Proven Strategies to Help Your Tween Manage Social Rejection

Teenage girls (14-15) on sofa,three girls talking,one looking away
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It can be stressful to watch your tween face rejection. While you want to protect your child, it is also important to give them the tools to handle social rejection on their own. Above all, don't belittle or brush off your child's sadness. Scientific research shows that the experience of social rejection is strongly similar to that of physical pain. They both hurt, so be gentle.

1. Encourage Your Child to Reflect on the Rejection

Social rejection can feel very painful to tweens, probably because it attacks some core psychological needs at this developmental stage. The initial pain of rejection often passes, however, once the child reflects on the situation. Help your child handle rejection by encouraging this self-reflection. Your child might consider two questions:

  • Who rejected your tween? Was it a true, long-time friend, or an acquaintance?
  • What happened? Did your child legitimately do something wrong, or are peers maliciously singling your child out?

The next steps will depend upon the specific answers to these questions. But even regardless of the answers, the mere act of reflection can help your tween move beyond the initial pain of ostracism into a healthier mental space.

2. Teach the Difference Between Constructive Criticism and Verbal Abuse

Because tweens have a strong need to be socially accepted, they can be sensitive to disapproval or criticism even when it is warranted. Talk to your child about constructive criticism and how it differs from verbal abuse. Explain the importance of identifying intent to harm or intent to help.

Suggest that tweens respond to comments that feel hurtful with questions: "Why did you say that?" "What do you mean by that?" "How are you trying to help me?" These clarifying questions can help them be more understanding of criticism that is meant to be constructive.

Also talk about what verbal abuse looks like. It can include mocking, public shaming, and even the silent treatment.

3. Bolster Your Child's Social Skills

Social rejection may occur for reasons unrelated to your child. Other times, however, your child's poor social skills may be to blame. If this is the case, help your child learn 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's actions are not socially desirable, as well as praise the times they behave well. Most kids who have experienced ostracism will be quite open to these lessons. In fact, research, such as this 2015 study, shows that kids tend to become more vigilant about social cues after being rejected.

4. 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. So avoid them 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 is in the car. Of course, you cannot shield your tween from all cues; if they were rejected at school, they will almost certainly have to walk through those doors every day. That said, each day that goes by without further ostracism, the less the power of the rejection cues will be.

Pet Pain Relief

Just thinking about a cat or a dog, even if it's not your own pet, can provide comfort after social rejection, according to a study published in 2016. Bring on the cute puppy pictures if your tween is feeling blue.

5. Consider Counseling or Other Forms of Support

Consider whether your child is showing or has shown signs of depression. If you're not sure whether your tween's moodiness is normal, consult your family doctor or a mental health professional. Schedule a counseling session if you are concerned. A professional can help your tween change the way they process social rejection. As a result, your child may be less likely to relive the pain of ostracism repeatedly. 

Also find ways to support your child's social development by supporting their aspirations to attend events with friends, host get-togethers, or learn a new skill. Most importantly, be present and available to your child during this sensitive time in their development. If you can keep them talking, you've won half the battle.

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