To Include or Not - There is No Question.


Today my daughter started high school. Do you remember what that was like? Perhaps you were lucky and moved from primary to secondary school with mates. In my daughter’s case she went to school today knowing no one.

As we sat in orientation assembly I observed girls congregating together. Pairs, trios and even groups of four. There was evidence that many girls knew each other well. How easy they made it look to those others in the room without a friend in sight.

I left my daughter in the care of the school to begin her transition. I did this with a bit of anxiousness that is well known by parents. It is letting go but still caring. You know that this step is big, it is necessary and that all will be well.

Maybe I am a bit more sensitive. Even today I can still remember the schoolyard cruelty of the 7th graders in my school. New to town mid sixth grade I moved to middle school with a loose connection friends. They were the ‘popular’ ones.  When I was that age this mattered second to whether boys would like me.

Then it happened. I got cut. It wasn’t subtle or indirect. No the appointed spokesperson came up to me at lunch and simply said “we no longer want you to eat lunch with us. In fact why don’t you find some new friends to hang out with as well.” In shock, disbelief and stunned I stumbled in a daze to another part of the school.

I went as far away as possible.  I eventually found a new group of friends. Not possessing the wisdom I have now, I spent the rest of my high school years trying to fit in. It was a wound I would not heal until later in life. Today I have no hard feelings and appreciate the lesson learned.

So fast forward now to me as a parent. Having had this casting out sentence administered to me in 7th grade I really hoped my daughter would start her day well. I wondered and waited for her to return from school.

Then she arrived in the door. Not only was she smiling but beaming.  The first words out of her mouth were “Guess what mom I made new friends at school today!”  She couldn’t wait to tell me.

But here is the clincher. It wasn’t that she was confident and went up to them. No she was by herself sitting when some girls came up to her and asked if she would like to join them.  She was included because others kindly and emphatically connected with her.

What a difference a day can make.

What a difference a small gesture of inclusion can make.

The richness of this exchange is that my daughter and these girls will expand their network. Yes I know it’s 7th grade. But these girls are starting now without judgement saying people are interesting irrespective of where they come from.

So next time you have a choice of whether to include or exclude opt in for the include. You never know what might come of it. You never know what you might learn and how you might expand your experience.

Jenn Shallvey