By: Michele Timmons
“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” ~Dr. Seuss
Childhood is sometimes wonderful and sometimes totally awful. Most of us remember times when we just didn’t fit in. Those can be some of the most painful memories of our youth. As parents, we always want our children to be happy and to feel connected and loved. When our children hurt, we hurt for them and want to do something to make it better. However, when it comes to fitting in, there is no magic bullet. While I can’t offer a quick fix, here are some strategies to help your child build the self confidence and resiliency skills to help overcome this problem AND prepare him for life’s many setbacks. Read more >
1. Keep the problem in perspective. From your child’s perspective, “Not fitting in” might feel like the worst thing in the world. And for most kids, a week is a very long time away. So if they don’t feel connected today, they can’t see a solution –ever. It’s important to empathize with your child and let him know you care and will help him get through it. At the same time, its best to help him understand this happens to most people at some point in their lives. Share any “odd one out” experiences you’ve had, how you handled them, and how overcoming the adversity made you a stronger person later on.
If your child wants more than just your assurance, he is not alone. Check out the PBS sponsored website It’s My Life, which focuses on helping kids learn to navigate stress. There are tons of cool stories about how celebrities overcame stressful situations, and there is also a section where kids can interact with other kids and adult mentors about daily life and stress. The adult mentors provide great insight and keep the website focused on the positive.
2. Help your child find her spark. When a young person is struggling to fit in, it is oftentimes because he has yet to find his spark. A person’s spark is something that you are really passionate about—an activity or quality or talent that unleashes your energy and joy. Your spark is something that you can imagine doing forever. It’s something that allows you to make a unique contribution to the world. Everyone has something to bring to the table. Everyone has a gift different from others. Search Institute had done a lot of research on sparks. There is even a book called Sparks: How Parents Can Help Ignite the Hidden Strengths of Teenagers. Learn more about sparks >
According to research, a few people seem to know their spark from an early age, but most of us discover our sparks over time, through multiple opportunities and experiences. And we often need the help of caring, observant adults to point our sparks out to us. The most interesting thing to me about research on sparks is that kids know it when they see it, yet adults rarely ask them about it. If your child is struggling to fit in, start a conversation with him to learn more about what interests him.
Here are a some questions you might ask to get the conversation started.
- Think about times when you feel the best (happiest, fullest, richest)…what is it that you are doing?
- What are activities you enjoy that help you feel there is direction or purpose in your life?
- Name 3 things you love the most about yourself.
- Name 2-3 people who you know really know you well and care about you. What do you think they would say is the best thing about you?
As the two of you talk about the positive things in your child’s life, begin to think about ways you can help your child experience this joy on a more regular basis. It could be as simple as setting aside a little time each day so your child can share his joy with you. Maybe you can sign him up for a class, group, or team where there are other kids who have similar interests. Maybe you can tweet or Facebook message some friends to see if they know of other kids who have the same spark and then you can introduce them to each one another. The most important thing is that your child needs to experience his spark regularly. This will give him something positive to focus on and maybe even help him meet new kids and fit in with that crowd.
3. Broaden your child’s horizons. If there are several activities, qualities or talents that your child seems to have some interest in but hasn’t really ever explored, make it a point to take some time and let him do it. You can even connect him with a caring adult at school, church, or in the community who would be able to spend a little time with your child exploring his spark or creating new ones. A friend of mine recently told me that her son had a very hard time in middle school because the “in” crowd wouldn’t let him in. In her conversations with her son, she learned that there was a group of less popular kids that “seemed nice”, but he was “afraid to reach out to”. After much encouragement, he finally sat with them at lunch and discovered that they were really fun. Those kids turned out to be the best friends he ever had. It also taught him to open up his horizons to friendships with people he never thought he would be friends with. Now he is a teenager and has had friends from many different groups. Because of his willingness to reach out to others, he is also better able to interact socially with just about anyone.
4. Do a safety check. The experience of “not fitting in” can ultimately be resolved by helping your child build the social skills he needs find his place in the world. While this can be stressful, painful, and doesn’t resolve itself overnight, it isn’t dangerous. Sometimes, however, children who don’t fit in become victims of bullying. When this occurs, parents need to address the bullying at the same time we are helping our child build their resiliency skills. It is important to keep the bullying issue separate from your child’s feeling that he doesn’t fit in. If bullying is a problem, check out these strategies for keeping your child safe, and know that while you are helping to build your child’s resiliency, you’re helping him build up the fortitude to overcome multiple hardships in life, including bullying.
Tell Us: If you have struggled with this situation as a youth or parent, please share with us tips your own tips for helping our children through this very painful part of life.
1. Its My Life website.
2. Benson, Peter. Sparks: How Parents Can Help Ignite the Hidden Strengths of Teenagers. Search Institute Press, 2010.
3. Roehlkepartain, Jolene. “3 Simple Ways Parents Can Fight Bullying”. ParentFurther Blog.
4. Image via Koshyk on Flick’r.