It is heartbreaking when your child tells you that their friends do not like them. However you know your child is extremely sensitive to rejection or any signs of disapproval. You can see that they are hurting and crying out for help. What can you do.
The first time this happens can be very distressing for you both but it is often a recurring outcome from lunchtime play at school. Sensitive children may take many years to build their understanding and resilience but setting up some strategies for both yourself and your child will build their strength and provide a valuable place from which to set things right.
The hurt is real and it is important that it is acknowledged. By being sympathetic and listening to and encouraging them to express their feelings about their friends will make it far more likely that they will be willing to share in the future.
In their hurt, children are most likely to catastrophise the situation as they retell what happened and it would be wise not to jump straight into the conclusion that the other children are bullying or being extremely mean.
Do we claim ‘bullying’ too quickly and too often these days. The word is everywhere but we sometimes forget what is usually meant when we refer to bullying. It was originally defined by a Norwegian developmental psychologist and researcher, Dan Olweus, as being an aggressive behavior that was intentional, repetitive and perpetrated by someone more powerful than the victim.
Every teacher will have witnessed an incident, particularly in the play ground, when one child has been left out as their group of friends run off to continue play elsewhere. The child left is often the quieter or more sensitive one. A child unfazed by this change of plan will simply follow and push back in.
So what happened: “They ran away from me”; “Jane looked at me in a bad way and ran away with them”; ‘They didn’t let me play with them”.
To get to the nub of the incident it can be best to leave a little time between your sympathetic listening and a more forensic investigation as to what really happened.
– So did your child see or hear it correctly? Gently tease it out.
– Would your friend really want to hurt you?
– Did your friend really look at you badly or was she looking to see if you were going to follow?
Calmly talking through what your child believed happened ( even if you are seething inside) and gently questioning will ensure that the incident is kept in proportion. All children can be thoughtless and not understand how to be socially kind to others. Helping your child to think through the incident is important. Give them little prompts to think about so they can slowly master their fear of rejection and replace it with appropriate actions.
Encourage your child to stay within the group and not on the outer where they miss the social cues or ever-changing plans and power play of the group. This is extremely hard for shy children, but still, to be encouraged and practised.
Organise a play date with one of the friends to ensure that your child has one-to-one time to share experiences and deepen the relationship. This will give your child more confidence to approach that friend within the group of children.
If your child does believe that they might has done something to upset the group, encourage them next time to go back and ask why they won’t let them play. This takes practice and courage. Reassure your child that everyone messes up at some time and the others will soon forget.
If incidents continue, often leaving your child out of play and distressed, then the best way to go is to approach the teacher and ask for some support. Much can be done in quietly buddying up children in the playground or ensuring that more suitable partners are chosen for classroom work.