Children naturally long to feel included by their peers, and parents naturally feel awful when their child comes home from school and says, “I don’t fit in.”

Whether children feel excluded because of a food allergy, a learning disability or their freckles, parents know the experience is painful and want to fix it. Yet there are no actions or words that will erase a child’s emotional pain.

What parents can do, according to child behavioral therapist James Lehman, is give their kids the tools they need to manage the current problem.

“Your child is going to make the problem huge, so you have to be the one to say, ‘Yeah, that’s tough,’ and then bring it down to its right size,” Lehman says.

Coach and Teach

Giving children the skills they need requires parents to coach and to teach. As coaches, parents remind their children about the skills they have attained. Teaching involves identifying and instructing any new skills needed to manage or solve a current difficulty.

Coaching is invaluable since it helps children acknowledge their strengths and accomplishments. Humans tend to overlook their own strengths until someone trustworthy points them out.

Teaching a child is one of the joys of parenting. Parents are not only supplying kids with effective life-management tools but also modeling the attitude of addressing problems with constructive action.

Love Sets Limits

Although an excluded child is understandably upset, it is important for parents to continue setting limits.

After acknowledging and validating the child’s feelings and giving them time to talk it over, parents must expect their children to take care of their responsibilities such as doing homework, walking the dog or cleaning their room.

Setting limits prevents children from being paralyzed or disabled by upsetting feelings. It also teaches that, although feelings are important and sometimes difficult, we need to do what is expected of us. This is a priceless emotional self-management lesson – to feel whatever emotions we feel and then do something constructive about them.

The Problem’s Right Size

Limits can be set with loving concern, but they need to be in place because they bring the problem down to its right size. Children cannot do this, but parents can.

“It really hurts when this happens, but it happens,” Lehman says. “And even when we’re feeling this way, we still have to do our homework. We still have to talk nicely to our little brother. We still have to clean our room, we still have to eat dinner.”

“Parenting is easy,” said no one ever.

Get tips for helping your child cope with the emotional pain of feeling excluded in Part 2.

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