A Brilliant Idea for Kids Who Don’t Fit In

by Colette Moran

Is there anyone out there who hasn’t had to deal with the problem of a child being labeled ”weird” or having trouble making friends? Kristen Chase wrote about how proud she is that her daughter embraces being different, but she has also been concerned about her finding playmates.

It started to get difficult for her when she continually felt left out at recess… As I saw it, there were three options for her. She could sacrifice her own interests and desires a bit so she could be included more… who knows? Maybe she might actually like soccer or whatever it is they do at recess that she didn’t really want to do. 

Maybe she would become friends with them and convince them to do what she wanted to do. She could completely own who she is and make her own “tribe.” She’d have to make her own fun and prepare for it, like packing some art supplies or a book to read at recess. She might also have to lower her expectations about friendships… But she won’t feel like she’s compromising who she is.

Or she could do a little bit of both, deciding to make a little effort to step outside the box and engage with the kids through their own interests but without compromising her core values – which is exactly what she did.

But of course, some children are not as sure of themselves, or as capable of stepping outside comfort zones. Glennon Doyle Melton shared the strategy of her son’s math teacher in helping out those who may be struggling with loneliness or isolation.

Every Friday afternoon my son’s teacher asks her students to take out a piece of paper and write down the names of four children with whom they’d like to sit the following week… She also asks the students to nominate one student whom they believe has been an exceptional classroom citizen that week. All ballots are privately submitted to her.

And every single Friday afternoon, after the students go home, Chase’s teacher takes out those slips of paper, places them in front of her and studies them. She looks for patterns. Who is not getting requested by anyone else? Who doesn’t even know who to request? Who never gets noticed enough to be nominated? Who had a million friends last week and none this week?

You see, Chase’s teacher is not looking for a new seating chart or “exceptional citizens.” Chase’s teacher is looking for lonely children. She’s looking for children who are struggling to connect with other children. She’s identifying the little ones who are falling through the cracks of the class’s social life. She is discovering whose gifts are going unnoticed by their peers. And she’s pinning down- right away- who’s being bullied and who is doing the bullying.

As a teacher, parent, and lover of all children – I think that this is the most brilliant Love Ninja strategy I have ever encountered. It’s like taking an X-ray of a classroom to see beneath the surface of things and into the hearts of students. It is like mining for gold – the gold being those little ones who need a little help – who need adults to step in and TEACH them how to make friends, how to ask others to play, how to join a group, or how to share their gifts with others. And it’s a bully deterrent because every teacher knows that bullying usually happens outside of her eyeshot – and that often kids being bullied are too intimidated to share. But as she said – the truth comes out on those safe, private, little sheets of paper.

Read more about this brilliant teacher here. On a related note, here is a story about how to recognize and treat anxiety in children.