7 Tips for Helping Kids Deal With Being Ostracized

upset girl with her arms crossed while two girls gossip behind her

 Peter Dazeley / The Image Bank / Getty Images

Often, people picture bullying as a face-to-face conflict. They envision bullies pushing, shoving, and possibly hitting others. Maybe they imagine a child being called names and made fun of. But there is also another more subtle form of bullying called relational aggression.

With this type of bullying, kids often socially reject, exclude, or ostracize other children. This type of bullying becomes more and more evident as kids get into middle school and junior high. It is even commonplace in the workplace. Dealing with this type of bullying can be a challenge for kids, but parents can help.

Overview

Being excluded causes a lot of pain, especially at a time when peer relationships are so important. Not only do socially rejected kids suffer emotionally, but they also can suffer academically. And if a child grows into an adult feeling worthless, rejected, or less valued than others, this can cause all sorts of mental health issues. 

Although you cannot prevent your child from being ostracized, there are things you can do to help if it does happen. Here are seven ways you can help your child cope with being excluded at school.

Validate Your Child's Feelings

When your child opens up about their experiences, make sure they feel safe sharing with you. Avoid overreacting or calling those excluding your child names. Also, do your best not to inadvertently shame your child for being ostracized.

Avoid saying anything that could be interpreted that they should be different somehow or should try harder to be liked. Instead, focus on listening and empathizing with how they are feeling. Communicate that no one deserves to be excluded and emphasize that they have a lot to offer the world.

Also, be sure your child can identify the difference between unkind behavior and bullying. Sometimes when kids are excluded, it’s not intentionally meant to harm them. And even though it hurts to be left out, it does happen. This is especially true for things like birthday parties or sleepovers when only so many kids can be included. So, unless your child is a close friend of the child hosting the event, they might not be invited.

Help your child determine if the kids at school were making a deliberate effort to exclude them or if they were just left off the guest list without malice. Regardless of which situation your child experienced, do not minimize their hurt feelings. Both experiences may be painful and may need to be dealt with.

Empower Your Child

Emphasize that your child has no control over what other people say or do, but they can control how they respond. Work with them to come up with ideas on how to handle the situation and overcome bullying. The goal is for them to not feel helpless, but instead feel empowered with different options and ways of reacting, such as focusing on other friends or social outlets.

Also, while honoring their hurt feelings is crucial, aim to help them avoid embracing victim thinking. Yes, what they experienced may be unfair, cruel, and/or painful, but it does not mean that they have to remain a victim of this behavior. Empower your child to move beyond this situation so that it does not define who they are. 

Do Not Fix Things

When appropriate, resist the urge to automatically take over the situation, no matter how much you want to. Give advice but listen to what your child thinks first. Give them a chance to handle the issue rather than jumping in right away to "fix" it yourself.

Remember that these issues are all unique. Different approaches and levels of parental involvement will work better in different situations. So, you will need to follow your gut on how involved you should be.

For example, unless you know the parents of the kids doing the excluding well, it may not be helpful to call them. But if you are good friends with the parents, it may be worthwhile to have a conversation about what's going on. Either way, aim to let your child decide how they want to handle the situation. Show them that you trust their decisions. Doing so will go a long way in rebuilding self-esteem. It also helps to build assertiveness, autonomy, and strength.

Most importantly, aim to be there for backup should they need it. Guide them in how to overcome the situation, but let them take the lead. Your child needs your support, your listening ear, and your empathy, but they need to be empowered, too. Let them know you have their back, but that you also believe in their ability to address this situation, if it is appropriate for them to do so. 

However, depending on the specific circumstances and your child's age, temperament, and any social-emotional-developmental issues, you may need to step in. Evaluate the severity of the bullying, how well equipped (or not) your child is to deal with it, and what the relevant adults involved (such as teachers, coaches, or other parents) may be able to do to help.

You know your child and their needs best, so if you think you should get involved, then consider doing so. Just be sure to also include your child and aim to only get involved to the level that is needed.

Help Your Child Make Friends

Having a variety of healthy friendships is one of the best ways to prevent bullying. Having at least one friend will give a child a sense of belonging and positive self-worth, which can go a long way in reducing the impact of being rejected at school by other kids. In fact, studies show that childhood friendships can have a lasting protective impact on mental health in the short term and on into adulthood.

Look for ways you can help your child develop friendships.

Encourage them to make friends at school, at church, on sports teams, and in other activities they're interested in. Remind them that the people excluding them are not the only potential friends out there. Instead of focusing on what those people are doing, your child can look for ways to invite new people into their life. They may feel a lot better about their situation if they have other friends to focus on besides the kids who are ostracizing them.

