If your child struggles to make friends, that hurts. It hurts you, who wants the world to appreciate what a great person your child is. And it hurts your child, who may give up trying to fit in and retreat into his shell. What causes a child to be rejected by other kids?
Children who are rejected send out different signals than other kids do. Rejected kids tend to be more aggressive or more shy than other kids, or less able to pick up play cues from others. Sometimes it’s hard to identify just what it is that sets rejected kids apart.
But rejection matters. It can become a way of life and a defining theme in a child’s school experience. Preschoolers who are rejected become elementary school students who are rejected and then become high school students who never fit in. Rejection has been linked with poor school performance, depression, and violent acting-out.
If you are the parent of a rejected child, what other kids do is usually beyond your control. Trying to stage manage your child’s social life can backfire. No one picks a friend because her mother wants it. Your child has to build her friendship skills so she can be an attractive friend all on her own. How can you help her fit in?
First, help your child celebrate herself. The child who is happy, confident and curious is the kid others want to be with. Develop your child’s interests for their own sake (not with an eye to increasing her popularity) and friends will find him interesting too.
Second, cultivate your child’s social skills. Help him know how to invite others to play, how to accommodate others’ ideas, and when to assert himself. Find a play group or team or club and use it as your child’s practice place. If you have trouble seeing what your child does that gets him rejected, ask his teacher for her ideas.
The friendless child may need help in these areas:
- How to strike up a conversation and keep the conversation going with other kids.
- How to listen to someone else. If your child talks on and on and never listens, that’s a problem.
- How to pick up on what other kids are interested in. Your child may be fascinated by fire trucks, but if other kids his age are interested in dinosaurs or NASCAR, then help him develop those interests too.
- How to engage in physical play appropriately. Help your shy child feel confident playing kickball or Twister. But notice if your child is physically intimidating instead and help her learn how to dial down her interactions.
- How to speak loudly enough to be heard… and, at the same time, how to speak without shouting or ordering other kids around.
- How to pick up on jokes and verbal silliness. Kids with poor social skills make not “get” the jokes. Help your child by practicing this sort of interaction.
Observe your child and see where he might need the most assistance. Then work on these skills with your child every day and make sure he has opportunities to practice. You can even role-play different situations. The shy child might find it easier to practice being a friend with younger kids, who aren’t so intimidating.
And finally, make sure your own ideas of popularity are reasonable. Remember that your child is worthy and valuable no matter how many friends she has.
© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.