Thursday, January 17, 2013

How Do I Help My Child Fit In?

I don’t know what to do.

My oldest son came home in tears last night after attending a friend’s youth group he was invited to. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

“I don’t fit in anywhere.”

It didn’t appear that anything bad happened, instead he had trouble connecting with the other kids and was anxious in a new environment. The boy that invited him to the group left him to follow along, so he didn’t feel included or embraced by the group. In response, he sat alone listening to an audio book with his iPod.

Middle school is getting tough socially. He’s being called a nerd, a loser and is being pushed around by the older kids. I know some of the problem is the cruelty of kids and the other challenge is his inability to feel comfortable in social settings. When he feels uncomfortable, he withdraws, which then continues the cycle of not fitting in.

I tried to encourage him and remind him that things will get better, but he quickly reminded me that he’s been trying for 12 years now and it isn’t getting better.

Earlier this week, his teacher read an essay about the negative impact of bullying. It gave an example of a girl hanging herself and a boy shooting himself in the head in front of his class after being bullied. This really freaked my son out. He came home crying saying that he was afraid that this would happen to him because he’s been bullied in the past. (I did confirm that at this time he’s not having any suicidal thoughts).

A part of me wants to homeschool him and remove him completely from his social environment, but he’s so resistant to me teaching him that it would be impossible. I’ve also offered to switch him to a smaller school setting, but he rejects the idea since he’s already use to this school and doesn’t want to start over.

Our therapist taught my son to “fake it” in social settings until it feels natural, but he tells me that this isn’t working.

It’s killing me to see him hurting like this. I just don’t know how to help him.

I need your help.

What can I do?


12 comments:

  1. Remind him that we all feel this way sometimes! The best thing my mother did for me as a tween/teen was tell me the story of when she was a young adult & ran into someone she'd known in junior high who said "you were always so confident and interesting, I always admired you

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    1. Great idea, I took your advice and shared some stories with him over the weekend.

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  2. Agh! Postings are not working right! Anyway, my mother confided that she was the most nervous, uncomfortable kid & thought she was lonely & alone & awful... But when this person said that to her, she realized she was not the only one feeling badly & that we all go through it! Tell him your stories, your husband's stories, and even if he rolls his eyes through it, he WILL hear you & feel reassured. Tell him it DOES get better!!!

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    1. I think he really appreciated hearing these stories! Thanks for the idea!

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  3. "Fake it 'til you make it." It sounds so easy but can be so very difficult when you don't know if 'fake-out' is working.

    It took me many, many years to perfect the fake-out of feeling OK when I'm border-line overwhelmed. What helped me was finding my own group of misfits that, for the most part, take me as I am when I can't put on the happy face.

    But where can your son find his own group of misfits? Does he have any interest at all in theater? Theater kids can be a bit different, but they are also some of the most accepting kids you will ever meet. It's scarey at first, yes. Any new activity is. But theater kids can also been some of the most out-going people so your son wouldn't have to make the first step of reaching out to others. They'll reach out to him. In theater classes, he'll learn about handling emotions and channeling them in productive ways. He can learn how present an aura of confidence when he's feeling small & forgotten. It can even help with some of his need for rigidity, through theater games and even, potentially, performances.

    I can't tell you if it will work for your son. I can tell you that it made all the difference in the world for me. Those kids saved my life when I was in junior high & high school.

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    1. I shared with my son the idea about theatre in High School, of course he would never go on a stage, but he loved the idea of being a part of the crew!

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  4. My son went to a social skills group lead by a psychologist to help with his social skills and confidence etc. He went every week and they had goals and worked on their skills and got rewarded for it. There were 6 boys all about the same age late grade school and middle school. They shared experiences and received feedback from the leader as well as peers. They trusted each other and developed friendships and learned in a safe environment. It helped him so much!! We often refer to some of the skills when we talk about difficult situations that happened at school. It might help your son with skills and he will most likely develop friendships with boys who feel the same way he does.

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    1. This also is a good idea, I have some calls out to see if we have something like this in our area.

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  5. My daughter struggled through middle school - coming home and telling me that she was invisible and telling stories of other kids being mean. At one point, a teacher confirmed that some of her "friends" were being mean to her. The teacher felt that her friends were jealous-- that certainly didn't help my girl though. Ultimately, she met a young man in high school who had similar struggles and they made their way through. She finished high school a year early and is now living at college and doing well. These kids feel more intensely. My advice is to try to remember that they will not be adolescents forever and to just continue to love him as you do- they do feel this even though you feel like they are not listening. Find anything that gives him an identity. For my girl, it was writing classes at a small community writing center. These kids got together and expressed their angst in stories . The "readings" (they would read aloud their works) were intense. Let him express himself even if its not conventional- my daughter had purple stripes in her hair and we did let her pierce her belly button and ears more that I would have guessed we would have. All the while, we told her how much we loved her. She felt our love even when she was bullied. She learned to fly under the radar at school. She became her own person while we loved her and struggled to find the meds that kept her sane. Its complex and honestly..it sucks during the middle school and into high school but it will get better. We are all rooting for you!

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    1. You bring up a good point that out kids feel so deeply. I like your idea about finding something that gives him an identity.

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  6. I wish we lived closer!
    On the homeschooling front, its not really working well right now and we are taking steps to get my son into middle school. (and I have great fears about just this sort of thing.) A lot of it has to do with that Parent-child tension at this age. But while homeschooling (somewhat)protected him from social pain, it also prevented him from honing social skills. The mood stuff prevented us from doing a lot of the things that "normal" homeschoolers do for social interaction.

    We've tried social skills groups--I don't think they made him feel like he fit in any better, just gave a few tools and some practice.

    4H: We are making some tentative strides there, but he will only interact with kids in the small project setting, not the big general meeting atmosphere. The good thing about 4H is it is interest based, so all the kids in a project share a similar interest, such as baking. The problem with 4H is that most projects meet once a month--so it takes a long time to build up that feeling of knowing the other kids well enough to fit in. (though that seems to happen faster for nuerotypical kids)

    My son isn't capable of team sports, but I've heard for some kids being part of a team helps with the feeling of fitting in.

    And in terms of it getting better with time, some parts do. While I've learned coping mechanisms, and I have a few people in my life who really get me, most of the time I don't feel like I fit in. I don't know if this is true for you. But kids are smart, if they see adults in their lives struggling with things that we tell them will get better, they don't believe it. So I think being honest about how it will get better is best. Everything is so black and white for tweens and teens, having that frontal cortex come online helps us gain perspective as adults. So I think any kind of perspective taking techniques you can help him build are good. That the feeling of fitting in comes and goes and it is okay to feel that way. And that other people are a lot more anxious about their own stuff than what you are doing.

    You can also play some games with people watching, guessing what other people in a restaurant are thinking, trying to figure out who at the table over there doesn't feel like they fit in. Trying to figure out strangers who don't matter to him, (and won't be judging him) might help him learn how to read his peers a little better?

    Okay, sorry I went on and on in the comments... ack!

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    1. I wish we lived closer too!

      I’m sorry to hear the homeschooling isn’t working so well, that's how I imagine it would go with us too. I’ve heard several times about finding groups that he shares an interest with, such as your 4H and this has me thinking about starting a group to make that happen!

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