Being "in" is every child’s dream, but being excluded is painful. There’s nothing worse than sitting alone in the cafeteria or not getting the invitations. Cliques rule. Trying to break in can be as tough as trying to make it into an exclusive country club or sorority. This isn’t about trying to make your child Miss or Mr. Popularity this is about helping your child avoid a diet of put-downs and as much as you wish, you can’t take away your child’s pain from exclusion nor promise her that she will be included in the group’s next exclusive gathering. There are a few things you can say and do to help your child learn to navigate the social jungle, bounce back from rejection, and learn to fit in. Here are eleven ideas to try the next time your child suffers from the pain of rejection or complains: "Nobody likes me."
1. Be empathic. "I know how tough it must be to be shunned like this. Let’s figure out what we can do about it."
2. Provide a balance view. "Everyone does no hate you. What about your friend, Harold?" "Nobody has it made at first." "A lot of famous people were unpopular in high school like Bill Gates, Steven Spielberg, or Christina Aguilar. You’ll find your niche."
3. Don’t press too hard. "This is a tough topic. I’m here when you need me." It can be humiliating for your child to confess this kind of rejection. Just being available and supportive may be a good first step. Later she may open up.
4. Don’t knock the other kids. Yes they’re snubbing your kid, but criticizing them won’t help. Your child wants their friendship, so don’t say: "Those kids are stupid. Why would you want to be friends with them anyway." Do say: "We can see those kids have their way of seeing and doing things. We just have to find a way for you to fit in."
5. Talk to teachers. Is it as bad as your kid makes it out to be? Find out the reality of cliques in your school by talking to those adults who are with the kids every day.
6. Start with one ally. One friend can be your child’s social entry card. Tell your child to not to aim at first for the whole group but start with just a one to one relationship with someone already there.
7. Help him blend in. Superficial as it may seem to you, having the right look, clothing, and hairstyle can be critical for being accepted by a clique. Take a good look at the crowd your child is trying to join, and then make a few suggestions.
8. Point for a different direction. If your child rebuffed by one group, encourage her to try another that may be more appropriate. Sociological studies have revealed an amazing number of different cliques and groups on a typical high school campus including everything from athletes to geeks and arty-types.
9. Encourage special strengths. Help your child identify what’s really special or unique about them like being a good singer, writer, musician, artist, athlete, a dedicated community worker. Use positive labels help her reframe herself. Ultimately this can both increase her self-confidence and make her more attractive to new friends.
10. Help manage frustrations. This kind of rejection can be very traumatic so offer your child healthy outlets and strategies for coping. Suggest she keep a journal, talk to mentor, express herself in her favorite creative way such as music, painting, or drawing.
11. Watch for downslide. If you think your child is really having a hard time, be available. Schedule a few weekends together. Take him to the gym with you. Take her to lunch. Tune into any red flags like poor grades, changing in eating or sleeping, mood swings, anger or withdrawal which could indicate problems he’s not discussing with you. If things get really tough, consider seeking professional help.
Michele Borba, Ed.D. is an internationally renown educator, motivational speaker, who has presented keynotes and workshops to over one million parents and teachers on four continents, and is the recipient of the National Educator Award. Dr. Borba serves on honorary board to Parents magazine and has appeared as a guest expert on Today, The Early Show, The View, Fox & Friends, MSNBC, and NPR. She is the award-winning author of 20 books including Parents Do Make a Difference, No More Misbehavin’, Building Moral Intelligence, Don’t Give Me That Attitude!, and Nobody Likes Me, Everybody Hates Me (all Jossey-Bass). For more information about her work see www.micheleborba.com.
© 2005 by Michele Borba. Please contact for permission to reprint.