When Your Kid Needs a Hug

Hurt feelings may be a part of life, but that doesn't make it easy.

The other day, when I picked Joss up from school, he was clinging to one of his teachers, koala-bear style; his eyes were downcast and he didn’t greet me with his usual smile.

His teacher explained that he had been involved in a little “incident” with some of his friends, in which they were playing a game that he didn’t quite understand and, to be brief, his feelings got hurt. She said he had been holding her like that for 10-15 minutes; that they had talked things through with him and the other children, and done “soft hands”–which I believe means that the other children patted him to let him know that they still liked him and had not meant to hurt his feelings.

Before we were even outside the school building, Joss was smiling and laughing again and didn’t seem to have any lingering negativity. I am so grateful that he goes to a school that is focused on spreading peace and love and that he has teachers who truly love him and are available to hug him as long as he needs; and I am grateful for the friends he has made at school because I know they all support and help one another, at least most of the time!

All the same, it was hard to see Joss so obviously upset, and the incident immediately brought up fears of whether or not he is fitting in socially, whether or not he will continue to do so, and wondering how we can help him if/when he struggles in the future.

I was quite outgoing through my early elementary years and vividly remember being called out in third grade for talking too loudly to the boy sitting next to me. (As someone who to this day has trouble speaking in class, any memory I have of being reprimanded for talking too much in class is a proud one.)

But I also remember when all the children in my Kindergarten class yelled at me for “cutting,” as we lined up to go to the next activity. I was shocked. What did “cutting” mean? I had never heard the term and was confused. Where were the scissors? I hadn’t gone to preschool and only went to Kindergarten for half days; no doubt, the children who knew the term had either been in school previously or had older brothers and sisters. I don’t remember how my teacher reacted; I do know that I loved my first teacher, but I think it’s likely that I was just told to “go to the back of the line.”

Since Joss has been in daycare part time since he was 1 1/2 years old and is now in school full-time, I like to think that, when he goes to public school (or wherever he ends up), he will be one of the kids already “in the know,” that he won’t have to face the humiliation of unknowingly executing a social gaffe. But then something like this happens, and I wonder, “What if he becomes as shy and as miserable as I was in middle school? What can I do to keep him from being hurt?”

I think part of my problem here is that I’m having a hard time differentiating between “fitting in” and “being comfortable with yourself.” My job is not to make sure Joss is part of an in-crowd, and especially not if that’s at the expense of him finding out what he loves and who he is. As I mentioned in my post on books about feeling invisible in middle school, sometimes the social rules change overnight–and there’s probably nothing a parent can do to anticipate that, other than to help their child be confident in themselves (easier said than done, no doubt.)

Somewhere on my bookshelves is “Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverted Kids” by Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.” I haven’t read it yet, although I did listen to the audio-book version of “Quiet” a year or so ago. But it’s good to know that there are resources out there that parents can turn to in order to help their introverted children realize that they have a lot to offer, too.

Is Joss an introvert? Will he go “quiet” someday? I don’t know. I do know that his teachers last year said that he is a “careful observer”–he likes to watch the other children first before joining in something new. So it seems possible. I just don’t want him to lose his openness and trust, his gentle spirit. I don’t want him to feel “run over” or bewildered by the noise around him.

But if there’s one thing you learn as you grow older, it’s that everybody has struggles and heartaches. Those kids who yelled at me for cutting weren’t bad kids, and the popular, outgoing girls in middle school (that I’ve kept minimally in touch with via Facebook) are wonderful people, none of whom, I’m sure, have a picture-perfect life.

I don’t know if I have a real point to this post, other than to say: it’s as hard as it is inevitable when your kid’s feelings get hurt, and I want to be prepared to help turn those situations into strengthening experiences rather than diminishing ones.

Parents, what are some ways you help your kids process hurt feelings, social confusion, etc.?

Categories: Spaghetti on the Wall