I’m alone in the classroom. They don’t want to be my partner.
I’m alone at lunch. They don’t talk to me.
I’m always alone.
Time and time again, the victims of relational aggression tell me that the loneliness is overwhelming. Their parents tell them they’re not alone. Their teachers tell them they’re not alone. Their coaches tell them they’re not alone. But they feel so very alone. They feel swallowed up by loneliness, by the silence that envelops you when you can’t find a friend.
They just want one. One friend to play with at recess. One friend to partner up with in class. One friend to sit with at lunch. One friend to share laughter, stories, and secretes. One human connection to anchor them. One lifeline to pull them away from the dark hole of loneliness.
It just takes one.
Kids are often told to stand up to a bully – to use witty comebacks to show the bully that her words or actions don’t hurt. Kids are told to stand tall, look the bully in the eye, and let the words roll off their backs. Walk away. Don’t cry. Don’t give the bully what she wants.
Adults give this advice for good reason. They want to build resilience in their kids – they want their kids to know that they are bigger than the bully. The thing is, it’s exceptionally difficult to ignore, walk away, or fire back witty comebacks when you feel like your whole world is falling apart.
It feels impossible to stand tall when others cut you down over and over again. Walking away doesn’t feel like a viable option when the taunting follows you home by text, by email, by social media…when the hurt seems to loop like the 24-hour news cycle.
Where do you go when the hurt never stops? How do you get help when the bystanders repeatedly pass you by with their heads kept low in attempt to avoid being the next victim? How do you survive?
It’s time to teach our children to be the one. What I see in my practice, and what the research supports, is that it only takes one human connection to help another person in need. Positive upstander behavior is associated with a decrease in the frequency and impact of negative bullying behavior.
It only takes one.
Teach your child to be the one.
In the classroom: Look for the student who is always the last one chosen. Get to know that child. Be a friend to make a friend.
During recess: Invite the outliers, the ones wandering around and watching, to join your group at play. The more the merrier when it comes to group play.
In the lunchroom: Sit with the lonely. Ask a question. Share a favorite story. Talk about a funny movie. Start a conversation to drive the loneliness away.
On the bus: Be the one the fill the empty seat. It’s as easy as saying, “hello.”
On the walk home: Fall in step next to a peer who always seems to walk alone. Sometimes just the presence of another person reduces feelings of loneliness.
When relational aggression occurs: Stand next to the person in need. Say, “let’s get out of here.” Be the lifeline.
Online: For every unkind comment, leave a kind one. For every unliked photo, hit the like button. For every group chat that turns unkind, say no thanks. Sprinkle kindness all over to lighten up the darkness.
On your team: Be a leader. Leaders are includers. Leaders bring the whole team together. Leaders show the team that everybody counts.
Chronic loneliness is associated with anxiety and depression. When children are targeted, excluded, and face bullying and relational aggression on a regular basis, they are at risk for chronic loneliness.
It only takes one child to stand up and help another child in need. It only takes one human connection to reduce that loneliness. Teach your child to be the one. If we all make every effort to empower our children to be the one, we can reduce (and possibly even eliminate) relational aggression and bullying among our children.
Katie Hurley, LCSW
Katie Hurley, LCSW, is a child and adolescent psychotherapist, speaker, and the author of No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls and The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World. She maintains a private practice in El Segundo, CA, where she specializes in anxiety disorders and learning differences. Her writing on parenting has appeared in The Washington Post, PBS Parents, and US News & World Report.