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Almost every parent has likely heard this three-word phrase: “Nobody likes me.” The feeling that phrase encapsulates has no age barrier and can be experienced just as easily by a younger child as it can by an older teen. When your son or daughter says those painful words, though, they can stab you right to the heart.

Often that common complaint comes from feeling alone, and kids can feel alone for many reasons. Some are serious, like experiencing family discord, being bullied or having a mental health problem. Most kids who voice that complaint, though, are simply suffering from developmentally appropriate concerns, such as not being invited to a party or noticing an Instagram post that leaves them feeling excluded.

As a father, I have come to learn that my children’s pain is my pain, too. When my kids feel sad or hurt, my parental instinct is to solve whatever problem’s troubling them and try to make my boys feel better. My professional brain, however, knows to take a step back.

Jumping in and fixing things sends the wrong message. Doing something like that tells your children they are not capable of solving their own problems, and it also prevents your teens from developing coping skills.

When your child voices an emotional concern, you should first stop what you’re doing and go into listening mode. Avoid reassuring your teen that everything will be OK, as most kids will just dig in and disagree; rather, empathize and reflect the complaint by saying things like “That sounds rough” or “How frustrating.” Sometimes, a sympathetic ear is all an anxious adolescent needs to feel better.

Other times, though, your child may actually want your assistance because these feelings are overwhelming and happening more frequently than they should. In these circumstances, ask your child questions like “Why do you think that?”, “Does that happen frequently?” and, most important, “What can you do?” Help your teen look for behavioral patterns, and guide your child to solving the crisis on his or her own. Overcoming adversity builds confidence and resilience, which is the foundation for a happy and successful life.

Last, however, consider if your child is in real distress. Many children are genuinely victimized, and some do suffer from a debilitating mental health problem. If your child is paralyzed by emotions, then it may be time to consider professional assistance from someone such as a school counselor or mental health professional.

At some point, most teens will have a crisis in confidence and feel like “nobody likes me.” Unfortunately, it can be difficult to tell when a child has been excluded – because he or she may be hiding emotions. If you notice any unusual behaviors, engage your son or daughter in a conversation, and ask compassionate questions. Despite how it may feel during the teenage years, our kids do appreciate our guidance and support. 

Prior to going into private practice as a psychotherapist and learning-disabilities specialist, Russell Hyken, Ph.D., Ed.S., M.A., LPC, NCC, worked for more than 15 years as an English teacher, school counselor and school administrator. Visit him online at ed-psy.com.

Prior to going into private practice as a psychotherapist and learning-disabilities specialist, Russell Hyken, Ph.D., Ed.S., M.A., LPC, NCC, worked for more than 15 years as an English teacher, school counselor and school administrator.