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by Donna Shea & Nadine Briggs

I'm working with a tween girl whose story tugs at my heart, and hits me in a bit of my soul. She is a sweet kid, well-mannered, bright, friendly and more. Enough that I have to wonder why she is even in my program at times (but all kids can benefit from a safe and welcoming environment where they feel supported, and I believe that is what I do for her). 

She has been talking to me about how she became labeled a bully by the school she was attending and consequently had to leave school to be home-schooled. There was a boy at school who she was initially friendly with, but as time progressed, she could not get him to leave her alone or give her space, and she had to resort to responding to him in a negative manner.  As I listened to her story, I realized that she had become a victim of her own kindness.

Flashback to my own (Donna's) 8th grade year. There was a boy in our class, who from the perspective of my adulthood, clearly had a social communication disorder and very likely was an autistic person. Not something any 8th grade girl at the time would have understood. However, I was raised to be kind, use good manners and be accepting of other people. I was the kid that we all hope our special needs children find at school.

It's the night of our 8th grade dance social. The boy asks me to slow dance with him. I was uncomfortable, because I knew that I would face social consequences, but being the person I was, I said yes. Social consequences aside, the greater problem became that this boy took my acceptance of that dance and turned it into the fact that I was now his girlfriend. He told everyone at school I was his girlfriend. He followed me around school and at recess. I did not know what to do and the problem grew bigger and bigger in my 8th grade eyes. I do remember trying to seek adult advice, but I believe most of that was just to ignore him and it would stop. For many people on the spectrum, stopping is not as easy as others would make it sound. And in my tween's case and in my case, it becomes harassment, but without any malicious intent.

My circle of friends and I took matters into our own hands. I am still deeply ashamed to this day of how I handled the problem and how I became a bully that day. When he followed me at recess, with my friends around me and in front of everyone, I screamed at him that I was not his girlfriend and to leave me alone. I scared him so badly that he urinated on himself. Whenever this story is brought up in my brain, I apologize to him again.

We need the kind kids. The kind kids need our help and support before our child's differences have a negative impact on potential supportive relationships for him or her at school. Teaching the kind kids how and when to set clear boundaries is an important piece of supporting the kids who want to include our kids. If I had known to say something such as, "Thanks for asking me to dance, but I'd rather get a snack" or "Let's wait for a fast one with the group since slow ones are for couples," things likely would have gone much differently. It would have helped if the adults at school had taken the problem more seriously and intervened on my behalf when I couldn't find a way to figure it out myself, other than resorting to meanness to make it stop.

My granddaughter is one of these naturally kind children and instinctively knows who needs a friend. The difference is, she has the skills she has learned with me to balance her kindness towards others with the necessary boundaries to make these more complicated peer relationships work. She won't become a victim of her kindness or pay a price of being nice, and is a great friend to all her know her.

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Donna Shea and Nadine Briggs are both accomplished social-emotional education specialists.  They each facilitate friendship groups at their respective centers in Massachusetts.  Both Donna and Nadine are parents of children with special needs.

Donna and Nadine offer consultation services for schools, parent groups, and human service agencies.  They are seasoned public speakers who travel across the country to bring workshops and seminars to schools, conferences and other venues. 

Donna and Nadine are certified in bullying prevention through the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center and are creators of the How to Make & Keep Friends Social Success in School Bullying Prevention Initiative that is used to provide classroom training and team-building activities at many schools.

Donna and Nadine would love to hear from you or your child if you have feedback about our books. They are also happy to speak with you about providing programming for children in your local area or just to keep in touch with you about new books and materials.

Donna Shea & Nadine Briggs | How to Make & Keep Friends, LLC | Shea 978-413-1965/Briggs 978-764-2758 | E-mail | Website

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