I often meet parents who tell me “My child really dislikes school because they feel that they don’t fit in”, or “My child wants to be part of this group of children in school but they have been left out.”
When children move into primary school the main aim they have is to make friends. We may think school is about education, and of course it is, but children also learn about relationships. Children who enjoy school usually name seeing their friends as their number one reason for liking school.
As adults we know we don’t have to follow the crowd, we can be our own person. But we also know “no man is an island” − we cannot live in isolation. We need to be part of relationships and part of groups. Here, we offer ’10 ways’ to support your child if they are finding it difficult to fit in:
- Unfortunately, the choices we make as parents can affect how well our children fit in. For example, when my daughter was about nine years old she asked me for a mobile phone. Initially I refused until she said to me “Mum, do you want me to be a geek or do you want me to have friends?” After that I did explore all the options around how I could facilitate her to have a phone rather than impose a blanket ban on phones. I realised it would be possible to manage as her main aim was to stay part of the group − she didn’t particularly care about the phone.
- Support your child to form friendships by connecting with other parents. For children, parents are very much responsible for choosing what groups they will be part of. Encourage your child to join an activity that children from school attend. This will give you an opportunity to meet parents and children. Once you start to meet the other parents you can form relationships and make play dates.
- Invite different children over for play dates. Do not get into a pattern of choosing the same child each time. (Read our top tips on play dates here.)
- Watch your child with other children and try to identify what they struggle with. For example, if you notice your child watches other children play but doesn’t join in, ask them what stopped them from joining in. Encourage them to participate by telling them how clever they are, how funny they are, and how much you enjoyed playing with them.
- Try to be honest in watching your child’s encounters with others. They are learning to socialise and they may have developed some behaviours that other children don’t like. It is better to recognise and name these behaviours and support your child with them as it will allow them to move on and form friendships in the future. You can still think your child is the most wonderful in the world but that doesn’t mean they have it all figured out.
- Help your child find their voice. If you think your child is shy, help them to find a way to interact with other children. They need to be able to approach other children and become involved in the game. Children can be very bossy and if your child is not familiar with someone telling them what to do they may shy away from this. Role play different scenarios and help them to find the words to engage with children in different situations.
- Your child doesn’t have to be friends with everyone but they should feel comfortable to engage with everyone in the class. Young children move around friends so don’t expect them to remain friends with one particular child. It is not that they are not loyal, it is because they are exploring and learning. They will have a range of needs that are met by different children and they will move in and out of these needs.
- All children are coming from different homes with siblings, younger and older or none. They all have different skill sets to bring with them to school so don’t let your child feel they have nothing to offer or that other children are better than them. Help them to see their talents and skills. Every child has an abundance of them. Be creative with your child in pointing them out and help them to name their own talents.
- Confidence can prevent children from joining in so support your child in this area. A few knock backs can greatly reduce confidence so don’t ignore it. Name what you see in your child and make time to talk with them about it. Work on it at home and talk with the school if you ever suspect bullying.
- Monitor your behaviour too. You can only bring your child’s confidence to the same level as your own. Exploring your own needs will also support your child on their journey.
This ’10 Ways to’ article is by One Family’s Director of Children & Parenting Services, Geraldine Kelly, as part of our weekly ’10 Ways to’ series of parenting tips. You can read the full series here.