“I don’t have any friends!”: How to handle social difficulties
Social difficulties aren’t getting small with time, the opposite is true. Ignoring the situation and your child’s part of the problem only will make it worse. A psychotherapist for kids and youth discovers: How do you handle the class queen? And should you talk to your kids or will it just make things more difficult for your child?
The school’s doors have opened, and as time passes complaints from the children about bullying, that sometimes becomes actual abuse, shunning and violence.
Social issues of kids don’t descent with time, especially if the first signs were ignored, thinking that “it will pass” or “they will get along”. Only a few will “get along” without help and parental or professional guidance.
To create a significant change, you need to address the negative behavior and give a response in the private and the social-class aspects. I’m often irritated by sentences like “there’s nothing we can do”. That isn’t true, and there’s no reason that a kid won’t feel safe in the school in which he studies.
Should parents get involved?
The question is not whether there is anything to do, it is what we can do- and the answer is different in every case. There isn’t one magic solution. To address the matter in a manner that will bring the best results for the kid, we need to try to understand the situation, and all the facts regarding the kid, his class companions, school’s policy, and the surrounding’s responses.
Opposed to the popular opinion, it’s not so obvious that parental interference and a class discussion about the children's behavior towards a specific student will solve the problem. In fact, in most cases the opposite is true. A discussion about a certain kid in front of all of his class will put the spotlight on him, and even if it was done out of positive reasons the result is, in most cases, that he would be portrayed as the weak that needs their mercy.
The conversation with the class is definitely important, but it needs to be separated from the specific case. In fact, I think that a conversation like that should happen in every class at the beginning of the year, in order to get in front of the problem, while using a hypothetical incident for a discussion that delivers a clear message: violence is unacceptable, as well as bullying or shunning.
The students and the teacher will understand together what hides behind behaviors like this: What did they want to achieve? Which other ways are available to achieve that goal? What about the “Watcher” kids? How are the involved kids feeling? Is saying something is “Snitching” or helping a friend?
There are plenty of questions to discuss that will give the kids tools for coping and raise their awareness that will lead to a social impact on the classroom and will prevent future hurting in its individuals.
"I don’t have any friends!”
I’ll show an example from one of the extreme cases that have ever reached me, a fifth grader, diagnosed with depression and in a bad social status. In a private conversation I realized that “bad” means he doesn’t have any friends.
Apparently, when that kid was in second grade he had a fight with some kids in his class (he didn’t remember exactly what it was about), and they started a shunning against the kid. The shunning continued strictly throughout the years, and when new kids arrived they were warned not to talk to him. His parents went to the principal, there were attempts to talk to the class, but nothing helped. Between each attempt more time passed, the shunning continued, and the kid continued fading.
In this case we needed an indirect plan. I contacted his teacher, that confirmed the situation and showed willingness to cooperate with me to make an impact. I compiled a lesson plan for the teachers that emphasizes social bonds in groups, games in pairs, “interviews” that include funny leading questions and finally presenting the interviewee in front of the group.
Like this, I didn’t exile the kid and used his case to try educating the class. In fact, his private case hasn’t come up at all, not even as the reason for the lesson. The kids experienced a fun lesson that created a natural situation in which they needed to talk to the kid and learn how to get to know him, as every other classmate. The rapid change in the way kids treated him after the lesson surprised even me.
In the next session the kid arrived, glowing of happiness telling that he made friends. The lesson caused a turnaround! The moment the kids had to talk to him, they met a charming, friendly kid, with a sense of humor and tons of love. The shunning obviously ended immediately, and the kid became a center of interest in the recess as well.
What do you do with the class queen?
There are many reasons that can lead to a shunning. Sometimes I hear about a girl, “The Class Queen”, that begins a shunning twice a week up to her mood. She achieves an unquestionable, powerful “regime”- no one dares to leave her wishes unfulfilled, or he will be under a shunning too.
