Help! What Do You Do When Your Child is Excluded?

Posted October 9, 2008 by

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School started off with a bang this year, and all seemed to be going well until last week, when my 5-year-old son began coming home and reporting that “no one would play with him” and “nobody wanted to be his friend.” My stomach twisted into a knot as I watched him dejectedly kicking the rocks on our way home from the bus stop.  Apparently, one little cherub in his class has even been saying things to him like, “I don’t like you. You can’t sit here. I wish you were in another school,” and of course, it happens to be the girl he has his first crush on. The mama bear in me wanted to march down to the school and pull some pony tails, but (with great restraint) I managed to control myself.

But what to do? Another piece of the puzzle here is that I was bullied for a few years in elementary school, and so, as you can imagine, this situation presses all kinds of nasty childhood buttons with me.

This past week, when I talked to my son about what’s going on at school, I tried not to sound like a raving lunatic, but I could hear my voice creeping up to the high, screechy, only-dogs-can-hear-me-now-register as I pumped him for information. “What do you mean they won’t play with you? What did you do when they said that to you? Where was your teacher?”

“Mom, you’re hurting my ears,” Alex finally said, and ran from the room. (Good one, Mom. Nice job.)

I called my friend  Jody, who gently suggested I let my husband handle this one. Only, here’s the thing — my husband Joe is Mr. “Let-it-roll-off-your-back” Cool. I am more like Squirrel Nutkin on Espresso. When I was bullied in school, the hardest part was that I didn’t know how to fight back or what to say to the kids who were excluding me. And, horror of horrors, in this respect, it seems my son is just like me.

I tried to do a role play with him the other day, but it just made him more upset. In the mean time, he seems sadder and more discouraged each day he gets off the bus.

Help! Anyone have any suggestions out there?


Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.

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  1. Mama Dove Report

    thanks for this post. the awesome thing about now vs when you and i were kids is there is a lot more understanding of bullying and teasing and most schools and teachers hopefully have a no tolerance policy. period. talk to his teacher. also help him understand that what he experienced is bullying and to tell his teacher right away.
    My daughter is in 1st grade and the same thing is happening to her. She told the teacher and the offending girl was sent to the principal and later sent home. Also the kids who bully like that tend to be socially isolated or insecure themselves.
    Stick with it and keep cool so your son keeps talking to you about it. I also encouraged my daughter to lighten up about boys teasing her, if its generally good natured and find ways to make them laugh or laugh together.
    Distinguishing playful good natured teasing and hurtful bullying teasing is important too.

  2. Leniford Report

    Hello, I was wondering if and when things got better for your son? Mine is in kindergarten, he is super outgoing and really excited about making friends, but the boy who has been his ‘best friend’ for the last 2 years doesn’t want to play with him. He says other kids don’t want to play with him either and he feels left out. 🙁

  3. kathy.mike Report

    My 12 year old son is being excluded totally by his friends. Firstly he has been told it’s because he tells his mum (me) things going on and secondly because he has a friend that stops my son from getting friends! I don’t wAnt him to be excluded and it’s not the first time it’s happened. He is a quiet boy. Seeking some advise and quite upsetting really.

  4. bethdc7 Report

    I have read a lot of the stuff written about bullying and some of it I know is so wrong and misinterpreted by professionals , principals and teachers. If you are bully and truly out to hurt someone else there is no possible conceivable way that you are truly a secure kid with self esteem. Maybe you project that image but I’m not buying it that a kid with good esteem could be so terriblly mean to another child. I could never in my life understand how a child could be so insensitive to another child and honestly I don’t think exclusion gets taken serious enough which really pisses me off because it is really a silent type of bullying the lasting effect is so damaging to the child bullied. I am disappointed with how our schools appear to be paying attention on the outside to bullying and on the inside the reality it is not being touched with a ten foot pole. Before parents begin relying on schools to take care of this massive problem we need as moms and dads to ensure our children are safe and then at some point you have to move on and not let your kid out of your sight while they are being treated this way because bullying can really make kids become desperate and you don’t want to deal with the worst. The bottom line here is that parents need to start showing there kids the simple act of kindness. Truly nice, kind children don’t bully and that starts at home.

