Original post by Hayley Goldberg, LMFT of Heart of Connecting

As parents it is heartbreaking to know your child has not been included. It is devastating for us to think that our child is struggling to make friends and might be sitting alone and upset at school (including preschool).  When this happens we desperately want to fix the problem and make it better for our child. We want to know what we can do to help when our child is excluded.

The best thing you can do as a parent is make sure you are raising kind kids. Are you empowering your children to be empathic includers?  We need to teach our children about kindness, compassion, and accepting people for who they are. We need to teach about injustice and why it is so wrong to exclude others. We need to raise our kids to be people who will do the right thing, even when the right thing might be the harder thing to do – and we need to teach children prosocial behaviors that encourage the inclusion of others.

Everything our children will do on a bigger or grander scale when they are older begins at a basic level when they are young. Here are five parenting tips to help set the foundation for empowering young children to become empathic includers of others:

1. Model appropriate behavior. If you want your children to be inclusive and reach out to others we need to do the same. Look for opportunities where you can include others. Let your kids see you make new friends by introducing yourself to new people and starting conversations with people you don’t know. We must also make an effort to be understanding when others make mistakes and model tolerance.

2. Coach Children to celebrate differences. As parents it is important we give children the tools to be comfortable around children who might be different. Look for opportunities to notice differences in people and have conversations around tolerance and respect. Celebrate differences and at the same time teach children how we are also the same. Allow your children accept others for who they are.

3. Keep an eye out for exclusion behaviors. Observe your child as they play and watch for exclusive behaviors. Young children like familiarity and routines. They tend to sit with and play with the same group of children and this can be limiting. When you see these behaviors happening talk to your child kindly and calmly and educate them about what it means to exclude others and how they can include others. Help children make the connection between being excluded and the possible negative emotions it can cause. It is also important to teach them about the possible positive emotions that come from being included. Reading feelings books together will help your child develop their feelings vocabulary and allow your child to get more involved in the conversation and add more meaning to your conversations.

4. Teach your child how to meet people. Children between the ages of three and five should be developing the skill to approach others to join in. Encourage your children to look out for others who might need a friend and encourage them to invite the child to join them in play. Practice ways to invite a new kid into the group or ask others to join a game. Little things like smiling and remembering people’s names are great starting points for young children. Practice these skills at home so your children are better able to use them out in the world.

5. Listen, empathize, and process emotions. When your child shares with you their story of feeling hurt or being excluded it is tempting as parents to want to solve the problem and make the pain go away for our kids. Listening and empathizing are the two best things you can do to help your child learn to do the same for others. Listen respectfully to their story, validate how they are feeling and be there for them to work through their emotions. Your child needs to hear, “That sounds terrible. You must feel so upset right now.” As you help your child process their emotions show them that kindness really does count. They do not need to hear what terrible friends they have.

Kindness leads to greater happiness and more lasting friendships. Kindness is also contagious and spreads quickly to others. While you and your child cannot control how other children act what you can work on is your behavior and the behavior of your own child. It is not enough to teach children what not to do. Teach children what they can do. Show your children how they can make a difference. Empower them to make positive choices and take the lead among their peers to promote kindness, compassion and inclusion for all. Teach your children that kindness is their super power!

Your parenting counts!