I remember how in 7th grade, I would frantically chase after M.T., hoping that she would let me join her and her friends during recess. Something had changed during the preceding few weeks. I used to be a welcome and happy member of her little clique. Now, I was clearly being excluded as she and her non-excluded friends got on with their activities without either inviting me or even looking at me. Later, I was teased in high school for some very unclear reason. I had no idea why this girl didn't like me, but it was so clear that she didn't. I want to make it clear, though, that despite being excluded and teased at times, I always managed to make new friends who were nice to me. And, although it goes squarely against the way we think about teasing, bullying and exclusion I must say that I am a better person because of my experiences.
I am NOT wishing bullying on any of your kids. Nope; that would be downright cruel. What I am saying is that perhaps those who have had negative experiences with peers have learned some positive skills. I learned to be empathic and to think about the impact of my behavior on others because of some of my less-than-positive experiences. I learned to look into the eyes of others when I was speaking to them to see what kind of reaction I was causing. I also learned to stay away from excluding others from both activities and conversations because I understood and understand the stinging pain and deep humiliation that exclusion can cause.
In my role as a clinical psychologist treating teens for almost three decades, I have heard more stories of bullying and exclusion than I ever really wanted to. There are the girls who eat lunch in the bathroom because they don't have a lunch table to sit at. They have asked to sit at a table and have been turned away. They were too embarrassed to eat alone, so they took the lunch that their mothers lovingly packed to the bathroom. This story always makes me sad. And then, there are the boys who are made fun of because they are not athletic and they are teased about being effeminate. And, then they don't want to go to school. No surprise there. Nonetheless, many of these kids have, with some help, turned into some of the most endearing and best kids around. They made other friends by being kind, thoughtful and in many cases choosing to socialize with a different set of kids.
Almost all kids experience bullying or exclusion at some point. If you think that your child hasn't, then your child has probably not been open with you about this for a variety of reasons. Your child may be afraid of disappointing you, be embarrassed or may even have solved the problem on his/her own. I suggest that you assume that your child has been treated poorly at some point and use this as a springboard for talking about issues like empathy, perspective-taking, kindness and even karma. Your kids must and should know that they have more impact on others than they are probably aware of. Teach them to be kind, loving and sensitive. And, model this for them. Your kids are watching you. Remember; you are their most important role model.