My Child Feels Left Out

Annie The Nanny

Annie The Nanny

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Annie the Nanny is a professional parenting educator. She writes a weekly advice column for parents who need help with their children's behaviour. Her advice has also been featured on CTV, CBC and in all kinds of print media. For more information about Annie, please go to her 'about' page.

When any parent says my child feels left out I feel for them.  Theres no doubt that watching your child being left out of the play is heartbreaking.  All parents want the best for their child and when your child is purposely left out by others, it reminds us of our own painful experiences that we had growing up.  How you deal with it though is critical not only to your child’s feelings in the moment but also how they deal with problems later in life.  Here’s the advice I have for one mom when her son Ben was sidelined by the other kids.

>Hello Annie,

I am hoping for some useful advice.  My child feels left out.  My 2.5 year old son Ben is a very sweet and sensitive kid.  He tends to be more of a follower than a leader at this stage.  The other day while at a friends’ house, Ben and 2 other boys (ages 3 and 4) were playing in the yard.

They were playing quite well when all of a sudden, the 3 year old yelled at my son, “I don’t want to play with you!”  He only wanted to play with the other boy.  Ben looked crushed.  It took every ounce of strength for me to hold back my own tears!

Ben asked the boy why he didn’t want to play with him.  I was watching this all take place and felt extremely hurt and very confused.  I told the boys that it’s too bad they didn’t want to play with Ben because he is so much fun to play with and tried not to make a big deal out of it.  I tried to distract Ben by asking him if he wanted to play ball with me instead.  It broke my heart to see Ben get left out.  I remember feeling like that as a child and it hurts!  How should I handle situations like this and teach my son how to handle himself and his hurt feelings?  Any advice is very welcome!  Thanks Jayden

My child feels left out.

Hello Jayden, I quite understand how difficult it is for a mom to stand by and see her son hurt.  I remember when my eldest son was two and wanted to play in the park with the ‘big boys’, who of course, weren’t interested.  Having said that, children learn to cope based on how we deal with disappointment.  If you take disappointment in stride, then your child will too.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if during your son’s normal and brief moment of ‘why don’t they want to play’ that your son looked over at you to see your reaction.  What he saw will have largely determined his response, so you were quite right to suggest it was no big deal and simply move on.

You see, your child learns to deal with problems by looking at how you deal with them.  If you look calm and give off a vibe that you can handle the problem, your child will see that the momentary difficulty you’ve encountered has not caused you any significant distress and that you can cope with the ups and downs of life.  You are in effect, modelling resiliency.

My child feels left out: Don’t focus on the problem.

So when it comes to Ben, if there is a natural moment that arises where he wants to talk about the experience, by all means listen. Encourage him to talk, but make sure you do it in an upbeat way that focuses less on the problem and more on what else he could do in terms of playing something different, or perhaps other friends he could play with later.

You can’t, however hard you try, shield your child from these experiences, nor should you.  Instead, it’s important to give him the skills to cope and help him to become a resilient human being.  So how do you do that?  Well much of what we go through in life is about perception.  How we perceive events and what we expect from them.  If we expect every word said in haste to create hurt feelings, then that what we will get.

My son feels left out;  So instead seek to change his perception.

We can’t know what made the 3 year old not want to play nor can we control him or his reaction.  What you can control is Ben’s perception of the incident which will set the stage for how he perceives future events.  Perhaps the child was tired and kind of grumpy (we all have off days).  Perhaps he wanted to play with the older boy for a bit (his choice) as the older boy was doing something more interesting to him. 

My child feels left out:  It’s all in how you view it.

We could hope for a kinder reaction but children are visceral and tend to say what they think.  The way the 3 year old determined the play date was over was completely normal for that age, yet it doesn’t have to be about rejecting Ben.   Looking at the event as though it is purely about rejection will skewer Ben’s perception of the incident and perhaps even give him hurt feelings when he could have simply dismissed it.  

It’s also very easy for us to as adults to transmit our own feelings about various negative experiences we had growing up and transfer them to our children.  We don’t do this on purpose, but we do it simply because those feelings come to the fore when we see our child is a similar situation.  That’s why it’s very important to play down your reaction when you see something that might cause him distress.  If he feels distress that’s one thing, but you don’t want to amplify his distress by adding yours.

The bottom line is that there will be moments of major hurt in his life when he will need you to explain the experience and help him get past it.  There will also be moments when the hurt is momentary and best minimized.  I think the above was one of them.

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Best of luck and all the best to you and your family.


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