Even in this case the work needs to be done in the class level, while emphasizing decision making out of personal responsibility, distinguishing between “good” and “bad”, “right” and “wrong” and of course, strengthening the individual. Naturally the “Queen’s” position and her influence will shake when the individuals in the class will get stronger, and their recognition of their power, and ability to make a difference in the group and in themselves.
Though, not every shunning is negative. In an example of a kid that threatens the safety of his classmates with continuous physical and verbal violence, a shunning will be 10 times more effective than a day or two days suspension.
Suspension is seen as an administrative punishment while a shunning is a social experience, and in a case like this it can pass a strong message that the group is against violence and if he will choose to be violent he won’t be able to be a part of the group. Kind of “The tribe has spoken”.
On the other hand, you always need to keep an opening for making amends and for second chance, and in this case, you need define from the beginning the terms of returning to the group and helping the kid to keep them.
I have a great belief in children ability to help each other in solving social problems and interpersonal conflicts. In recesses and even during class there are teasing and violent events that teachers aren’t even aware to. On the other hand, the kids that are around will see and know, but in most cases, they will keep looking without knowing what to do.
From my experience, if we can give them tools to solve the problem, they won’t stand aside powerless, but they will know how to act, whether they choose to inform an adult who could help them, or they will try to be peacemakers by themselves.
Should you switch schools?
Actually, sometimes the problem is in the kid who is shunned. Obviously, we want to see our kids as naive and successful creatures, victims of the consequences, but that’s not always to case.
Parents that won’t examine the roots of the social problem or won’t be open to face their kid’s part of it, and try to solve it like “magic” by transferring the kid to a different class or school- will find out very quickly that even with the change the problem is returning and sometimes is getting worse, since the kid experiences the crash of the hope for a new beginning, and the personal failure is amplified.
I don’t rule out the need for a transfer. Sometimes it’s necessary to give a child an opportunity to start over without the stigmas that stuck to him in the past, though in most cases a transfer, without working before the move, is almost worthless.
A fourth grader complained about suffering from social problems and continuous teasing from a group of kids in his class. In a conversation with his parents, it turned out that the kid is anxious about his pride and prepared to fight anyone that doubts it. The other kids realized this and had fun teasing him in order to make him angry. He got into fights and was frustrated by the circle that he couldn’t leave behind.
In this case, there is no point in transfer him to a different school before he learns to control his anger and lower the anxiety around the pride issue. Things that might seem trivial, like the difference between “laugh at you” and “laugh with you”, wasn’t clear to him at all. More than that, his vision was “black & white” and he needed working on being open to different lifestyles and different possibilities.
After a few months the kid’s thinking loosened and became broader, and that made room for a sense of humor and better understanding of others. In this stage, the decision was to transfer him to a different class in the same school, where he was accepted happily.
We kept working together for a little more, just to make sure he knew how to cope with the provoking that will come in the end of the preliminary euphoria. And when these came, we saw that unlike the past, he could handle them easily and with no violence. His confidence grew stronger and even the group that used to taunt him couldn’t fool him anymore when they met on breaks.
And for the end, parental responsibility
As parents that hear that something wrong was done, to your kid or an other’s, please treat it with all seriousness. Talk to the kid and notify the system to find the best solution for this specific case.
Keep some ground rules to help prevent social exile:
In birthday parties, make sure that every classmate gets invited, unless it’s an intimate celebration with 2-3 close friends.
If the kid decided to have a “girls/boys party”, go through the list and make sure that every single one of the given genders was invited. If you find out that wasn’t done, understand from your kid why didn’t he do it (“Because I can’t stand her”, “Because he’s annoying”) and give a response. Talk about his feelings and the other kid’s feelings, and the big damage that a situation like this creates. There are kids that hold grudges (“I won’t invite him because he didn’t invite me”), and this will only make things worse.
Talk to the kid about creating change out of a choice. When you invite someone to your house even though he didn’t invite you, you are being great, and making an opening to your communication and friendship, and nonetheless end the hostile times.