In the absence of love and belonging, there is always suffering. – Brene Brown
If you’ve ever been excluded, you know what a powerful and negative impact it has on the soul. If you were excluded as a child, you can probably still remember the feelings of isolation and self-doubt. As an adult, exclusion can still bring us back to those same feelings of questioning our value. And if we don’t have value, why are we here? The despondent spiral continues.
Exclusion leads to the feeling of disconnection and it’s no surprise that those feelings have been directly linked to the unthinkable — suicide. (Suicide is the third leading cause of death in children ages 5-14.) There is a tangled ball of reasons why kids harm themselves and/or others and experiencing chronic exclusion is sadly a common thread.
And how many haven’t acted on their feelings but are suffering? In other words, exclusion and feelings of isolation, at the very least, severely diminish their quality of life.
But we can’t let our kids down. How do we, in our everyday lives, help?
3 Things Go-To Adults Can Do
Model inclusion; Make inclusion a priority; Help them overcome exclusion.
When kids see us gossip or exclude, they learn to gossip and exclude. But when tolerance is actively practiced, chances are they will learn to do the same.
Similar to children, this doesn’t mean that we can’t have our group of friends. But no matter at what age — but particularly because adults are supposed to model good behavior – is it good when “group” turns to “clique.” You can’t fool kids. They know the difference.
Making Inclusion a Priority
A former public relations colleague of mine told me a great story about his wife. In the middle of the summer when their two children were in elementary school, she would ask the administration for the names of the incoming new students. During the last few weeks of vacation, she would invite the entire class, including the new kids, to their house for a pool party.
Of course, the class and the new students benefitted, but her children learned a lifelong lesson from their mom. Inclusion is what you do. Plain and simple.
Helping Our Children Overcome Exclusion
Kids are excluded for many irrational reasons: they’re not perceived as cool, they’re too cool and there’s jealousy; it’s a ticket to feeling powerful; it’s in response to having been excluded themselves; it’s hurt feelings, to name a few.
The problem is that we can’t control when are kids are being excluded so how do we make the situation better? Here are a few thoughts:
•. Different Groups of Friends: Make it a practice to have different pods of friends from the time they are little. Perhaps they have a few friends in school and a few friends at an after-school activity. Or perhaps they have cousins. It’s a bit of insurance that they won’t feel alone because childhood friendships can be fickle. (And sometimes, we’re their only friend. But not to worry, that won’t last forever.)
•. Work on Their Confidence: Martin Seligman’s book, The Optimistic Child is a fantastic resource. Building confidence is time-consuming but oh so worthy. If a child doesn’t feel good about himself/herself, the best way to turn that around is becoming competent in something they’re interested in.
•. Encourage Resilience: Also a lifelong skill. When a child gets knocked down and stands up again, let them know they’re awesome. Your opinion of them matters, especially when they’re young.
Bottom Line: It’s within our reach to ensure that the children in our lives – whether we’re parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends, teachers or coaches — don’t feel alone. No child should feel alone.