How to Make Sure All Your Kids Feel Included

Make all your kids know they're an important part of the family.

It's tough to make kids of all ages feel included.

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When you’ve got a big family, it’s normal to feel like a referee as your kids say things like, “She won’t let me play!” or “They said I can’t go in their room!”

It’s tough to help everyone feel included. There may be days and times when you think the only things your kids have in common is their genes. They may have completely different interests, activities, and personalities that make it tough to help everyone feel included.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help everyone feel like part of the family, despite the age gaps, vast array of interests, and differences in opinions.

Schedule One-on-One Time

Set aside time to spend with each child individually. Even just a small daily dose of positive attention can be key to helping each child feel loved and included.

One-on-one time doesn’t always have to be a grand adventure. It can just be about spending a few authentic moments together while doing everyday activities.

You might play on the floor with your preschooler, color with your grade schooler, or just sit and talk to your high schooler. Even just a short period of your undivided attention can help each one of your children feel loved.

You might want to schedule semi-regular one-on-one dates as well. Whether you go on a dinner date or you go for a walk in the park, plan a special outing with each child on a regular basis. These special outings can make each child feel loved and appreciated, which is key to helping them feel included in the family.

Make Family Activities Mandatory

While one-on-one time is important, family time as a group is also necessary to ensure everyone feels included, and to help maintain bonds and cohesiveness as a unit.

That being said, there will always be at least one person who doesn’t want to go to the playground or who doesn’t want to play soccer in the backyard.

So consider making some family activities mandatory for everyone, even if the activity you’re doing isn’t “their thing.” Tell them it's good to get out of their comfort zone!

Otherwise, you might have one child who insists on staying behind or sitting out on the sidelines. Whether their lack of participation is an attempt to gain more individual attention from you or it’s truly out of a dislike for the activity, not being involved can foster feelings of isolation.

Of course, you may want to relax this rule a bit for teens. It’s normal and healthy for teens to want to spend more time with their friends outside of school. So you might designate some family activities mandatory for older kids while allowing others to slide.

There may also be times when some kids just can’t participate. Younger kids might not have the physical or cognitive skills to join in certain games or activities. Or older kids might be too big to play on playground equipment. So while it’s important to look for activities where everyone can be involved, recognize that forcing all the kids to participate in everything isn’t necessary.

Take Turns Planning Family Time

A good way to help everyone feel included in family activities is to take turns picking out what the family will do. Create a calendar, and assign each child a date to be in charge of choosing and planning the activity (to the best of their age ability).

You don’t have to wait until a big outing to get the kids involved however. Let them plan smaller, everyday things.

Perhaps every Tuesday one child picks a dinner theme—like Italian night or Taco Tuesday. Then, the whole family pitches in to create a meal together that matches the theme.

Whatever they choose, help them feel as though they’re part of doing something that helps the family, while also honoring their personal preferences.

Assign Everyone Jobs

Kids feel included when they feel needed. So give every child jobs to do that help the whole family—not just themselves.

In addition to expecting them to pick up after themselves and clean their personal spaces, assign chores in common areas of the home. Sweeping the kitchen, vacuuming the living room, and cleaning the bathroom are just a few examples of ways kids can pitch in around the house.

Remind them that there will be times when they have to pick up after one another—sweeping up cookie crumbs that were dropped by a sibling or clearing a table that has dishes left by someone else are all part of being a good citizen. Having a job to do reminds kids that they’re part of the bigger family of society, and their work is helpful to everyone.

Highlight Uniqueness Without Going Overboard

Recognize the skills, talents, and interests that make each child unique and celebrate those things. But be careful not to place labels on your kids.

If you are always saying things like, “This one is our little athlete and this one is our math superstar!” you might limit your kids’ lives and pigeonhole their abilities.

An athletic kid might not join band, because they think they’re only supposed to be into sports. A kid who is good in math in the third grade might struggle with math in junior high—which may create some identity confusion. It may even cause them to cheat as they may grow to believe you only value them for their achievement, not their honesty.

