How to talk to your Kids about Exclusion

Excluding happens often every day to children and adults. You didn’t get the email to attend the high potential leaders meeting, your child didn’t get a party invitation, or your teenager saw a post on Snap Chat of all her friends hanging out and she was left out. So drama does not disappear when we graduate high school, it follows us into adulthood. I have found that drama seems to reappear when we enter motherhood and our kids start school. I am not talking about our children suffering from the drama, I am talking about mean girls lurking around different mommy groups. Yes, I see it way to often, women excluding each other or mommy shaming.  Exclusion pretty much follows us throughout our lives. It is how we decide to respond to it that creates power. Remember when you are being excluded, there could be a gazillion reasons. Let’s put the reasons out there to better process exclusion and find the best strategies to address it.

One reason can be from a selection process (only so many spots or invitations to pass out). Think about that wedding you didn’t get invited too, or how your daughter didn’t get invited to the sleep over. If there is only a certain amount of spots, then it is a selection process for the person doing the invitations. In the process of selection, you might not be as close of a friend or your daughter might have had a play date a week before with the kid, and her mom is looking to expand her circle of friends. The reason behind the selection process (when it is due to limited spots) is typically not malicious or intended to harm.

When your child gets excluded due to a selection process, take the time and talk to him or her about it.

  • Share a time where this happened to you and how it made you feel.
  • Restrain yourself from shaming the other person, especially if it was not done with malicious intent. You don’t want to model shaming or bad mouthing others.
  • Explain why your child could not go and talk about how we can’t always be included in stuff due to space or limited spots.
  • Please do not plan an event and then exclude kids out of revenge or spit. Believe me this happens more often than we think.
  • Ask your kid to do something special on the day of the excluded event. Ask them to invite one friend and take them to the zoo, movies, Great America, or do something special just the two of you. Help keep their mind distracted on the day of the event.

Another reason for exclusion can be a form of power for some people. Think about a time your child was not invited to a party and when you find out which kid did it,  you were livid because that kid keeps excluding others (like it is his job or something). Some people use exclusion as a power move to feel more secure about themselves. If your child is constantly being excluded from a group, ask about the person and what they are saying and doing. Ask:

  • What does the person say and do?
  • When does it happen?
  • Why do you think he or she excludes you?
  • How does it make you feel?
  • How do you want to fix it?
  • If this ever happened to one of your friends what would you do?

These questions help your child process the painful experience and emotions. It also helps develop empathy. By exploring the situation, you can help your child realize that this group of peers might not be good friends. You want to focus on “what do you want to do to fix it, and what will you do if you see it happen to someone else?” In this moment, the transfer of learning is easy, as the child is feeling the emotions so strongly. It helps build their resilience and compassion even though it is heart wrenching to see your child be excluded.

Remember if a person is purposely excluding you or our child, it is important to think about the “why?” Is your kid perhaps being mean, starting drama, or not playing well with others? When you can find out the why, then you can talk with your kid about changing their behaviors.

Once I worked with a kid that constantly reminded his peers that he was better than them at everything! The typical “One Upper”…we all know someone like that and we might even excluded them from our circle of friends. Eventually, he started being excluded on the playground. So I intervened and talked with that group of friends. The kids shared why they were excluding him, and they said that it hurts their feelings when he would say that. He was able to see how his behavior was impacting his friends. He felt bad and apologized. We then came up with different phrases to say when he had the urge to say “I am better than you”, We used “ You are really good at basketball”, “You can run really fast”, “ Your sneakers are so cool, I have the same brand”. So for this kid, we focused on giving compliments, and talked about how it felt to give compliments versus putting someone down.

When I explored a little deeper, it turns out he was the youngest of 3 kids and his siblings were bullying him. So he needed to feel valued due to the lack of appreciation and attention given at home. He just wanted to feel good about himself and didn’t know how to do it. Sometimes “One Uppers” need the validation because they are living or working in a threatening environment. They also can be insecure and need the reassurance. I generally recommend to intervene and have those uncomfortable conversations to share each side’s perspective. Then come to a compromise and talk about resolutions.

These techniques and strategies can be used for teachers and social workers at school, but also as parents we can do the same and intervene with our kids. 

Finally if someone is constantly excluding your child, remember that they are probably going through something and are hurting too. People are not born to hate, exclude, or bully others. It is learned behavior from their community, school, and mostly from home. So take a more empathetic approach and think about the excluded as someone hurt and in pain. It helps us better reframe our reactions. I work with a lot of “Too Cool for School” kids and teens. They often exclude because deep down they are fearing they will be rejected. So it is easier to strike first then feel the pain of exclusion. Teaching about empathy and giving kids an opportunity to put themselves in other kids shoes is the best life lesson you can give a child!

Until Next Time…

Kortney Peagram
CEO/Owner Bulldog Solution
Adjunct Professor at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology