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When a Child Feels Left Out or Lonely

— U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Updated on Oct 21, 2008

Most children at some point in their lives experience being excluded from a party or suddenly being ignored by friends. Being rejected or repeatedly ignored are painful for a child. As a parent, what can you do to help your child deal with exclusion from a group or social event? Here are some ideas:

Be there to listen to your child with acceptance and compassion.

Too often children learn from peers and adults to ignore or discount their own feelings. They may think there's nothing you, as their parent, can do to help them.1

Help your child maintain his self-esteem in the face of this emotional blow.

You don't want him to take on the mindset of victim, however. Reminding him of all of the unique and wonderful parts of his personality can be a big help. Make a point of spending more time with him than usual; your emotional support and belief in him can be very helpful at this time. Encourage him always to be himself and not try to fit in by trying to be exactly like everyone else.2

Help your child problem solve about why she was rejected.

Was it because she doesn't wear clothes with designer labels? In this case, does she want to continue being friends with kids who use clothes to measure a person's value? Or, if it was a party invitation, did the rejection come about simply because the party giver was limited to inviting a small number of guests? As a parent, you need to walk a fine line by taking seriously all that you child says while not blowing the incident out of proportion, thereby encouraging her to feel victimized. Help her to feel empowered to deal with this incident on her own. And let her make her own decision about how to handle it.

Help your child think about how to handle this rejection in positive ways.

Maybe it can provide an opportunity to get to know other classmates who seem interesting. Find other outlets for his talents and emotions; these could include volunteer work at a local elementary's after-school program or lessons for something he's always wanted to learn such as cartoon drawing or fishing—anything that brings him positive feedback and reinforcement through relationships with others outside his circle of friends. It can also help children to read stories about how other kids have handled rejection. (See suggested books under Additional Resources.)

Continue to monitor school and social life.

While encouraging your child to solve this problem on his own, you want to. If the experience of being shunned or excluded continues or escalates into overt bullying, do not downplay the situation. At that point, it's time to contact school authorities to protect your child's emotional and physical safety.3

Sources

1 Emotional Honesty: School The Greatest Teen Taboo, last referenced 11/25/2002.

2 Teen Advice Online: Fitting In-It's Not a Popularity Thing, last referenced 11/25/2002.

3 Emotional Honesty: School Responsibility for Assisting Students Who Are Bullied, last referenced 11/25/2002.

Additional Resources
  • KidsHealth: Bullying and Your Child
  • KidsHelp: School
  • Katz, J. (2000). Geeks. New York: Villard Books.
  • Covington, D. (1991). Lizard. New York: Delacorte Press.
  • Lynch, C. (1995). Slot Machine. New York: HarperCollins.
  • Hamilton, V. (1993). The Planet of Junior Brown. New York: Aladdin Books.
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