Help kids deal with social exclusion
Starting in the early elementary years, social exclusion and relational aggression will be something that your child will deal with at one and likely many points in their little lives. This can vary from being called names or being made fun of, or being excluded from an activity on the playground, not being allowed to sit with their friends at lunch, and so on. This can be hurtful and hard to navigate for our kids little minds and hearts and there’s ways as a parent that you can help them navigate this.
The Greater Good Science Centre from UC Berkley, outlines these ways you can help you kids through these trying times:
Watch for the signs – Kids can experience feelings of shame and embarrassment when being victimized, so they don’t always talk about it right away or at all. To that end, it helps parents to watch out for the red flags that a child is experiencing relational aggression:
- Anxious or nervous behaviours
- Frequent physical complaints, such as headaches or stomachaches, particularly before school or social events
- Talking about sitting alone at lunch or playing alone at recess more often than not
- Appearing withdrawn or depressed
- Changing academic performance
- Acting out in class or at home, or even turning the tables and acting as the bully
- Talking about having no friends or being “hated”
- Talking about death or engaging in self-harm
- Sleep disturbance: Difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, frequent nightmares, or excessive sleeping
When friends constantly leave a child out, that child might internalize the message that he or she is unlikable or not a good friend. It’s important to help kids tap into their inner strengths and recognize that they have something important to offer the world. Give your child a journal and list his/her/they positive qualities. This can include anything from cracking funny jokes to inventing fun games to being kind to others. This is a great way to help kids recognize and focus on their strengths. They can add to the list over time or can refer back to it when they’re feeling down.
Make a friendship tree – Making a friendship tree is a great way to help kids realize that they have many different friends in their life.Start the tree with the friends your child knows the best (even the ones she doesn’t spend much time with), but cue your child to think about friends made in sports, through community organizations, in extracurricular activities, or at your local park. In filling the branches with friends from a wide variety of settings, kids learn to focus on the many positive relationships in their lives. When kids see that they have more friends than just the friends sitting at their lunch table, they are empowered to strengthen those other branches and even add new ones by trying new clubs, sports, or activities.
Create a coping kit – Whether your child is left out from one or two social events or experiences social exclusion frequently at school, they need to have coping skills available to deal with the emotional upheaval. You can create a coping kit with your kids to go into your child’s backpack, as it can be difficult to remember what to do when under stress. Here are a few ideas to get started:
- Deep breaths help me feel calm. Breathe in (count four), hold (count four), breathe out (count four).
- Tensing and relaxing my muscles helps me release stress. I can start with my hands.
- My touchstone at school is (fill in the blank). I can ask this person for support.
- Remember this friend (fill in the blank) in another class to play with at recess or lunch.
- When a friend doesn’t want to play with you, you can find something else to do.
It’s perfectly normal for kids to experience ups and downs with friendships, but a continuing pattern of social exclusion (or other acts of relational aggression) should be addressed with the classroom teacher and the school administration. Take notes when your child shares specific stories and capture screenshots if any of this behavior occurs online. If you do notice symptoms of anxiety or depression that interfere with your child’s daily living (school, after-school activities, sleep, eating), it’s a good idea to seek an assessment from a licensed mental health practitioner.