No matter where you live, or how affluent your child’s school is, there will likely be at least one child in their class who is labeled as the difficult child. It appears that more and more children are being diagnosed and having some label placed on them with each passing generation. This makes it more important now than ever to make sure we are teaching children very early on to be respectful and kind to everyone.
It is unfortunate that some kids are labeled as difficult from such young ages, but it happens. Kids are perceptive and know when someone is being separated from the bigger group. They can see that this child is being treated differently by both adults and other children. We need to teach them how to help that child, not further exclude them.
BULLYING AND EXCLUSION ARE NOT ACCEPTABLE
As the adults, we have to set an example that bullying and excluding others is not an acceptable behavior. It is natural to want to separate yourself from someone who is considered different. When you are young, there is nothing more important than other’s approval and fitting in. Children have to learn that they can both fit in and not exclude others. It is not just one or the other.
They can and should encourage their peers to be open and inviting to everyone. If they demonstrate this behavior, and are given praise for it, then their peers will likely be willing to act in the same manner. If you see your child falling into a clique that pushes others out purposefully, do not ignore this. It is one thing for your child to have friends with similar interests that happens naturally, it is quite another for that group to treat people badly who do not have the same interest.
Even as adults when we know better, it is sometimes hard to want to reach out to include a person that has been marked as different in some way. We may not know how to approach the person. For children who have not had years to build social skills, this is even scarier. This is where we can come in and help. We can encourage them to do something as simple as sharing a snack with them or striking up a conversation about something they have noticed they like by asking questions. Even children love to get compliments and feel appreciated. The difficult child probably does not often get this affirmation, and would likely respond positively to this interaction. Help your child work through ways to foster inclusion into the group.
KEEP IN MIND
We also have to remember that we cannot control what all other children will do. No matter how much we try to reinforce inclusion there are going to be kids who fight it. This means your child is going to see others being treated badly. It is important that they understand it is not acceptable to behave this way even if it means they may then be temporarily excluded too.
PRACTICE EMPATHY AND UNDERSTANDING
Children do not understand that a child may be different due to things outside of their control. They do not realize there may be a biological and/or environmental aspect that is causing the issue. A child who is not raised in a home where abuse or neglect is experienced will not be able to understand what a child who is living in that type of environment has to learn to function within. While we do not want to overly expose young child to what these things are like, we do want them to understand that not everyone has the same situations or opportunities.
Help your child recall a time when their behavior was not ideal because they were hungry or tired. Or a time when they struggled because they were not getting what they thought they should be. This can help them to understand that the child’s behavior may be a reaction to not getting their needs met. It is not who the child is in general. Children need to be able to relate examples back to themselves to develop empathy and understanding. Children are egocentric. Lessons have to be on a level they understand for them to sink in.
Learning to see things from another perspective will take time to develop. Watch for opportunities to discuss circumstances your child may not grasp to help them better understand. If you see a homeless person or a person who is getting yelled at, ask your child how they think that person is feeling. Ask them how they think that person will behave later if something else upsets them. Assist them in seeing the connections between one unpleasant event and how it could affect later actions.
WHEN THE DIFFICULT CHILD IS THE BULLY
At times, the difficult child may be the one doing the bullying. This makes it much harder to try to teach our children that they must be kind and inclusive. We all know that people who bully tend to be behaving badly because of things lacking in their lives. As children, it is often something at home. Or because they are struggling to keep up with their peers in terms of schoolwork. It is easier to react in anger than to explain how they are feeling.
When the child who is being excluded seems to be behaving in a way to exclude themselves, we still need to encourage our children to attempt to reach out and try to interact. Maybe the child just needs someone to take the first step in being a friend. If that does not result in a positive reaction then we have to remind our kids to be polite even if the other person is not.
We can also reach out to other adults like the child’s parents or teachers to determine if we can do anything to help the situation. Maybe invite the child over to engage in activity outside of the school setting where they feel different. Children’s behavior often changes dramatically depending on the setting and who is around.
EVERY CHILD DESERVES RESPECT
At the very least we need to emphasize that our children be polite in interactions. If the other child is not interested in responding to your child forming a friendship then they should at least learn to respect their differences. There are too many instances of people not respecting one another in the world. We need to work to not perpetuate this problem.
Please feel free to share any other suggestions you have for helping to teach children how to treat a “difficult” child!