A rejected child is one whom peers choose not to play with, usually because he doesn’t get along with them, picks fights, shows off, cheats, or looks weird. Rejected children lack friendship-making skills, and for this reason never learn how to be a friend, relate to other children, or fit in with a group.
- Supervise younger children’s play activities. A few incidents of grabbing, pushing, or hitting can earn a child a bad reputation which may be hard for him to shake.
- Incorporate a social skills program into your curriculum. Important skills for children to learn are (a) communicating–relating to peers and adults in a positive way, and listening; (b) making friends–saying “hello” and “good-bye,” asking for and giving information, and including peers in activities; (c) giving and receiving positive feedback–smiling and complimenting, helping, sharing, cooperating, accepting responsibility, complying and refusing requests, and being affectionate.
- Talk about what makes a child popular or unpopular. Let the children come up with their own criteria, as well as examples of how children manifest their traits.
- Discuss different types of groups that emerge among children. In some groups smartness counts, while in others athletic ability is important. Encourage children not to get upset if one group rejects them, but to find a group which they fit in with; or learn the skills they need to fit in with the group they want. Being good at sports is usually an in with most peer groups. Outstanding athletes are seldom rejected by their peers. You can help children develop their athletic ability by exposing them to a number of sports, and encouraging them to practise the ones they have some natural ability in.
- Talk to children about moods and how people sometimes act in ways they don’t normally act, because they are sick, tired, or have had a disagreement with someone else. Help children recognize people’s moods, so they do not take it personally when someone is in a bad mood, and assume it’s because they did something wrong.
- Make a Feelings Thermometer to help children pinpoint what situations make them feel at ease, squirmy, or like running away. This also demonstrates to children that what they find uncomfortable another child might find challenging or no big deal.
- Show films of children playing well together, cooperating, respecting each other, and showing consideration for each other’s feeling. Studies have shown that watching positive peer models encourages children to act the same way.
- Observe the child to pinpoint what he does that bugs other children. Use this information to help the child realize his part in creating negative peer interactions.
- Ask the child to play games with other children so he can (a) learn pro-active rather than confrontational solutions to problems; (b) try out his solutions and find out which ones work and don’t work; (c) think about what makes a game fun and not fun to play; and (d) learn how to get along with other children by following rules, taking turns, asking questions, and using cooperative words like “may I?” “please,” and “thank you”.
- Build up the child’s self-confidence by asking him to do important jobs such as tutoring a younger child, working audiovisual equipment, distributing snacks, or refereeing games. This gives him the courage to try making friends and face possible rejection.
- Pair a rejected child with a popular peer. The peer’s popularity will rub off on the rejected child. Gradually he will become more acceptable to peers, learn better ways of interacting with other children, and feel happier about himself.
Some studies have shown that pairing a rejected child with a well-adjusted child one year younger works better than pairing same-aged children, because rejected children typically are behind in their social maturity (Furman, Rahe, & Hartup, 1977).
- Find out about community clubs the child can sign up for such as 4-H, Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs, Brownies, and Boy Scouts. Another idea is a pen pal club. For children who have developed a bad reputation at school, community activities give them a chance to have a fresh start at making friends. Some community organizations also have special chapters for learning disabled or socially immature children.