Every year, as a principal, I hear the heart-breaking stories from parents and kids about not having friends, not being invited to play after school and never being invited to a birthday party. Although we are only a few students and children in communities, these stories are far too common and are not only devastating to the children but also the families.
As I grow with my kids, one of my goals is to always reach out and invite a child who, for whatever reason, needs a friend. I have seen parents do this in our school as they taught and modeled to our children the importance of including others in their circles.
When I was in elementary school, I remember new students moving to our town and struggling to make friends. On a couple of occasions (probably more), my parents asked me to choose a child that was new or struggled to have friends and invite them to come to a Canucks game with my dad and I (back when the Canucks games were mostly losses but very affordable). These events grew into friendships and modeled to me the empathy and care that is needed to truly understand and appreciate the value of friendships and inclusion of others.
As we move into another school year, my challenge to parents (including me) is for us to reach out and include students beyond our children’s typical friendship circles. If it is a new student in the class, set up an after school activity for a day. For birthdays, start by reaching out to one child that needs a friend… and if our children disagree, this gives us the perfect opportunity to embrace a teachable moment about empathy and care. If it is a student that struggles with some behaviours or disabilities that require support, invite the child to come over with the parent so you can truly understand the challenges that both the child and the family face. Raising a child with a disability and/or a child that requires significant behaviour support can also be very difficult for the parents. They, too, can be left feeling alone and negatively judged as “bad parents” when it is often a condition that is not about parenting and more about extra support, empathy, and understanding.
A series of these small efforts can have a life-changing impact on children, families and society as a whole. I invite you to join me, and many families whom I learn from, in reaching out and teaching our children to include others.