I remember distinctly the first time that my heart broke for one of my children.
My sister and I had dropped in at my twins’ 2-year-old preschool class to spy on them through the one-way glass. Inside the classroom were tiny tots laughing and bustling around from activity to activity. In the middle of it all sat my son, not laughing, not bustling, but staring off at nothing in particular.
My insides felt as if they were slowly crumbling and I had to battle the urge to race into the classroom, scoop my child up into my arms and shield him from all of life’s hurts. Logic won out this time and I remained behind the glass, plastering a phony smile on my face so that my children wouldn’t see the hurt in my own eyes.
Thoughts began to swirl in my head: Do the other kids like my son? Are they kind to him? Does he feel like he fits in? Maybe I just need to chill and stop overanalyzing my children as I do myself!
Later I discovered that my son was the one who was considered “standoffish” (the teacher’s words, not mine). All of that worrying that had consumed me was useless. My child was essentially rejecting other kids, most likely out of shyness or lack of confidence in his ability to communicate clearly. Nevertheless, he was the rejectOR not the rejectEE.
This feeling of rejection is universal, isn’t it? Not a soul living in this world has ever had the good fortune to move through this existence without once feeling a sense of not belonging. Now that my twins are 4, I am fully aware that more and more, situations will arise in which they will feel left out.
So how do we help our kids navigate through these emotions? Vicki Hoefle has written an insightful article on the topic of peer rejection (http://vickihoefle.com/children-rejected-by-peers), and I’ve summarized some of her key points below:
Show faith. Kids need to know that we believe they will recover from the feelings of rejection, hurt and failure. Talk to them after one of these challenges arises. Listen to them. Empathize with them. I personally think that when parents share their own stories with their children, kids can feel less isolated in their emotions.
Support independence. This would be more of a proactive move than a reactive one. Vicki encourages parents to help their kids be self-sufficient so that they can develop the skills necessary to cope with rejection. Children who are overly dependent on their parents may not feel a sense of being in control of their lives and may lack the confidence to deal with everyday difficulties.
Model. Another terrific proactive move. I believe that kids are sometimes rejected by their peers when they behave aggressively. Vicki writes that much of the playground drama can mimic family dynamics, so by changing the way family members speak with one another, children can witness calmer alternatives to resolving conflict.
Now, please allow me to add a couple of “non-expert” opinions of my own:
• Watch your kid interact with peers. Is Sally a “close-talker” (old Seinfeld reference, anyone?) At a point in our lives, we don’t want other people to be up in our grill. I think this starts in childhood. Maybe Billy wipes boogers on other kids. Or maybe your child, like mine, is timid and doesn’t respond to others’ invitations to play. I don’t know about you, but if I were blown off over and over again by someone, I would simply stop making an effort. We as parents have a golden opportunity for a teaching moment when we observe our kids engage in one of these social no-no’s.
• Ask for feedback on your kid’s behavior from an adult who works with him. I recently led a group of boys at a one-week day camp who were 9 and 10. As is often the case, one kid became Odd Man Out despite my efforts to loop him in to conversations with his peers. He told his mother that he hated coming (no surprise to me), but I heard this from another leader after the fact.
Looking back on these sequence of events, I wish I had handled things differently. I wish that I had relayed the problem to either the boy or his mom.
This kid was acting flat-out bossy.
When it was time for the group to quiet down, this boy would shush everyone before the adults would. He would correct others when they botched a craft and would run to an adult immediately at the first sign of conflict with a peer. He always wanted to be the one chosen for, well, everything.
I had a delicate situation on my hands, but these are actions that can be addressed, more so than character flaws. Perhaps if he was told (in the kindest way possible of course) that he was acting like a bossy tattletale, he would have an aha moment and conduct himself like a friend instead of a narc.
The day after this camp ended, my children and I were at a playground having a little picnic. I watched a little boy, probably about 6 years old, tirelessly attempt to play with other children.
Unfortunately for this little guy, he was the youngest on the playground by far. I witnessed this boy move from kid to kid, trying to engage them. Although most of the dialogue was out of earshot, I could tell by the child’s body language what was taking place. This jovial boy’s shoulders began to slowly slump and he began to distance himself from these older kids. The optimism seemed to flow out of his body. He was being rejected. Repeatedly.
Then, something beautiful happened.
An older boy, likely just shy of hitting his teens, approached this dejected little guy. He asked him what his name was, complimented him on his cool shirt and essentially, made his day.
As the little boy’s mom called him to the car, she mouthed “thank you” to this exceptional young man.
Now most of the time, I keep to myself at the park. This time however, something compelled me to approach this boy. I had to tell him (in a non-creepy kind of way) that I had watched the whole interaction unfold with this little kid. How he lifted this boy’s spirits at a time when he needed it badly. How his simple acknowledgment put the wind back in his sails and patched up his bruised self-esteem. How he may not realize how much it means to a young child to merely be noticed. How witnessing his kindness made my day too.
So folks, there is still innate goodness out there and hope in this world for our children. Our job as parents to cultivate that goodness early on in all kids – ours and others. To build their confidence through encouraging independence. To be vigilant and aware of our children’s behavior in different circumstances and take advantage of the teaching moments.
Even though we can’t throw our arms around them and protect them from the challenges life hurls at them, we can do our part to prepare them.
What have you done to successfully combat peer rejection? What did you try that didn’t work?
Meet The Blogger: My name is Mary and originally from South Carolina. I met my husband, married him 6 years later acquiring a dream of a stepson (now 21), had boy and girl twins after 4 years and decided to say adios to my paying job. (I hope you’re not trying to do the math right now, because YES, I am no spring chicken!) With my children now 4 years old, I am still working at the most demanding but gratifying job I have ever had and WILL ever have.