Helping Your Preteen Cope with Feeling Left Out
Source: Tween Parent Staff
As preteens move beyond a fully ego-centric phase of "all about me" to a world with higher and higher expectations (family, school and basic responsibilities), life can be disconcerting, to say the least. At the same time, a tween's social context will most likely turn to navigating an evolving "landscape" of peer-oriented challenges; most notably, "How do I fit in?". Many experts, according to Carma Haley Shoemaker in "Just Not Cliquing", believe that a child tries to find his/her place in a social group, starting at about age eight and continuing into middle school. The news flash is, we've all been there!
There are strategies that we can employ to guide our children as they deal with tricky situations of feeling left out by a friend or a group of friends. Here are just a few suggestions:
1) Speak with your tween's teacher and/or school counselor to inform them of the situation and find out if there are mitigating circumstances that you may not know about. Also, brainstorm with them to determine if there is some support or guidance the school can provide. Some examples could include: grouping your child with a friend on a field trip or at lunch; seating your child with another child who is experiencing the same feelings; identifying an upper class "buddy" for your child to bond with; etc.
2) Facilitate friendship nurturing in a non-school setting. This could include: suggesting get-togethers with camp/summer friends; including your child in a family playdate with an older tween/teen so your child will feel "cool"; joining a local organization (e.g. girl/boy scouts, 4H, religious group, etc.) to increase your tween's scope of friendships.
3) Suggest pursuing extra-curricular activities to take the pressure away from friend time and build confidence (by learning a new skill or sport). Also, being a part of multiple social groups will give your child "insurance" to align with other trusted friends when one particular group becomes challenging.
4) Encourage alone time to convey the value of social independence -- "be your own best friend" is a good message.
5) Plan a parent/child activity! Doing so will make your child feel special and take his/her mind off of the social challenges. Plus, in a nice setting, your tween may open up to you -- your activity could evolve into a nice discussion.
6) Involve yourself and your child in a charitable endeavor. Placing the focus on helping others can have the "silver lining" of taking the spotlight off ourselves (even if it's for a short time!).
7) Talk with your friends (fellow parents) to brainstorm their suggestions!
The good news is that fitting in is a fairly common issue for middle schoolers and one that we're all familiar with (at every age). As parents, one of the challenges we face is understanding that we can't fix everything for our children (in fact, if we were even able to, we'd be sending the message to our children that we don't think they're capable -- a whole new issue!). But, we can be prepared to help our children cope as they work things out for themselves. And, yes, maybe we can work a little magic behind the scenes!
Connect with other parents and share your thoughts:
Additional reading on the topic:
How to help your child deal with rejection.
Book that may be of interest:
Peer-Power: Preadolescent Culture and Identity, by Patricia A. Adler and Peter Adler