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Knowing when to step in to help your child if he or she is being picked on or left out of a group is sometimes difficult for parents. Children do need to have some challenges to develop skills. For example, they need to get into arguments to learn how to resolve them, and they need to experience being excluded from groups so they can figure out the skills needed to enter or reenter a group. Even playing with disagreeable peers expands kids’ toolbox of social strategies.

There is a point, however, at which we need to step in so our children don’t suffer too much. Discerning when becomes a matter of standing back with your eyes open and then stepping in with a light touch. We can step back without leaving a child entirely alone, and we can step in without getting carried away and interfering too much.

If children are interacting and a snag becomes apparent, a first step might be to simply point out the troublesome interaction. If that’s not enough, you can ask the children what they think would remedy the situation. While you’re asking, you might make yourself more visible.

If you need to step in further yet, you can ask another question or make an observation: “What’s going on?” “It looks like that hurt,” or “It looks like Billy is enjoying this game more than Johnny is.” You can also state your basic foundational values, such as: “Everyone gets a turn,” “Name calling isn’t OK,” or “Everyone has to be safe if we are going to play this.”

Should that not have the desired effect, the next step would be to fully step in. That might mean separating a bully from his target or joining in the game that is being played. A parent’s presence in and of itself will typically change the dynamics of whatever interaction is going on.

Many times your children will be able to work things out on their own. When they need your help, you can be there to gradually step in.