpful, warm and supportive regardless of who their work partner is. It's not that we're completely clique-free - people will be people - but there are many opportunities for a child to be included and to find their place.
The reader at Motherlode asked for advice - here's mine: "Confront" the moms. Let them know that their daughters have stated that they are not allowed to be friends with your daughter and you hope this is just a misunderstanding. And that you hope that these Moms would never encourage their daughters to deliberately exclude another child. Then I would invite them and their daughters to visit at your home to play and discuss the incident. Be very welcoming. Let your daughter work it out with their daughters and determine if they all want to be friends. And teach your daughter to be direct with the girls - I enjoy spending time with you and we've had fun together - let's work this out with our Moms and the teacher. This gives you the opportunity to show your child the values of being direct and being forgiving. Your daughter might still lose these friendships and will need to learn the value of moving on - but she will have learned your values and life skills.
What would you do?