Last to be Chosen: How to Help Your Child Cope with Being Left Out
Confession time: I was the kid left out when the kids chose sides for baseball in fourth grade. (Maybe because when the ball came toward me I would squeal and jump aside!) I was also the new kid in school, shy, skinny and way too girly for my athletic peers. I was left out of a lot of things that year.
Most of us know the feeling of being left out. It hurts. Sometimes it hurts a lot. Sometimes we never forget how badly it hurts. But even harder than being left out ourselves is watching our child experience rejection. We want to jump in and rescue.
But should we? And how?
“Being left out or excluded is a terribly painful thing for a child—or an adult!” says Susan Oare, Jenks East Elementary School principal. “We’ve all been left off the invitation list or ignored at a social gathering. What we have to do is help our children learn to deal with it because it is part of life.”
Oare believes it is important for adults to step back a bit when they perceive that their child is being left out. “Sometimes the adults read more into the situation. Sometimes it doesn’t need an adult to fix it.” she said. “We need to discover if this is an isolated incident or an on-going problem. Then we have to make decisions about guiding our child through it.”
Additionally, Oare says that sometimes our children “just want to tell the story.” Often, just by listening, we discover that they have already solved the problem.
While Oare believes that occasionally being left out is just part of life, she also believes that children have a right to feel safe and nurtured. “Chronic incidents of being left out or rejected need to be addressed,” said Oare. “If your child is coming home every day because a group of kids is kicking her out of the soccer game, then you have to do some more investigating.
If it is happening at school, you need to discuss it with the teacher. If it is in the neighborhood, you may need to discuss it with the parent of the child who is instigating it. If there is physical bullying, you definitely have to take action. While we don’t want to be over-protective, it is our job as parents to protect our children.”
Sometimes rejection breeds resilience. I spent the summer after my fourth grade year learning how to play baseball and make friends. I was determined never to be left out again. And while I have, of course, been left out of things since, I’m proud of my skinny little 9-year-old self for learning how to catch, throw, bat and start conversations.
I’ll never be a very good baseball player, but I did learn a lot about friendships and a lot about empathy and assertiveness. When my friends in the 6th grade wanted to exclude a new girl—shy, skinny, red-haired Tawny, I stood up to all of them and refused to participate (I think I even gave them a little lecture about inclusiveness). Tawny was taken in by our group and soon had friends. Little did she know it was because a shy, skinny, 9-year-old couldn’t play baseball.
Here are some tips for helping a child cope with feeling left out:
Listen with acceptance and compassion
Help your child maintain his self-esteem in the face of the emotional blow. You don’t want him to take the mindset of victim; however, reminding him of all the unique and wonderful parts of his personality can be a big help. Make a point of spending more time with him than usual. Your emotional support and belief in him can be very valuable at this time. Encourage him always to be himself and not try to fit in by trying to be exactly like everyone else.
Help your child problem solve about why she was rejected. Help her feel empowered to deal with this incident on her own. Let her make te decisions about how to handle it.
Help your child think about how to handle this rejection in positive ways. Maybe this can provide an opportunity to get to know other classmates who seem interesting. Find other outlets for his talents and emotions such as volunteer work—anything that brings him positive feedback and reinforcement through relationships with others outside his circle of friends.
Continue to monitor school and social life, while encouraging your child to solve this problem on his own. If the experience of being shunned or rejected continues to escalate, don’t downplay the situation. You need to protect your child’s emotional and physical safety.
U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services