Children may run into issues with their peers even at a young age. If your child has struggled with peer rejection, check out the tips below on how to respond to them, and teach them what to do when they are in these situations. Also download the free tip sheet for talking with your child about peer rejection!
One afternoon after picking up my daughter from Pre-K, she began crying while telling me about her day. A new classmate had been shunning her, telling her that she would not be her friend, and stating that she would be the only one not invited to her birthday party.
Seeing my daughter hurting from the rejection of another child broke my heart and brought fears into my mind of her going through what I went through in school. I had a rough few years in middle school from being bullied. It shaped my personality and behavior for many years.
I became very quiet in public — afraid to speak up. I tried to blend into the background so that I would not be noticed. I hoped that if I did not draw attention to myself, then I would not become a target.
Though I do not consider this Pre-K incident a bullying situation, I want to begin now to teach her how to handle peer rejection, so she is not affected the way I was. I want her to know that she is not alone, and to teach her how to respond in this type of situation.
How I Responded
1. I empathized with her.
I told her that I understand how she feels because I have been in the same situation. I wanted her to know that she is not alone, that I want to know about what she’s going through and how she feels, and that I am there for her. I wanted her to feel safe telling me her problems because she knows that I will listen to her.
I needed to remind myself to see things from her perspective – something that may not be a big deal to me may be huge to her. I don’t want to tell her to just “brush it off” and end up preventing her from coming to me with her problems. I want to encourage her to talk about things and not bottle them up.
2. I talked with her about reasons children may act that way – and that it is not her fault.
We spoke about how sometimes a person can be angry about some other thing and take it out on those around them. For example, being the new kid at school and feeling insecure, having problems at home, being hurt over others treating them badly.
I let her know that it does not excuse the other child’s behavior.
However, I want her to be empathetic and forgiving. I gave her an example of a time that I had to ask her forgiveness for being snippy to her when I was mad about something unrelated.
3. I talked with her about how to respond when she is treated this way.
I told her that retaliating, saying hurtful things back, is not the way God wants her to respond.
“You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” – Matthew 5: 43-44
Instead of retaliating, I instructed her to tell the classmate, “It hurts my feelings when you say/do ___.” Then, if the child continues to say hurtful things, leave the situation and find a friend to play with.
Teaching More Empathy
My daughter and the new classmate had a few run-ins after this instance. The final incident resulted in both of the girls crying, and a teacher getting involved, making the girls talk it out. I was shocked to find out that two-five-year-olds, thanks to my daughter’s leading, actually listened to each other to work things out. But I’ve seen over and over that young children are quicker to forgive than adults. As an imperfect parent, I thank God that this is true!
In addition to instructing her on how to respond when a child is being mean to her, I saw this as a good teaching opportunity to put herself in someone else’s shoes – to make her think about how someone else would feel if this happened to them. I want her to be mindful of others’ feelings, so that:
- when things aren’t going her way, she’s not the one being hurtful to others, and
- when she sees another child who is being excluded, she will do something about it.
Now that she understands how it feels to be left out, she should not want others to feel this way.
Since then, we have talked about what to do when she sees a child who is alone, whether he or she is intentionally being excluded by others or is just too shy to join in. I want my daughter to learn to BE INCLUSIVE:
- If she is playing with a group of girls on the playground, and someone in the group is refusing to let another child join in, she should take up for that child. She can tell the group that there is always room for another friend. And if the group still refuses, leave the group and play with the one being left out.
- If she sees someone new to her class or someone on the playground who is alone, reach out to them. Start a conversation with them and invite them to play.
How we make friends
This is what I tell my children to do to make a new friend:
- Smile and say “hi.”
- Tell them your name.
- Ask them their name.
- Ask, “Would you like to play ___ with me?”
Teaching Inclusion and Empathy to Older Kids
Though these suggestions are geared toward elementary aged children, we all know that exclusion happens at all ages. I work with middle school aged girls at the church I attend, and when I talk to them about the importance of reaching out to those who are alone, I generally get one of these responses:
- “It’s hard to start a conversation with someone I don’t know.” (I totally understand.)
- “When I try to talk to them, they act like they don’t want to talk to me.”
I try to make them understand that a person who has been continually excluded or made fun of is expecting to be hurt. Therefore, they may be wary at any attempt to strike up a conversation with them. Be persistent! Smile and say “hi” every time you see that person. Learn their name! Do your best to make them feel like they are seen and are not alone. And if you struggle with confidence in approaching others, pray for courage!
Teaching From Experience
Because of my experience with being bullied, I came to believe that there was something wrong with me, that for some reason I was unlovable. Though I had put my faith in Christ when I was 8-years-old, I did not truly grasp that my identity and my worth was found in Him alone. I thank God that years later he broke those chains and set me free.
My hope is that my experience will help others. I want to teach my children and help equip other parents to teach their children how to respond to rejection and to reach out to those who are alone… To be the hands and feet of Christ.
My prayer is that you will know in your mind and heart that you are loved by God. I want you to know that your worth is not based on how you feel or what others say about you, but on who you are – a child of God, made in His image, made for a purpose.
I will praise You because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, and I know this very well. -Psalm 139:14
Live out His love by standing up for those who are hurting.
Originally published on Chaotic Life of Lauren.