4 Things Parents Should Do When Your Tween Feels Left Out
As your child transitions from elementary school into middle and high schools, they are faced with many changes, but one of the most dramatic is the social scene. Suddenly, the kids at school are a little meaner, a little more particular about who they are hanging out with, and much more likely to form cliques. As kids navigate these changes, it doesn’t seem to matter how well-adjusted or well-liked your child is, they are bound to feel left out at some point in time – perhaps an old friend doesn’t invite them to their party this year, or maybe the other kids at lunch are ignoring your child. Whatever the situation is, your child will feel hurt and left out.
When your tween comes home devastated because of a social rejection, here are some things that parents can do to help their child:
If your tween comes home from school complaining about being left out, try not to act too quickly. Whenever our children are hurting, parents want to rush in and fix it, but we are depriving them of the chance to gain confidence by working through their own problems. It’s possible that your tween is going through a temporary challenge that can become a great learning experience.
Instead, parents should:
- actively listen to what their child is saying,
- ask questions to fully understand what is happening,
- stay calm,
- offer support and sympathy,
- avoid making judgments or putting down the other children, and
- empathize with statements like, “That must have hurt your feelings.”
Please note that listening is the right first step when your child is feeling left out and/or uncertain in their social life. However, if you believe your child is being bullied, then parents should contact the school immediately.
- Keep it in perspective.
The social scene at school is very important to your child, so your child will likely feel that this is a huge problem. That’s why it’s very important that parents stay calm. Many parents lose their objectivity when their child tells them they feel excluded. Do not overreact in front of your child – take a 5-minute time-out to calm down or talk it through with your spouse if you need to. When you are calm, try offering your tween some different perspectives:
- Remind your child that a lot of other kids have gone through the same thing. If you remember an experience from your school years, share it. It helps tweens to realize that they are not alone in their struggles and that other people have gotten through similar experiences.
- Let your child know that friendship patterns change very quickly during the tween years. The kid who made unkind comments to your child this week may try to be his/her friend next week.
- Give them some perspective by looking at the totality of their social life. Remind them of other classmates with whom they have better relationships. Help them to remember their worth and value from other areas of their life. Help them see that one challenge in one area of school does not need to dominate their whole life.
Parents do need to be careful in this step because you don’t want to act like their problem is not important. Be sure you have let your child talk out and vent their problem, and be calm and soothing in your response. While it’s important to give them perspective that this might not be the end of the world, you still want to validate their feelings and let them know you care.
- Walk your child through problem solving steps.
Parents can coach their tweens through tough situations. The best way to do this is to reinforce skills they have already acquired (perhaps reminding them of a time they made others feel welcome) and develop skills they need to solve a specific situation. By helping your child work through their problem, you are giving them a tool they can use for the rest of their lives.
The basic steps of problem solving are:
- identify the problem;
- develop several alternative solutions;
- predict the pros and cons of each solution;
- decide on the best approach; and
- evaluate how the solution is working.
When talking it through with your child, ask simple, thoughtful questions like, “What’s another way you might approach this?” Stay open, curious, and interested to help your child see different ways to manage the situation. You can offer your tween some alternative solutions that they didn’t think of, so long as your tween is coming up with the majority of ideas, and you are not pushing your own idea as the right solution. Remind your tween that it is a lot easier to start a relationship with one person than trying to fit into a whole group. Additionally, there might be other children that are shy or are also feeling left out that your tween could befriend.
Although watching your child deal with social rejection is painful, this is also an important lesson for your child. You can lecture them or fix the problem for them, but they are not developing any skills they can draw on in the future. By coaching your child to find his or her own way, he or she will be much better prepared to handle future problems.
- Help them establish connections.
One of the best ways to combat a child’s anxiety over social rejection is to ensure they have other friends to turn to. By broadening your child’s circle of friends, he/she develops confidence and feels comfort on those days he/she is feeling left out in other areas of his life. For example, bonding with other tweens that might share similar interests — through sports, clubs or other activities — can provide your child a welcome break from classroom cliques. Also, encourage your child to invite new friends over to your home, which will help you get to know your child’s friends and know how your child interacts with them. Finally, remind your child that the most well-liked kids are the ones who are friendly to everyone. Encourage your child to look for chances to meet, talk with, and play with plenty of different kids.
Social rejection is very painful, both to the child and to the parent who much watch their tween suffer. However, parents should be careful not to add to the drama by overreacting. Parents may have their own painful memories from school, but those are not your child’s reality. Parents should vent their feelings to a friend, but stay calm and confident in front of their child. The best thing you can do is develop a solid belief in your own child that they are creative, resourceful, and smart enough to navigate these new social scenes, and your trust will build your tween’s confidence.