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I have 7 kids (a combination of biological and foster) and we have noticed that one child in particular is often left out. He has some complex needs and can at times be very difficult to get along with. He has a hard time understanding others’ perspectives and finds it difficult to play when games don’t have rigid rules, for example during pretend play. The other kids have begun to single him out and refuse to play with him.
How can I help my kids understand that he is ‘still learning’ social skills and to be kind rather than critical?
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That must be hard on your momma's heart to see one of your children left out.
We have experienced similar issues with our twins. When there are 2 sharing the same birthdate, parents, teachers, friends, and family, it is natural for one to feel left out, especially if one is much more outgoing than the other.
We have had to tell siblings and cousins that it is not nice to verbalize their preference between the 2 boys. We have gone on to say that it hurts feelings to feel left out or not liked. So far, with this discussion, everyone has been thoughtful.
It would make it more difficult if your son somehow makes the situation more challenging due to his social skill delay. Perhaps you can encourage structured games that he will enjoy with part of the gang while the rest go about their more imaginative play. If he insists on playing a game that may cause problems, you may need to be there to help guide him.
I'm sure that you have your hands full. Good luck with this challenge.
Children, especially younger children are still very self-centric and so when they exclude someone from their play or activities it is not because they are being malicious - even though their actions can be very hurtful. We live in a world that is slowly moving towards being a more accepting and tolerant space, but these are attributes that we have to foster intentionally with our children.
When chatting to kids about tolerance, it is important to emphasise that being tolerant is not about accepting bad behavior, but rather understanding that people are different, accepting who they are, and recognising that they deserve to be treated with respect.
One of the best ways to teach tolerance is by reflecting tolerance as a parent. This can be tough especially when we have a lot on our plate, but kids learn by example and if we can model tolerant, accepting, and inclusive behavior, our kids will take note. If your child is still working on their social skills and behaves in a way that makes it difficult for your other kids, consider finding games and activities that offer both individual and cooperative play. This way your child can be a part of the playtime without necessarily having to step outside of his own level of comfort - he can create the rigid rules for "his part" of the game while allowing your other kids the freedom that present play provides. Remember that abstract thinking is a cognitive skill that can develop differently for everyone. For your other kids, consider making sure that they each have some play time where they have to include their brother so that he can develop some of the social skills he needs, but also ensure that they have some time to play freely - without having to comply with your son's need for more rigid structure.