Whether you wore the coveted Prom Queen crown (back in the '80s
or '90s, of course) or reigned superior in the role of wallflower,
chances are you have felt the blow of being burned, hurt or
rejected by fellow classmates and friends at least once (more
likely, a dozen times) as a child or teenager.
According to clinical psychologist Alana G. Baum, Ph.D.,
being rejected is a perfectly normal-albeit difficult and often
heartbreaking-experience of growing up. This is fine and good, and
it even makes sense from our mature and adult
But when your child is in the moment and feeling as though
her world will never look bright and happy again ... well, not so
"It's extremely hard to watch your child suffer or cry
into her pillow at night," says Baum. "It's our job as parents to
bear the pain, but also to put those feelings into perspective. We
have to take the long view and have a little faith in the
resilience of our kids."
After all, we know that even though we'd love it to be,
life isn't very fair. There will be exclusions from parties and
betrayals by friends; there will be sports teams that your child
doesn't make-even if she deserves to.
Here's how you can work with your child to make things
right when she's been wronged:
You can imagine (or have experienced) it: Your child comes
home from school in a stinky mood. You ask her why, and she ignores
you at first and then snaps at you. Finally, she admits to having a
rotten day because Susie didn't ask her to the join the slumber
party fun for Friday night. You see the pain in her eyes; you too
feel a pang of sadness-for her rejection.
This is a pivotal moment, explains Baum. "Usually, if we
can manage our own anxiety about these rejections, we can be more
helpful to our kids. As tempting as it is to say, 'Susie isn't
worth it' or 'Susie is just jealous and that's why she didn't
include you,' avoid this approach. These are not helpful statements
because when your child is in pain, saying things like this either
makes her feel dismissed or guilty-silly even-about feeling
Instead, try to talk through her feelings, helping her to
make sense of what she's experiencing. For example, you could say,
"I know you are sad, and I can understand why you would be upset
that Susie didn't include you because you really wanted her to and
it would have been a fun party."
Hug her, hold her and allow her to be sad. Don't throw her
a pity party to replace the slumber party, but do validate her
disappointment and hurt.
Because no child is perfect and you've probably witnessed
(or overheard) your own child hurting or excluding another child at
some point, it's important to use your child's feelings of
rejection as teachable moments.
"I always tell my kids to treat others as they would like to be
treated because what goes around comes around, and in order to be
treated with respect and kindness, you need to give it out too,"
explains Beth Rosenberg, mom to three kids in Chicago's Lincoln
The next time your son is bummed that he was chosen last
for dodgeball, talk with him about another time when he
maybe-accidentally or intentionally-made his pal feel left out or
unwanted. It's often most beneficial to see things from the
perspective of another when you are in that role.
So while kids will be kids and often do unfriendly things,
we can use hard times to encourage awareness.
When you were pregnant, your doctor likely warned you to
avoid stress, saying it's bad for the baby. (At the time, you
probably wondered how the baby would know if you felt anxious.)
According to Baum, our children can read our emotions, feelings and
perspectives from our faces, as well as our energy and
"To the extent that they see alarm in our faces, distress,
anger or futile attempts to remedy the situation, it can make the
situation worse, not better," he says.
Social worker Laura Heller Gradman, of Chicago, agrees:
Parents must be careful to avoid transferring their own feelings of
insecurity onto their kids. An overblown reaction can make a small
problem seem much bigger, thus making the child feel even worse.
Some kids just need a parent to listen. Others want suggestions.
Still others want nothing to do with you. Children need to know one
thing: that their parents are there for them.
Emily Feldman recently learned that her 7-year-old
daughter, Ellie, was not invited to a party, even though the
majority of her friends were. When her daughter told Feldman about
the exclusion, Feldman was extremely upset that the birthday girl's
mother did not insist she invite Ellie, as they've known each other
for many years and are in the same class at school. But Ellie
seemed unaffected by the rejection. It was, rather, her mom who was
hurt the most. Rather than showing her daughter these feelings, she
followed Ellie's lead in assuming a laid-back role regarding the
party. In the end, that made for an easier, smoother
We all know that rejection is not just relegated to
childhood. Adults experience it, too, says Gradman. So be sure to
deal with your own feelings of, or experiences with, rejection in
the right way so your child can learn to do the same.
"Rejection is a part of life," she says, "and how you
learn to deal with it is what builds strength and character." For
this reason, it's excellent, and beneficial, to share your
experiences. Your child will feel better knowing you have been
there too-and survived it. It's perfectly fine to share stories
about your own feelings of rejection and how you handled those
"Your child will feel less isolated, and you will become
more related to them," says Gradman.
There's a fine line between being involved and
over-involved, mothering vs. smothering. That said, when rejection
comes from your child's friend, it may be helpful to speak with the
"rejector's" parent if you trust that he/she can be an ally in the
situation, says Baum.
"Rarely is there one side to your child's story and
getting information from another supportive parent can often help
to address the problem."
Ignoring the issue or allowing your child to work through
it alone is not always the answer. Trust your gut and parenting
instincts. Baum stresses that while all children suffer rejection
and experience normal social pain, chronic rejection puts some
children at risk. These children typically have a hard time making
and keeping friends, so they are more vulnerable to chronic
rejection and feel more isolated when rejection occurs.
In these situations, it is important that parents be
honest with themselves about their child's isolation and
loneliness. Often parents feel pained but also helpless to change
their child's predicament, so they don't act. Or they act out by
getting angry with their child for not fitting in. Both the
non-response and the blaming are destructive.
Instead, parents of these children need to start having
conversations with teachers (who see firsthand what is transpiring)
and school staff about making necessary changes.
Amy Gottstein of Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood had to
advocate for her son recently, calling the teacher after she
witnessed him being bullied by another child on the
"Although it was hard to pick up the phone and make the
call," she says, "the end result was a more peaceful, happier
school setting for my child. And that is what matters the
Robin Immerman Gruen is a Chicago freelance writer and mom of two.
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