One day when Riley was in third grade, I met her on the playground after school and she fell into my arms, sobbing.
“Why doesn’t anyone like me?”
No one had made fun of her. No one had shoved her down.
But no one had included her. Lots of playdates happened every day after school. No one ever invited her.
Soon after, we started a monthly “circle of friends” group in our home. Initially, we talked about Asperger’s, and how it affected Riley; her gifts and challenges. We talked about how those girls could support her as friends, and they did. They were awesome once they were given the tools to know what to do. We usually did one activity, and then had free time and occasionally I’d lead them in a guided meditation.
You’ve probably given your kids the “don’t you ever bully” speech.” Or even, the “stand up for someone if you see them being bullied,” speech or maybe the “get help if you see someone being bullied” speech. But have you taught them how to include someone who might be struggling socially? Because excluding someone is bullying’s cousin. If done deliberately I would go so far to say it is bullying. But like the girls in our circle of friends group, I think many good-hearted kids simply don’t know how to include someone that doesn’t easily jump right in.
It isn’t just autism. It could be shyness. It could be anxiety. I have a friend whose sweet daughter (who happens to be chubby) was the only girl in her class not invited to a birthday party…in ELEMENTARY SCHOOL.
Even as an adult, excluding someone from a community has serious emotional consequences on the person being shunned. I’m not sure the popular people, people “social” comes easily to, truly get the long term ramifications of shutting out another human being. If it’s never happened to them, they might not understand just how crushing it is.
I know when a group of kids ignores the presence of a quiet kid, they’re not plotting, “I’m going to scar this person for life.”
But it can.
It also scars their mother.
Teach your kids to be gracious and welcoming. To look out for the one who is struggling. Teach them to be kind and to have the common courtesy to acknowledge every person in the room. Offer them guidance on what they might say to welcome someone who is shy or holding back. It can be as simple as a smile, a hello to acknowledge their existence. A stepping back and widening the circle to include them in a group conversation. Lead by example. Compliment others that are gracious with new people, (in front of your kids). Let it be known that you value this welcoming quality in a person.
My child has worked all her life on developing social skills and it still doesn’t come easy. She is so brave.
If your child were on a group hike, and sprained their ankle, and no provisions had been made for the injury..no choice but to soldier on, would it be reasonable to expect one or two kids to slow down, to maybe walk with that child? Might they even see some rich and beautiful scenery that would have been a blur had they kept pace with the rest of their classmates?
Would it be reasonable for those classmates to trade off? They of course don’t want to spend all their time at someone else’s pace, but could they go a little more mindfully for 20 minutes, and then let someone else walk with that classmate? Might they recognize and honor the one that is working harder than any of them, just attempting to keep up?
Would it be okay with you, if your kid was part of the group that ran ahead and left that child to limp for miles, alone?