Helping “Invisible” Students

Michele Borba October 31, 2013 Comments Off on Helping “Invisible” Students

Trudy Ludwig’s new book, The Invisible Boy, addresses intentional and unintentional social exclusion and is a powerful resource for teachers, counselors and parents.

Ask teachers to name students in each of our classes and we usually have no trouble rattling off a few. At the top of our lists are students who are the ones who are engaged in their learning, out-going and social, leaders, or the ones who are the talkers and even trouble makers. They are also kids who get our attention–whether positive or negative–and if there is a problem–again either positive or negative–we find a solution. But what about our other students who are usually quieter, usually well-behaved, don’t have their hands up, and as a result can be overlooked? I call these kids “gray toned” because they don’t stand out of the pack, and can easily “blend into” our classrooms, playgrounds or clubs.

But we aren’t the only guilty ones: peers don’t seem to notice these children or include them as well. Whether the problem is intentional or unintentional social exclusion, these kids can suffer.  These are the kids who lose out not only in learning, but also in the social scene. The result? Their self-esteem, academic achievement, social-emotional learning, resilience, and moral competence can suffer. The truth is “lost kids” add up to “lost opportunities” to learn to thrive and cope as well as feel safe and cared about in school as well as in life.

The Invisible Boy

The Invisible Boy

Trudy Ludwig is one of my favorite children’s authors because she writes about such pertinent kid issues and can tug on kids’ hearts as well as ours. You may know her previous works such as: My Secret Bully, Just Kidding, Confessions of a Former Bully, and Better Than You. Her  wonderful new book, The Invisible Boy which speaks with heart and soul about the “lost kid” issue.

The story is about a boy named Brian, who nobody ever seems to notice or think to include him in their group, game, or birthday party…until, that is, a new kid comes to class. (Yay!) When Justin, the new boy, arrives, Brian is the first to make him feel welcome. And when Brian and Justin team up to work on a class project together, Brian finds a way to shine.

Trudy Ludwig‘s gentle story shows how small acts of kindness can help children feel included and allow them to flourish. You’ll feel for the new kid and cheer for the “invisible” boy who-like so many other children-has been overlooked not only as a class member but also for his kind heart and empathy. The Invisible Boy offers fabulous discussions for educators, parents and counselors to help trigger those great heart-stretching “How would you feel?” type questions. Powerful discussion questions to help jar children’s hearts are included in the resource section. Here are a few:

Empathy Stretching Questions 

  • Have you ever tried to join a group, game or activity and other kids wouldn’t let you? If yes, how did that make you feel?
  • Have you ever intentionally excluded other kids from joining your group, game or activity? If yes, why?
  • Which do you think is worse-being laughed at or feeling invisible?
  • Are there kids in your class, grade, or school who you see being treated as if they are invisible? If yes, what could you do to make them feel more valued and appreciated?

Our children are hard-wired for the miraculous ability to feel for others, but too many I fear are in “heart dormant mode.” The more we can stretch our kids “moral muscles” so they can be more aware of the thoughts and feelings–as well as hurt and pain of others–the better our chances of producing compassionate, humane kids. And creating that “caring, safe” climate where all children feel included is a huge part of reducing peer cruelty and bullying. Research also shows that the right type of fiction (the kind that zings your heart and makes you a little misty-eyed) is a proven tool to stretch empathy. Ludwig’s book can be a wonderful resource to help our us attain those noble goals for our children.

I urge you to read The Invisible Boy with your children, and then start those “What can you do?” type talks. When we empower children to think about others, their heart expands, and kindness breaks through. And there are thousands of children throughout the world whose kind-hearted actions are proof. Here are just a few examples of the “Kid Kindness Revolution” I’ve seen in my work in schools lately.

The Kid Kindness Revolution

Kid Care Clubs: Students formed a club to recognize the “Brian’s in the world,” and then intentionally chose to befriend them and ensure they are included and not excluded.

Guardian Angels: Students identified ‘marginalized kids” who are deliberately excluded-such those with special needs-and befriended them during recess and on the bus so they have buddies.

Welcome Wagons: A group of kids started a school club to welcome a brand new students to their school. The kids provide the student not only with a welcome basket (school handbook, shirt, map, list of kid names and  phone numbers of club members), but also made themselves available to introduce the new kid to students to help him feel included.

Mix It Up Days: Students planned ways to deliberately “mix up” fixed cliques in the cafeteria so students meet new kids and sit during lunchtime with new students. 

Our children want to be in environments that are kind, safe and fair. So let’s give them the power to switch their peer norms from “cruel to cool.” Let’s offer examples of kindness, help them understand how unkindness feels in discussions and with books such as The Invisible Boy, and then empower them to be kind.  When we give kids voice and choice their hearts open, and that’s exactly what must happen to end the cycle of peer cruelty. Give kids the voice and let them choose kindness. They will!

Cheers!

Michele Borba