Social rejection can feel very painful to tweens, probably because it attacks some core psychological needs. It's distressing to watch your child be socially rejected, especially when you feel like there's nothing you can do to help. There are, however, some steps you can take to help your child handle rejection.
Encourage Your Child to Reflect on The Rejection
Ostracism typically hurts at first; there's no getting around it. The initial pain of rejection often passes, however, once the child reflects on the situation. You can help your child handle rejection by encouraging this self-reflection. First, prompt your child to consider who has done the rejecting: was it a true, long-time friend or simply a catty acquaintance? Secondly, encourage your tween to consider why the rejection happened: did your child legitimately do something wrong, or are his peers just jealous of his intelligence or athletic skills? The next steps will depend upon the specific answers to these questions. Regardless of those answers, though, the mere act of reflection can help move the child beyond the initial pain of ostracism into a healthier mental space.
Bolster Your Child's Social Skills
Social rejection may occur for catty, superficial reasons or for reasons unrelated to your particular child. Other times, however, your child's poor social skills may be to blame. If this is the case, you might focus on teaching your child to better read social cues-such as when a person is trying to end a conversation or when someone is too busy to talk. You might also encourage your child to avoid oversharing personal information and to become a better reflective listener. You can teach these behaviors by modeling them yourself. You can also point out instances when your child acts less than socially desirable, while simultaneously praising him for the times he behaves well. Most kids who have experienced ostracism will be quite open to these lessons. In fact, studies show that kids tend to become naturally hypervigilant about social cues after being rejected.
Limit Your Child's Exposure to Painful Cues
While physical wounds heal rather quickly, the psychological pain of social rejection can be long lasting. This occurs because psychological pain can feel fresh each time the rejection is mentally relived, according to psychological studies. Cues that relate to the rejection can encourage such mental reliving. As a result, they should be avoided whenever possible. For instance, if you know the peers who ostracized your child were big fans of a certain music group, you might avoid discussing that group or playing their music when your child's in the car. You might also be careful not to ask questions about friends who were mutual to both your child and the peer who did the rejecting. Of course you cannot shield your child from all cues; if he was rejected at school, he'll almost certainly have to endure walking through those same doors every day. That said, each day that goes by and he's not further ostracized, the less the power of the rejection cues will be.
Consider Whether Your Child Needs Support For Depression
Kids who have a tendency toward depression are more likely to mentally relive social rejection than those who are not depressed. Therefore, take time to consider whether your child is showing or has shown signs of depression. If so, or if you're unsure, consult the mental health professional at your child's school and/or your child's doctor. If needed, a professional can help your tween change the way she processes social rejection. As a result, your child may be less likely to relive the pain of ostracism repeatedly.
Williams, Kipling D., and Nida, Steve A. Ostracism: Consequences and Coping. Current Directions in Psychological Science. 2011. 20(2): 71-75.