by Emily Bitton, LCSW
One of the more distressing things, which we deal with as parents, is our children’s social issues. When our kids come home upset, feeling left out, feeling ignored, we struggle with our own feelings of helplessness, anger, and frustration. What should we do? Should we call the school? Call the other child’s parents? Idly sit on our hands and hope things change?
Many of us share a fantasy that in a perfect world, our children should be popular, in demand, and loved by all. When that fantasy is breached, conflicting emotions arise. It also brings back feelings of our own past, things that happened when we were our children’s age. The desire to shield our children from pain is very real. Another fantasy is that other kids, (and by extension, their parents), do not experience the pain of rejection the way our kids do. The reality can be very different, with even “popular” kids feeling left out of their respective groups, feeling vulnerable to possible changes in status.
Which does not mean that there aren’t things we can do to help the situation. One of the most important things is to validate our kids, to let them know that they are important individuals who have much to offer, even if some other people can’t see that just yet. Children’s self esteem is very vulnerable to peer pressure, yet a parent can make a big difference in the overall picture.
Another thing we can do is to redefine popularity for our kids and ourselves. Having a few good friends, people that one feels safe with, is one of the best skills that a child can learn, a skill that will serve well into adulthood. By helping our children figure out which kids in school or in the neighborhood seem kind and more accepting, and encouraging get togethers with these kids after school and on weekends, we can help our kids to develop this skill.
If this does not feel like it is enough, or your child has greater difficulty blending with others, finding a social skills group can be very powerful in helping your child bond with other kids. Talk to your school’s counselor to find out if such groups are offered, or if s/he knows who else might offer them. Find out if your local church or temple has youth groups that might be appropriate.
Finally, try to keep perspective. Many a valuable and influential adult had social issues as a child, and learned to work independently, think creatively, and work towards goals as a direct result. In the timeline of your child’s life, this is just one episode, one that you can help him or her navigate successfully.