Humans are social by nature. We are happiest and most productive when we’re in groups. The family we are born into stays together rather than disbands as can happen in the animal world. This togetherness ensures a sense of belonging. Parental acceptance and forgiveness confirms that a child belongs unconditionally to their family providing a deep sense of security and safety.
Ostracism hits at the very heart of being human – the need to belong. It hits at a young person’s sense of security and safety. Continued ostracism generally leads to feelings of helplessness in a child or young person – the worst possible emotion they can experience.
As they grow older their social world expands to include broader family, friends and others within our community. The ties that bind are a little more tenuous at the outer edges of their social circle. Unlike in a family acceptance a child’s or teen’s acceptance by peers is conditional and, as such, friendships can quickly change. Differing interests, unresolved grievances and changing personalities can lead to peer relationship breakdowns, resulting in feelings of loss and sadness for a child.
The flip side of acceptance is loss, when valued relationships flounder. This is normal. It can be heartbreaking for a parent to watch their child or teen deal with the feelings of sadness, but that’s when parents need to be supportive and emotionally present.
Worse still for children and young people is when a relationship breakdown with friends leads to ostracism, or being left out of the usual group activities. Sadness due to friendship loss is a normal part of life. Feeling devastated by being left out of a group, is not acceptable, and shouldn’t be shrugged off as normal.
Ostracism hits at the very heart of being human – the need to belong. It hits at a young person’s sense of security and safety. Continued ostracism generally leads to feelings of helplessness in a child or young person, the worst possible emotion they can experience.
Teaching kids about relationships
Psychologist and author Collett Smart in her Teach girls to build each other up webinar maintains that parents should proactively teach kids about how relationships work. She was referring to parents of girls in particular, but boys too can benefit from learning about the nature of friendships. This relationship work can be both incidental and intentional. Smart maintains that we need to be continuously talking to kids about what makes a good friend; that not all friendships last; how they can break up kindly with friends and how they can assertively and respectfully stand up for themselves rather than be dominated by others.
Learning how to argue well
Smart maintains that learning how to argue is a normal part of healthy relationships. She says, “We haven’t taught girls how to be assertive. They learn to be assertive at home. Give girls opportunities to disagree with us as parents so that they can be brave enough for them to do so outside of home with their friends.” Parents need to give kids healthy ways to express their emotions and frustrations about friendships so that they can learn to resolve conflict without taunting, being abusive or giving someone the ‘permanent cold shoulder’.
Above all, we need to let kids know that ostracism of a former friend or of another child is not acceptable under any circumstances. The conversation that parents have with children about ostracism carries a great deal of weight and needs to happen from a very young age before these relationships patterns emerge and become entrenched in adolescence.