Helping a Lonely or Rejected Child

By Lawrence J. Cohen, Ph.D

When a child comes home and says, "no one likes me" or "everyone hates me," it can be hard for a parent to tell the difference between temporary exclusion versus ongoing rejection.

Before you intervene in your child’s social difficulties, ask yourself some questions about your own history.
Where did you stand in the group in terms of popularity? What were your friendships like at that age? Do you and your child have different temperaments when it comes to socializing?

Ask teachers, friends and other parents what they see when they observe your child interacting with peers or classmates.

Provide a variety of group opportunities.
Church groups, scouts, drama club, sports teams – these all provide an alternative to school as a place for a child to make friends and gain acceptance.

Don’t go back to school yourself!
Resist the temptation to march onto the playground and yell at the big kids for picking on your child. Resist the urge to gossip about other moms in the parking lot after school.

Always intervene if one child is being made a scapegoat or being ostracized by the group.
Help that child learn how to fit in and, more importantly, help the group be more empathic and kind.

Give shy children a gentle push to try new social challenges.
They need lots of support and encouragement, while at the same time being pushed out of their "comfort zone." If a child is shy but would like to make a friend, it can help to invite over a classmate and the classmate’s parents; the kids will find the adults boring and, eventually, go off to play together.

Teach socially awkward children basic skills for getting along, such as how to guess what other people are feeling, how to join a group and how to make friends.

For more age-specific advice on understanding and dealing with kids and their relationship issues, read Loner or Alone? How Parents Can Help Children with Friendship Issues

Lawrence J. Cohen, Ph.D., is a psychologist who specializes in children’s play and play therapy, and the author of numerous books on child development.

From United Parenting Publications, March 2004.