When your child doesn't fit in and isn't included along with her peers, it definitely hurts. Turn your focus on some positive strategies and your child will soon be feeling empowered and on top of her game.
Parenting certainly has many moments of unwavering glory—first smile, words, steps, and then all the marvelous milestones and everyday wonders experienced once our child begins learning and growing throughout their school career.
While we relish the time our daughter hit her first homerun in softball (and were on cloud nine with her for the rest of the day), when she strikes out with the bases loaded and her team loses the championship game, we also know what it feels like to wallow with her in those temporary moments of grief. It can often feel like the end of the world is near, but thankfully we get our child through those crushing blows as well.
Once our kids are in school they become influenced by a much broader range of figures—teachers, coaches, parents of their friends, and of course their peers—as well as things like social media platforms, video games, and all the enticing advertisements that envelop them on a daily basis.
A child’s need to feel accepted, and their desire to simply “fit in,” starts as early as elementary school. And as middle school enters the picture, it becomes even more important, particularly for girls, to find their social niche and belong inside their peer group.
In The Need to Fit In, Kathryn Urberg, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Wayne State University, explains that the preoccupation with social status begins to peak from around age 12 until high school—a time of many physical, social, and school-related changes. "How you're doing compared to others becomes very important," Urberg points out. "Belonging to a popular group gives you some reassurance that you're okay."
My youngest child is soon turning 13. She’s always had a healthy handful of friends, participates regularly in theater club and on both school and recreational team sports and overall enjoys school. While that may seem like a great combination for a 7th-grader, she would tell you otherwise. Why? Nine out of ten times she is not included in group invitations with her peers. Yes, she does have a few very solid friendships that would be considered her "besties," but when there is a party for one of the more popular girls in her grade, or a group going to a concert or a local hangout, she’s one of the few that are not invited.
It’s not easy (frankly, it just plain stinks) to watch one of your children hurting because they’re not accepted by the group at large. Many emotions will be felt by both your child and you during these painful moments of being left out, but if you focus on some positive strategies, your child will soon be feeling empowered and on top of her game in no time.
5 Positive Strategies to Help Your Child Who’s Left Out
- Acknowledge and Embrace the Disappointment
- Parents and Popularity
- Don’t Allow Shame In
- Help Find a Coping Mechanism
- Strengthen Other Friendships
Here is each tip in more detail.
1. Acknowledge and Embrace the Disappointment
Too often, when our child suffers any type of emotional setback, especially rejection, we want to kiss it and make it all better—as quickly as possible. That’s fine when they fall and scrape their knee, but when they experience a painful moment such as not having someone to eat lunch with at school, or seem to be stuck at home every Friday night when the rest of the class is heading to the movies or the mall, it’s OK to sit with them and just “feel” through the situation.
I was personally crushed last week when I dropped my daughter off for her very first junior high dance. She was so excited that week while we shopped for just the right dress, discussed all the accessories she’d pull it all together with, and she knew exactly how she would wear her hair. It seemed as though the evening would be near perfect.
And then came the drop-off and with that the tears. Hours before we left for the dance she learned that another of the girls in her grade was having a sleepover. The kicker was that 90% of her friends were invited but she was not. That really put a damper on her initial pre-dance excitement (for both of us). She finally stopped crying and managed to crack a smile and headed into the dance.
Two hours later I picked up a much happier child, who had a total blast at her first dance, but as we drove off she saw many of her friends piling into the cars headed to the sleepover. As much as I felt that was a cruel moment for her to endure, I didn’t feel the need to sugarcoat it. Instead, I addressed it.
“Annie, how are you feeling right now knowing that you’re not going to that party?” That opened up the waterworks once again, but this time it brought relief. She was able to acknowledge that she was hurting instead of hiding it. That, however, opened the conversation to talk about the positives of the dance—a couple of boys asked her to dance, she did get to hang out with her best friends, and she got lots of compliments on her dress.
We stopped for ice cream on the way home and there were a couple of other kids there that were not going to the sleepover so we all sat together. It didn’t lessen the hurt she felt by not being included, but she learned that she could still have fun and that it truly wasn’t the end of the world.