  5. D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor Report

    To “Barbara”: Thank you for sharing your story with us. One of the more difficult aspects of parenting is watching your child struggle with social issues. As a parent, your first response is to step in and try to fix the situation for him because watching your child struggle is an unpleasant feeling. It’s regrettable your son has to deal with being excluded by some of the boys in his class. Unfortunately, this is probably a situation he will have to deal with throughout his life as we all come across people who may not be nice to us. Talking with him and problem solving ways he can deal with the situation effectively is probably the best thing you can do as a parent. Even though it may feel as if it’s not taking care of the situation quickly, you are giving your son the tools to cope with similar situations in the future. Something to keep in mind is if the situation does cross the line into bullying, you might consider making the school aware of what is going on. Here is a two part article by James Lehman on self-esteem in children you may find helpful: Low Self-Esteem in Kids, Part I: Forget What You’ve Heard—It’s a Myth & Low Self-esteem in Kids Part II: 3 Ways to Help Your Child Now. Good luck to you and your family as you continue to work through this situation. Take care.

  6. Barbara Report

    We have a current situation with my 10 year old son that has me worried. This year we transferred our children from a small private school in our small town of 13,000 (9 students/grade) to a larger private school in another town of 100,000 (50-60/grade) for reasons to better their educational opportunities. My son who wears his heart on his sleave was so excited to start the new school and to have so many new friends. He honestly does not know a stranger and is eager to get to know others. He recently has been experiencing exclusion from several boys. He says he doesn’t have any friends except for a very few. They won’t let him sit at the lunch table and he is forced to sit by himself (heartbreak), they purposely withold encouragement and ignores him when they are outwardly giving the positive attention to other boys. He has also been excluded from things by telling him what they are doing is private and to go away. Realizing we are in the third week of the new school year things can obviously turn around with time. However, I’m afraid this too may continue to get worse. My initial reaction is to go to the school and inform them of the current situation. My husband on the otherhand says this would be a mistake and could backfire. Basically we have supported him by discussing the situation, boosting his self esteem & telling him to blow them off with a “whatever” and focus on the few new friends that he has. I’ve told him not to react to their stupidity. We’ve discussed why they may be reacting to him this way and that they are the ones that have the problem. We have kept an open discussion with him. He seems to feel much better after our pep talk and we are watching this unfold day by day. My heart wants to go get this fixed right now but I also want to take a backseat and see how this plays out. This is life and I want him to cope and overcome this situation. I’m hoping he can resolve this on his own with our support of course. I would never let this get out of hand of course. Am I handling this correcting? Should I be doing something differntly?

  7. AJ Report

    This is a really helpful thread, but also quite sad – isn’t it awful that so many kids have to deal with this!

    I have 7 yr old boy who had an awful year at school last year; his class was chockablock full of tough, physical boys (17 boys and only 3 girls!) and a teacher who was just as bad as most of the kids. There was a kind of culture of ‘harden up!’ and I did consider pulling him out but then thought it would send him the message that he couldn’t cope. My mistake. Now I have a terrible feeling that he thinks ‘that’s just the way it is’ and nothing can be done about bullies. I made a big fuss about him being moved into a nicer, friendlier class this year and things are going badly again- he is being excluded, being called ‘sooky bubba’ and mocked by nearly all of the boys, led by one older & very confident boy whom I have spoken too twice now. I have also got the teacher on board and next I will have to speak to the boy’s parents…not looking forwards to it!
    I have lots of experience working with kids and put a lot of time & effort into my own; I am not overly protective and I have a list of good ideas to tackle this with…..but i am starting to really worry. we have tried sports and extra play dates as he obviously is lacking some social skills, should I be taking him to a child psychologist?!…my daughters (one of whom is also in my sons class as an attempt to help him out!) are doing very well, model students who are incredibly popular. What has gone wrong with my son? He was also excluded from playing soccer with his team this year as the coach decided he was too immature and put into a team with a lot of kindergarten kids. We went along with it hoping he would not notice but he really hated it & became very depressed about being a ‘baby’. Yes he is silly and easily distracted and not as mature as most of the other kids, but objectively looking at him I would not think he’s bad enough to be autistic or ADHD…maybe I need another opinion?! The teacher is not worried about him ….. he is also extremely bright and very quick to work out when he is not wanted or being made fun of; he told me yesterday he thought this one boy was “out to ruin my life.” Help!

