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Out in the cold: dealing with exclusion

Being left out of a friend group is hugely painful at any age. Friendship expert DANA KERFORD shares her tips for helping your child when they’re left out in the cold. By Sonia Speedy

Most of the time kids aren’t intentionally excluding others, says Dana, the founder of the friendship programme URSTRONG, used in schools internationally.

“Often they’re just busy doing their game, or caught up in a project,” she says.

However, other times it is either the result of a friend conflict, or, less commonly, an intentionally malicious behaviour designed to hurt someone.

Dana’s top advice for kids dealing with exclusion is to surround themselves with “green zone friends”. These are the friends that make them feel good, who treat them with respect and who make them feel like they are included. She points out that kids don’t need to have lots of friends to be happy, even just one good “green zone” friend is all they need to feel like they belong, for confidence and for the protective mental health benefits that friendship provides against issues such as anxiety and depression. 

Breaking away

Where exclusion is malicious, rather than the result of a misunderstanding between green zone friends, the child may need to break away.

“Probably one of the most heartbreaking questions that I get is: ‘How can I get them to include me and like me again?’” says Dana.

“I get down to (the child’s) level, right in their face, and say: ‘Why on earth would you want to be friends with someone who’s making you feel that way? You deserve better. You deserve a friend that makes you feel special. You deserve a friend that treats you with respect. You don’t deserve friends who make you feel invisible.”

When it’s a misunderstanding or conflict

Fortunately, most exclusions result from a conflict of some sort, something Dana refers to as ‘friendship fires®’.

In this situation, it’s a matter of confronting the issue, acknowledging the ‘fire’ or conflict, and then talking it out with their friend.

“It might look like me going to you and saying: ‘Can I talk to you for a minute?’ Then I’m going to retell the situation and explain how it made me feel,” Dana says.

“I say: ‘Hey, remember the other day on the playground when I came up to you and you kind of turned and ran away with Olivia, I really felt excluded in that moment. I felt like you guys were ignoring me.’

“Then I’m going to hear what they have to say.”

Dana says the child’s body language matters, and while they shouldn’t be smiley and happy, they still need to be open and calm. She says it is important the kids use ‘I felt’ statements.

“My favourite way for putting a fire all the way out is coming up with a deal for next time. Because a lot of times it is a misunderstanding,” Dana says.

Keeping perspective

Dana says they also discuss the importance of the child’s initial response to the exclusion and whether these actions will make the ‘friendship fire®’ bigger or smaller.

“If I’m feeling excluded and I go tell everybody that Molly is excluding me, is that going to make the friendship fire bigger or smaller? That’s going to spread the fire all around the school.

“The analogy really makes sense to kids,” Dana says.

Parents and whānau can access a range of resources, including videos where Dana teaches kids about different friendship issues at urstrong.com.

Read more on ‘friendship fires®’>>

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