A third-grade boy recently shared his vision of being an ally. He wants to make a friend in every class so he can support anyone who might be having social difficulties or feeling left out. How unusual for a child his age to have the ability to think about issues of inclusion and exclusion and to try to come up with solutions. It’s not a kind of thinking we’re very good at in our culture.
Parents are understandably often perplexed about how to help children, particularly girls, navigate situations where they sometimes feel left out.
Girls more often complain about exclusion than boys, but that maybe because it’s more acceptable for girls to verbalize vulnerability. Boys’ behavior often deteriorates when they are having difficulties with exclusion. Whether it’s in preschool or middle school, it can be upsetting when your favorite friend hangs out with someone else.
Psychologists emphasize validating a child’s feelings: “You felt left out when your friend went off with someone else.” It can be hard to just sit and listen to a child who’s upset about feeling rejected by a friend. Well-known researcher on vulnerability Brene Brown has created the “Whole-Hearted Parenting Manifesto,” outlining many commitments parents can make, like listening to children when they are having painful feelings.
Trying to diminish a child’s upset by asserting that their perspectives aren’t real – “I know you have friends” – or asking “Why don’t you just be with someone else if your friend is busy ?” can shut off a child’s inner wisdom about how to perceive and handle experience. “What do I like in a friend?” “How do I express my needs to others?”
It’s easy to get angry and even demonize those who are doing the excluding, but in most cases the intent isn’t leave anybody out, only to pursue their own social agenda.
We all unconsciously exclude at times. However, the bigger question is how do we expand everyone’s consciousness to have more sensitivity about including others?
Exploring these themes in open and honest ways helps children tap into their resources. When parents say “Sometimes I realize I was leaving somebody out, and I apologize,” the conversation can create a deeper understanding of the commonality of these issues.
Raising questions with all children, like the third-grade boy did – “What can we do to notice and help someone who feels left out?” – can be the foundation for important discussions at home and in the classroom.
These are questions that help cultivate greater awareness in creating a more inclusive world, but especially for our whole Meher Schools community, founded on principles of kindness, unity, and creating a sense of belonging for everyone.
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In her bestselling book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, vulnerability researcher Brene Brown, PhD, shares her Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto.