In this era of bullying run rampant and teen violence that feels out of control, it’s tough not to worry when your child is a loner or different enough to be considered a “geek.” As a parent, you want your kid to feel happy and safe at school, to feel valued and accepted just as he is at home. What can you do to help your unusual kid shine?
Reconceive the “Geek”
“We need to change the notion of geeks, so that kids with diverse fringe pursuits feel supported and included,” says Anthony DeCamello, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist who works with at-risk adolescents. Present your kid with realistic role models who are as special as he is. Kids who are “geeks” are often focused, passionate, thoughtful and persistent—like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and other successful people.
Improve Your Relationship
It’s crucial that you have a strong, trusting relationship with your child. “No matter what arises, stay in touch, stay related,” DeCamello says. You can do this in your day-to-day life, even if your interests are very different. Turn your energy toward finding common ground, whether it's centered on family pets, favorite shows or a just night out for pizza.
Put Him in His Element
Does your kid love comics, superheroes or role-playing games? Check out the famous Comic-Con event in San Diego or a similar local event when it comes your way. Is your child crazy about science, building or engineering? Check out the Physics Olympics, the RoboGames or even a building demolition near your home. Whatever your child likes, he should have the opportunity to be around people like him.
Share Your Own Story
Was there ever a time when you or someone you knew well was a little different? Tell your child that story. Let him know he isn’t really that alone, and that marching to his own beat is something to celebrate, not hide. Kids are often shocked to hear about past interests and activities of the adults in their lives.
Speak Highly of Unusual People
Let your child see that you find value in people who are different. He should know that it’s not just the hottest actors, musicians and athletes who are noticed and respected. For the same purpose, watch out for the messages you send when praising certain people. For example, if your child scoffs at celebrity culture, don’t insist on bringing up the latest tabloid story.
Examine Your Feelings
Have an open, honest discussion with your spouse, family member or a good friend to check in on your own feelings about your child. Some parents feel embarrassed when their child is different. If this is you, don't deny it. Deal with your feelings, because you can’t hide them from your child. Were you ostracized as a kid? Did you worry about rejection? If your kid doesn’t feel accepted at home, it will be harder for him to be social and confident among peers.
Stick Up for Your Child
Remember that even a happy, confident child has rough days, especially when he is perceived as different. Don't hesitate to show strong, vocal support. Never tell him to “shake it off,” as if his struggles don't matter. That kind of advice only signals to your child that venting to you isn't an option.
Look for Real Problems
There is a big difference between “loners” who have unique interests, ideas and pursuits, and children who have been regularly rejected. Making this distinction helps kids avoid further pain. How can you tell? If your child repeatedly insists on staying home from school, shows signs of physical illness or injury, or becomes depressed, seek help.
There are so many ways to have a happy, healthy childhood—not every kid needs to stay on the beaten path. Be proud of your “geek” or “loner,” and don't try to change him. Unless there's a genuine problem, the only help your kid needs from you is support and acceptance.