How to Help A Child Deal with Rejection – Making and Keeping Friends

Dealing with rejection–how to help children make and keep friends

As a parent, it can be difficult to know what to say when your child cries, “I was the last one picked for the soccer team today,” especially when just two days ago, everyone wanted her on their jump rope team. However, it is not unusual for your child’s social experiences to be a roller coaster of acceptance and rejection. The best thing you can do as a parent is to build her self-esteem and help her ride the waves. Knowing why your child is left out will assist you in supporting her.

Why Is My Child Excluded?

Children are constantly trying to define themselves through their independence. As your child grows older, approval from peers becomes more important than your parental approval. Due to this, children can be extremely accepting of others, but they can also be completely intolerant of others. Your child can be “in” or “out” depending on the day. As well, your child will be left out for different reasons at different ages. 

Three and four-year-olds           

At this young age, children still think in concrete terms. Your child may not realize that friendships can last longer than the moment or than the length of activity he is participating in. If Johnny plays with someone else immediately after getting off the jungle gym with your son, he may think that Johnny doesn’t like him anymore.  As well, your child may not understand that you can have more than one friend at once. If Suzy is playing dress up with another girl, your daughter may feel that Suzy isn’t her friend. At this age, friendships break up and make up rather quickly as children experiment with new interests.

Five and six-year-olds           

Logic begins to enter children’s games at this age.  There are roles to play and rules to follow. If your child doesn’t understand the rules, she may have a hard time making friends. Knowing how to play games helps your child feel competent. 

Play games at home where you and your child establish rules that won’t change during the game. This constancy helps your child grasp the concepts of rules and roles, and provides you the opportunity to help keep him or her on track.

Seven years old and older                       

 During the elementary years, the need to form an identity outside the home grows. Cliques of the same gender begin to form. Girls’ cliques tend to emerge first and are based on sometimes nothing more than the need to be part of a group. Boys’ cliques, however, start a little later than girls and center more on activities. Boys’ groups change more frequently along with their skills and interests. If your son is on the outside because he’s a computer whiz, he’ll be in when video games are the rage. Helping your child find new friends that share the same interests may bolster self-esteem. Encourage your children to participate in extracurricular activities. Sports teams and dance classes provide your child opportunities to explore new horizons and make new friends with similar skills and interests.

 

What Can I Do?

While you can’t make everyone like your child, you can help your child avoid some rejection and better deal with it when it does arise. It is important that you take note of your child’s complaints concerning exclusion. If they are situational, it could be because your child is not skilled in that area and the other children do not invite him to play. However, if they are chronic, you will want to utilize the following strategies.

Teach communication and social skills

Everyone likes to talk about themselves. Teach your child to ask her friend about herself and to play the games her friend wants to play. As well, teach your child to share and to treat others the way she would want to be treated. Always compliment your child when she behaves appropriately in social situations. 

Role play

Act out the painful situations your child encounters. Assume the position he’s been experiencing. Be sure to interject humor so it does not become threatening.  Doing this will allow you to see what happens and to demonstrate ways of handling the situation. 

Recognize styles

Children are very conscientious about what everybody is wearing and are quick to exclude someone that’s not “in style.” Your child doesn’t need to be dressed in expensive name brand clothing, but appearances do matter. When you’re out shopping, notice what other children are wearing and let your child pick out some of her own clothes.     

Provide security

Let your child know you have confidence in him and in his teacher or caregiver. Being friendly with the instructor and other parents demonstrates to your child that you approve of them and allows him to have confidence in the situation and in himself.

Participate in friend selection

While you can’t control what happens at school, you still maintain quite a bit of supervision at home. You can determine who your child plays with and what activities they do. Direct your child to those children in the neighborhood who have similar values, skills, and interests as your child. Allow your child to have sleep-overs once in a while to encourage friendships.   

Model interactions

Show your child how to positively interact with others. Be a role model for your child. Take your child with you to social events where she can observe first-hand how to have enjoyable relationships.    

Utilizing these strategies will build your child’s self-esteem and give him or her a reserve of positive experiences to draw from when needed. Focusing on the reasons your child is out of a particular group may increase  feelings of “something's wrong with me.” Instead, be encouraging and supportive. As well, if your child always seems to be one of the insiders, help him or her develop empathy for those that are excluded. Remember, your child will not be “in” all of the time, and that’s okay.

 

References

Israeloff, R. (1992). “Friendships at Day Care.” Working Mother. 104-109.

King, J. S. (1993). “Buddy Building.” Working Mother. 52-55.

-       - -. (1991). “Mommy, Nobody Likes Me.” Parents Digest. 48-51.

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