    • Elisabeth Wilkins Report

      Dear AJ,
      First, I’m so sorry to hear your son is going through this. The quote about parenting, “You are only as happy as your saddest child” springs to mind. It’s so hard to watch our kids be singled out, bullied and excluded. It’s unfair and hurtful, and it can leave one feeling powerless to help. The good news is that you have been doing all the right things — talking to the teacher and the school, trying to keep things in perspective, and thinking about alternative help for your son.

      One thing I would say to you is that much of the time, there is no rhyme or reason for who gets picked on. It’s often very random. Kids who want to bully or tease will try it out on every kid in the room sometimes before finding their target. Frequently, they’ll pick on the kids who they get a reaction from. So here’s where you come in. There are strategies you can teach your son about how to ignore or handle the teasing without letting the bullies get the upper hand. This is not easy and it takes practice, but it does work. We have some good articles on our site by counselors and bullying prevention experts that I think might really help:

      My Child is Being Bullied—What Should I Do?

      Child and Teen Bullying: How to Help When Your Kid is Bullied

      When Your Child Says, “I Don’t Fit In.”

      I particularly like the suggestion to work with your child to come up with things he can say (or do) when he’s being bullied or excluded. The key in this situation is to empower your child. I did role plays with my son (and still do) to help him when he’s having trouble with someone at school, for example, and that really has helped.

      Also, you mentioned that you were considering getting a professional opinion about your son’s behavior. That never hurts. I would suggest starting with your child’s pediatrician and taking it from there. (That way, you can rule out anything you might have doubts about, and if there is indeed a problem, you’ll be able to start getting to the bottom of that, too.)

      Finally, as a parent who’s been in your shoes, I would highly recommend getting your son involved in some kind of activity, sport or club completely outside of school — maybe in another town. That way, he can start making some friends outside of the petri dish of school, which will give him (and you) some breathing room and perspective. Good luck to you, AJ. Please keep in touch and let us know how things go.

  8. tonka Report

    I have done a lot of research on the topic of bullying. It is a myth that bullies come from bad families and that they have low self esteem. In fact, bullies tend to lack empathy because they were never taught this, although their parents may be wealthy or may love and raise their kids, they just don’t correct bad behaviour or their kids have never seen them in a situation where the parents had to apologize to someone or worry about someone else’s feelings. Also bullies tend to have high confidence, sometimes too high. There is such a thing as having too high self confidence and having to be knocked down a bit, that would be good for them.

    I worry about this with my son. He is 4, we just moved here and there are two bullies in the park that are the same age, but they both have two older brothers. They both come from well to do families. We moved in from a condo, because my husband got a pay raise and for the first time in my life I am a well to do person instead of lower middle class, like I was growing up and my son was until recently. He had many friends in the apartment. Now.k , kids seem to be mean. Not to mention I did better in the twon homes I grew up in and with people who were down to earth and not superficial. So people here have too much confidence and lack empathy, meanwhile coming from a poor back ground with a lot of newcomers to Canada, where We were all nice to each other, helped each other out and immersed in different cultures. Here ieveryone is white and catholic.

    I have a problem with it, but all I can do is teach my kid to be nice, ignore those that are rotten. And say things to diffuse the bullying.

    Good luck. It is hard I know.

  9. an angry dad Report

    Another complication is when the exclusion is taught by the parents. We moved into our neighborhood 6 years ago and there was a clique of boys my son’s age. The parent who seems to be the center of the group said that ” all of the kids playe together” and that our son could come and join. Then the trouble started.. the first two tmies my son went ot join the group, the parent sent him home. When I asked whether he had done something wrong, she gave some deflective answer and said no, but continued to exclude him. This has progressed through the years despite a few efforts on our part to find out what the problem was. Last night this parent had a big party for her son’s 6th grade graduation and invited every 6th grader in the neighborhood except for my son. He cried himself to sleep. I’m dealing with a load of resentment right now that I find difficult to express adequately. I read a quite this weekend by Nelson Mandela after he was imprisoned for 27 years — paraphrased it says “holding onto resentment is like drinking poison and expecting it to kill your enemies..” I have explained to my son that these excluding people in our neighborhood are not our friends despite their saccharin sweetness to our faces, or are they people of character despite their pontification about inclusion, dharma, montessori and all of the other new age philosphy that they spout. Sometimes people are just awful to you and to your children and the only way to take away their power is to remove your desire for inclusion in their sick little clubs. My heart goes out to all parents who are dealing with this pain, it is real and devastating. — Peace



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