The social life of a kid with ADHD, Autism Spectrum or other special needs can be brutal. And in this day and age of Instagram and Snapchat, it is a time when your child’s social fails are constantly in her face. It used to be that if friends got together and didn’t want you there, you may have never known about it. But now, your child can see it in real time. “Hey, look! Here we are playing in the snow without you! Weeee, look how much fun we are having.” The video posts are so clearly kids’ way of grandstanding their social status: I’m having lots of fun with my friends. I am well-loved. It reinforces one child’s self-esteem, often at the expense of another’s.
Humans have a herd instinct. To survive, you need to be part of the herd, the tribe. If you are shunned, on the outskirts, you might die. It kicks in at a young age, causing kids to scramble for a solid place in the social stratosphere. For boys, it often means excelling at sports or humor. For girls, it is an artful elevation of one’s self by demeaning a weaker girl. Relational aggression is rampant among girls and starts younger and younger. For a child with ADHD or other related attentional issues (auditory processing, autism), he/she often doesn’t have the innate social savvy to keep up and is quickly targeted as the weakest link. If we shun this kid, our own social standing will be assured, and we will survive to see another day. Relational aggression is often covert: eye-rolls, groans, closing the circle, hugging one girl and not the other, walking away, not enough room at the lunch table, talking about a party not everyone is invited to, whispering, telling inside jokes, last in schoolyard picks, never being asked to partner up in PE or science labs. If your kid speaks up about it, it is easy for the well-loved kids to deny it is even happening. Because your kid is the target, the only one who even notices it.
I have long since lamented the fact that schools don’t teach a class on social-emotional intelligence. It should be as important in the curriculum as math and reading. Because we need it to get along, and we don’t come into the world understanding how it works. All you need to do is look at the amount of bullying, teen suicide, divorce—and on a larger scale political infighting and war—to see that effective communication is not a skill we are born with. But when I point this out, I am so often met with lame responses like “Girls will be girls!” “Middle school sucks.” “Kids need to learn to tough it out on their own.” Adults seem to think that intervention in the mixed up and painful tangle of adolescent relationships is somehow wrong. As if we should let the blind not only lead the blind, but also do so with knives and swords at their back, self-esteem and long-term impact be damned!!
So, how can you help your kid when they are shunned, ditched and left feeling like a loser? I can tell you from first-hand experience that if you try to intervene by enlisting the support of other mothers, your efforts may unfortunately not be welcome and you could wind up being a target yourself. She’s too involved in their relationship, she needs to let them work it out. This is an easy statement to make if yours is the well-loved child. But if yours is the shunned child, it is painful (and wrong!) to simply step back and watch as your child is decimated. So what do we do? We reinforce our kids’ sense of self-worth, [UPDATE: I have a new, unusual intervention to do this, which has worked miracles. Too controversial to post here, but if you want to know what I did, PM me and I’ll tell you.] Get them counseling, we help them find new friends, take them off social media(!), maybe we move them to a new school—and we blog about it. So that others know they’re not alone. And so that the moms of the well-loved kids who don’t come home crying every day—the ones that may be causing your kid pain—have a little empathy for the moms of the struggling kids when/if they reach out for support.