How to Help a Child Who Is Dealing With Rejection

Girl being teased by other girls

Kevin Dodge / Blend Images / Getty Images

As you wait in the after-school pickup line, you notice your child sitting alone at the edge of the yard. Other children gather in groups and the sounds of chatting and laughter bubble up from their circles. You worry whether something went wrong today—but then you remember seeing your child alone at the last pick-up too.

The day before that, you watched your child for a while, without them knowing you were there. You saw them skirting up to the edge of a group of their peers. The kids didn't do anything outwardly aggressive, but from what you could see, they turned away, not acknowledging your child or inviting them into the group.

A lump forms in your throat as your begin to realize that your child may be feeling rejected at school.

Rejection takes on many appearances. Some children are left out seemingly all the time, while others suffer from intermittent exclusion.

Either way, the sting of rejection can hurt a lot. Studies show that social rejection activates some of the same areas in the brain as physical pain. "Being excluded in peer group activities...[can] cultivate a feeling of unworthiness in children," says Sam Nabil, a licensed counselor with over 20 years experience and the CEO and lead therapist of Naya Clinics. "Being shamed or criticized for their choices and interests [can] also make children think that there's something wrong with them."

Rejection can be very cruel, and you may feel helpless about how to help your child cope. The truth is, you have a lot of power when it comes to helping your child deal with rejection and maintaining their self-esteem. You should not feel like you can't make a difference, but you should be mindful about exactly how you intervene.

What Can Parents Do to Help?

There are a few things you can do to help your child if they are experiencing rejection.

Listen, But Don't Solve

When you learn that your child has been excluded or bullied at school, it's natural to want to help right away. First, however, be sure to address your child's feelings and support them by allowing them to feel what they feel–without immediately trying to solve it.

Instead, validate your child's feelings. This helps them accept and begin to work through their emotional struggles. Simply listening and validating can make your child feel better.

"Many parents and guardians have an instinctive need to protect their kids from being hurt in every sense," notes Nabil. "It's better to teach kids to deal with their emotions in a healthy way by acknowledging their hurt. This...helps kids become emotionally resilient."

Help Your Child Identify Their Feelings

Kids may need help identifying their feelings, which is important for coping. Help your child name their feelings and let them talk about their experience.

"Children who are constantly rejected...[can] develop trauma responses that either make them reserved for fear of rejection, or always seeking approval to obtain acceptance," explains Nabil. "This is why it becomes the adult's job to help the child define exactly what they feel."

Connect With Personal Stories

Maybe you know how your child feels because of your own experiences in school. Strengthen your connection by sharing this with them. Knowing that they are not alone can help them feel better about what's happening. It can also help them problem-solve if you share how you coped and what worked.

Offer Supportive Advice

If your child asks for help, or if you have already listened and empathized and want to do something more, talk with them about what they can do differently going forward. Discuss their emotional experience and offer guidance.

"In a friend group, parents can talk to their child about what true friendship looks like and empathize with their feelings of loss, but also encourage them to seek out new 'true' friendships with others that will accept them," says Richelle Whittaker, LSSP, LPC-S, an educational psychologist, parenting advisor, and maternal mental health expert.

Inform Other Adults

If rejection is more than a one-time thing, it's best to inform your child's teacher. This does not mean that you need to blame the teacher or insist that they get involved in every circumstance, but it's a good idea to keep them in the loop.

This information can help teachers understand why a child who is feeling rejected might act a certain way. They may be able to make small adjustments in the classroom, such as choosing not to partner your child with certain students, or by teaching lessons on kindness to the whole class.

Getting Involved or Taking a Back Seat

When it comes to rejection, there are times to step back and let your child handle it, and there are times when you need to get involved.

"Parents should step back when their child communicates that they can handle it on their own," says Dr. Whittaker. "Allowing your child to handle their own situations can build resilience and confidence."

But, if your child experiences rejection over and over, it can have a lasting negative impact on them, so it's important to protect them from severe emotional damage. "When the situation becomes toxic and unhealthy for the child, it's time for parents to step in," says Dr. Whittaker.

Helping Kids Learn From Rejection

In many cases, kids have an opportunity to learn from rejection. Talking with your child in a supportive and guiding way can help turn a bad experience into something educational.

Children who have been excluded may learn to be more inclusive to others, because they know how it feels to be left out. But, without adult support, children may instead conclude that bullying makes them stronger, and they may join in on rejecting others so it doesn't happen to them instead. Guided conversations with a trusted adult may help them come to the conclusion that kindness always wins.

A Word From Verywell

Rejection is never easy, regardless of its form. And watching your child be rejected by other kids can be a painful experience.

It's important to take time to listen and validate your child's feelings before jumping in to fix the situation, and if your kid tells you that they have it under control themselves, consider giving them a chance to problem-solve on their own.

At the same time, it's always a good idea to keep an open dialogue with your child so you can make informed decisions about whether to intervene by contacting their school. And be sure to maintain the conversation at home so that your child knows that bullying is never the answer. If you have any concerns about your child's mental, emotional, or behavioral health, please reach out to their pediatrician or healthcare provider.

4 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. Lynn Mulvey K, Boswell C, Zheng J. Causes and consequences of social exclusion and peer rejection among children and adolescentsRep Emot Behav Disord Youth. 2017;17(3):71-75. PMID: 30100820

  2. Floyd FJ, Olsen DL. Family-peer linkages for children with intellectual disability and children with learning disabilities. J Appl Dev Psychol. 2017;52:203-211. doi:10.1016/j.appdev.2017.08.001

  3. Edmond SN, Keefe FJ. Validating pain communication: current state of the science. Pain. 2015;156(2):215-219. doi: 10.1097/01.j.pain.0000460301.18207.c2.

  4. Wolke D, Lereya ST. Long-term effects of bullying. Arch Dis Child. 2015;100(9):879-885. doi: 10.1136/archdischild-2014-306667.

By Elisa Cinelli
Elisa is a well-known parenting writer who is passionate about providing research-based content to help parents make the best decisions for their families. She has written for well-known sites including POPSUGAR Family and Scary Mommy, among others.