So while you might point out that one child loves stars, rocket ships, and anything that has to do with outer space, while another one loves baseball, talk about how those interests may shift over time. And that’s OK.

In the meantime, invite your kids to share their interests with the family and support one another—even though not everyone likes the same things.

Talk about the importance of watching baseball games or attending the science fair to support one another, because it’s a kind thing to do—regardless of your interest level.

Address Behavior Problems That Affect the Whole Family

It can be tough to make everyone feel included if you’ve got one child who regularly misbehaves.

If you want everyone to feel included, the last thing you want to do is place blame on a single child for ruining everything for everyone else. Saying things like, “We would have gotten here on time if your brother could have gotten dressed when I told him to,” will only further ostracize a child who already feels left out.

So avoid singling kids out for the problems the family experiences. Otherwise, the rest of the family may grow angry and resentful.

Even if one child struggles with certain issues more than rest, there’s no need to point out or emphasize it. Instead, take it as a sign you need to offer that child more support in a certain area—or perhaps hold them more accountable by giving them a consequence (especially if their choices affect the whole family).

So what can you do if one child’s dawdling slows down everyone or another child’s meltdowns cause you to have to leave fun activities early? Here are some ideas:

  • Plan ahead for problems. If you know your youngest child gets grumpy without a nap or another child gets overwhelmed by too much stimulation, try to plan for a way to support that child’s needs. Of course, it’s not always possible to accommodate a child’s schedule, and sometimes they just need practice learning how to cope with their discomfort. But when you can, take steps that’ll prevent one child’s individual needs from negatively affecting the entire family.
  • Talk about the issue. If it’s an issue your child can help (like a temper tantrum that caused the whole family to leave the amusement park early), talk to your child about how their behavior impacted everyone else. Don’t try to give your child a guilt trip, but do ask questions like, “What do you think it was like for the other kids when that happened?” That can help your child gain empathy for how their behaviors affect others.
  • Problem-solve how to respond. Look for ways to reduce the toll one child’s behavior has on everyone else. Can you call someone to pick up the misbehaving child? Can you do a quick time-out in the car? Can you ignore the misbehavior while you devote your attention to the kids who are behaving? If it’s a common issue, spend some time problem-solving how you might respond in the most helpful way.
  • Provide consequences as needed. Whether you decide time-out is sufficient or you take away a privilege for 24 hours, give your child a consequence if they break a rule or disrupt the rest of the family’s activities due to inappropriate behavior that is within their control. Just keep their development in mind. It’s to be expected that a toddler won’t sit still while watching a basketball game or that a preschooler might struggle to stay quiet during a lengthy recital.
  • Encourage restitution. There may be times when an apology is warranted. Your 10-year-old may owe their siblings an apology for misbehavior that caused the whole family to leave the movies early. And sometimes, restitution may be helpful. Depending on the offense, it may be a good idea to have a child perform chores for siblings or lend an item to someone they hurt.

Teach Your Kids to Include One Another

It’s not completely up to you make all your kids feeling included. Instead, it’s important to teach your kids to include one another.

That doesn’t mean your 14-year-old has to always invite the 4-year-old to hang out in her room when her friends are over, but it does mean each kid can make the effort to treat one another with kindness and respect.

So while you don’t want to police every interaction between your kids, step in if there’s bullying going on. Don’t let your kids pick on or exclude one another.

Praise them for including one another when you catch it. Say things like, “That was really nice to invite your sister to play with you today,” or “I noticed how kind you were to your brother today when he didn’t know how to play that game you were playing.”

A Word From Verywell

Almost all kids will say something like, “No one likes me here,” or “I’m always left out,” at one point or another. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is help them learn to cope with those feelings.

But there are also practical steps you can take to ensure that all your kids feel like part of the family. And kids who feel included, loved, and accepted are more likely to feel good about themselves and their ability to be good citizens.

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.