Encourage Activities

When your children are involved in extracurricular activities, whether it’s sports, yearbook staff, a church group, or a reading club, they have an opportunity to make new friends and build self-confidence. Outside activities also give kids the opportunity to release tension, develop creativity, and blow off steam. Do not underestimate the importance of getting kids involved in activities outside of school.

What's more, when kids are busy with activities, they are able to be around peers and socialize. The need for social media also decreases because they have face-to-face contact with others. Additionally, there is a lesser risk of cyberbullying and other unhealthy online behaviors because their free time is more productive.

Improve Your Child’s Social Skills

Often, when a child is ostracized it’s the result of other kids being mean or oblivious. But sometimes kids are excluded, in part, because they are lacking proper social skills. This does not in any way mean your child is to blame for being excluded. The bullies are still responsible for their behavior. However, social awkwardness on your child's part may play a role in exacerbating the issue.

But you can help prevent future incidents by helping your child hone their social skills. Also, help your child develop the traits needed to cope with bullying, such as self-advocacy, stress reduction techniques, and putting things in perspective. By doing so, you also will be instilling healthy habits and traits that will benefit your child indefinitely.

Consider Outside Help

Being socially rejected can affect your child in a number of ways including negatively impacting self-esteem. As a result, it is a good idea to get outside help. A pediatrician or a counselor can assess your tween or teen for depression as well as screen for thoughts of suicide. Even if your child appears fine to you, it never hurts to get a second opinion and it will let your child know that you take their well-being very seriously.

If you or your child are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

It also may help your child to have someone to talk to besides a parent. Outside counselors can be more objective and less emotionally involved. As a result, they may be able to offer tips and suggestions that you did not consider. Counseling also can empower your child to take back the control in their life.

A Word From Verywell

Remember, being rejected feels lousy. In fact, some research says it can hurt as much as physical injury. So, be careful not to minimize how your child is feeling. Listen and empathize with what they have to say. Offer patience, encouragement, and unconditional love. With a little help and guidance from you, your child can learn and grow from this situation and come away feeling empowered. 

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Raskauskas J, Stoltz AD. Identifying and intervening in relational aggression. J Sch Nurs. 2004;20(4):209-15. doi:10.1177/10598405040200040501

  2. White LO, Klein AM, von Klitzing K, et al. Putting ostracism into perspective: Young children tell more mentalistic stories after exclusion, but not when anxiousFront Psychol. 2016;7:1926. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01926

  3. Committee on the Biological and Psychosocial Effects of Peer Victimization: Lessons for Bullying Prevention; Board on Children, Youth, and Families; Committee on Law and Justice; Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education; Health and Medicine Division; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Consequences of bullying behavior. In: Rivara F, Le Menestrel S, eds. Preventing Bullying Through Science, Policy, and Practice. National Academies Press (US), 2016.

  4. Smart Richman L, Leary MR. Reactions to discrimination, stigmatization, ostracism, and other forms of interpersonal rejection: a multimotive modelPsychol Rev. 2009;116(2):365–383. doi:10.1037/a0015250

  5. Johnson SL, Leedom LJ, Muhtadie L. The dominance behavioral system and psychopathology: evidence from self-report, observational, and biological studiesPsychol Bull. 2012;138(4):692–743. doi:10.1037/a0027503

  6. Sakyi KS, Surkan PJ, Fombonne E, Chollet A, Melchior M. Childhood friendships and psychological difficulties in young adulthood: an 18-year follow-up studyEur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2015;24(7):815-826. doi:10.1007/s00787-014-0626-8

  7. Maunder R, Monks CP. Friendships in middle childhood: Links to peer and school identification, and general self-worthBr J Dev Psychol. 2019;37(2):211-229. doi:10.1111/bjdp.12268

  8. Gómez-Ortiz O, Romera EM, Ortega-Ruiz R, Del Rey R. Parenting practices as risk or preventive factors for adolescent involvement in cyberbullying: Contribution of children and parent genderInt J Environ Res Public Health. 2018;15(12):2664. doi:10.3390/ijerph15122664

  9. Beck-Little R, Catton G. Child and adolescent suicide in the United States: A population at risk. J Emerg Nurs. 2011;37(6):587-9. doi:10.1016/j.jen.2011.07.018

  10. Fairburn CG, Cooper Z. Therapist competence, therapy quality, and therapist trainingBehav Res Ther. 2011;49(6-7):373–378. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2011.03.005

  11. Freedman G, Williams KD, Beer JS. Softening the blow of social exclusion: The responsive theory of social exclusionFront Psychol. 2016;7:1570. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01570