The Pain Kids Feel When Ostracized

Building connections and communities is vital to our humanity. It’s an evolutionary survival strategy. Because we can operate together, plan, divide up the work and take care of one another we have been able to thrive on this earth. Our bodies and minds automatically seek connection. Every cell in our body is on high alert for signals and opportunities to align. The arts are constantly setting the stage for shared experiences, bringing our breathing and heart rhythms into harmony. The drive to melt into a bigger group can be a beautiful and satisfying thing.

Mirror neurons sense both the move another person is about to make and their feelings, and instantaneously prepare us to imitate that movement and feel with them. – Daniel Goleman, Social Intelligence

But belonging – as natural as it is – has to be learned. We begin at home, observing and participating in family, religious, ethnic and gender customs. We feel at home. Our starter kit for how the world works is established. But when we begin school and then head off to college and then on to the work world, we discover new traditions. We find our way to new characters in our lives and the philosophies and cultures they bring. 

Popular culture celebrates – I would say OVER-celebrates – individuality. Free to be you and me. Finding ourselves.  But there are crickets when it comes to belonging, conforming and following one another – even when it brings us joy. 

Learning how to navigate safely and happily through different communities should be essential learning. We need to know how to show respect. When and how to participate in customs that are not our own. When our language or gestures can send messages of judgment rather than appreciation. 

Today most of us find ourselves socially distanced involuntarily. Kids who experienced the pain of ridicule and isolation while in school, may be feeling some temporary relief. People seem more equal when working remotely. Individual idiosyncrasies are less visible. School bullies don’t have corners where they can taunt. Perhaps this is a great time to prepare – or immunize – our kids for the gradual return to normalcy and all the thrills and challenges that will bring.

Check out this Washington Post article that explores the topic and offers some ways to help kids deal with feelings of isolation.

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