How to Identify and Help a Socially Rejected Child

Girl being teased by other girls
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A "rejected child" is a child who is left out and disliked by his or her peers. Rejected children are one of the five types of sociometric, or peer, statuses, a system for categorizing a child's social standing based on peer responses to that child. Some peers may like a rejected child to an extent, but the child is rarely if ever, identified as anyone's best friend.

Rejected Children Tend to Exhibit Certain Behaviors

Rejected children are often either aggressive or anxious and withdrawn. In either case, adults must take time to determine whether the behaviors related to rejection are the cause of the rejection—or the result. 

Aggressive rejected children often use physical, verbal, and/or social aggression against their peers. Some or all of this aggressive behavior may stem from an initial instance of peer rejection. Unfortunately, though, the aggression itself then sparks continued and prolonged rejection.

Rejected children may also act withdrawn, quiet, and unhappy. In many cases, such children are socially awkward or perceived as "different." Such issues may be the result of a developmental disorder. Autism, ADHD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, social anxiety, or depression can all lead to unusual or disturbing behaviors. Differentness may also result from physical issues such as deafness, blindness, cerebral palsy, etc. In addition, differences in behavior and language use may simply result from a child coming from a culture or ethnicity that is different from that of the majority of children in a particular school.

Avoiding Rejection

Some children with existing and unavoidable personal differences have such impressive social skills that the differences become irrelevant. This, however, is rarely the case. If your child has developmental or physical challenges, or language or cultural barriers, you can help him or her prepare for social interaction. Coaching, peer buddies, social skills classes, and other techniques can help your child prepare for social engagement in a school setting.

Work on Problem Behaviors

You can also help your child avoid rejection by working with him or her on problem behaviors that could cause problems. Such behaviors may include:

  • Thumb sucking
  • Nose picking
  • Blurting out thoughts or answers
  • Attention-grabbing or bragging
  • Interrupting
  • Social unawareness, which can result in an insistence upon discussing the same topics over and over again; changing the subject to a favored topic; becoming too physically close to another child; touching other children or oneself, etc.

Overcoming Rejection

To help your child overcome rejection, it's important to understand its causes. Once you fully understand—through your child's reports, teacher conferences, and observation—what is causing the problem, you can begin to address it in the following ways:

  • Help your child to become aware of and work on extinguishing bothersome behaviors.
  • When you see your child exhibiting socially positive behavior, praise him or her and explain how and why the behavior was good.
  • Teach your child how to ask and answer questions, share the floor, and bring up topics of common interest.
  • Work with your child to determine his or her strengths and interests, and then build on those strengths through engagement in afterschool or community programs. Confidence-building activities like martial arts can be particularly helpful.
  • Talk to your child about how close friendships are far more valuable than being popular and help them learn to strengthen the potential friendship(s) they have.
  • Listen to your child when he or she is feeling rejected. Knowing he or she has unconditional love and support at home can go a long way in boosting confidence.
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