My heart broke the other day when my 4-year-old shared that she was scared of going to school. I couldn’t understand why at first, because she has always seemed to love school. After further conversation, we figured out that she was afraid of kids being mean to her. Honestly, I was hoping this day would come later. It was something we needed to deal with now, as it was difficult to even get her to go to school. Her fear was being shown in her yelling and saying, “No, I don’t want to go to school!”. So, how do you help a child who is afraid or anxious about getting their feelings hurt at school?
According to Hargis (2018), “Enthusiasm for exploring social relationships is a running theme for 4-year-olds.” During this time, your child is developing social-emotional skills that are important for healthy relationships later on. One part of this is helping our children navigate conflicts with peers. As adults though, it’s important to recognize that a 4-year-old’s concept of a friend is different from ours. For them, it’s someone to play with. It’s also important to note that a 4-year-old may feel intense rejection if a friend unexpectedly wants to play with someone else.
And in the case of my daughter, I feel as if it’s a fear of social rejection rather than social anxiety. She’s always been one to jump in and talk to other children. She’s not an onlooker, as she always loves to join in on the play of others. Thus, this post will focus on how to handle children who fear social rejection or getting their feelings hurt.
Tips on How to Help a Young Child with Social Rejection
1. Talk to your Child
Our godparents were taking my daughter to school. They had expressed to us that she was yelling and refusing to go to school. However, once she got to school, she seemed ok. But, this pattern continued. I finally asked my daughter to sit with me, and I asked her “Why she didn’t want to go to school?” She replied that she was scared. It took a little more digging to figure out that she was scared of the “playground” and kids being mean to her. This told me she was fearful of social rejection.
2.Validate feelings and emotions
The next thing to do would be to validate her emotions. I told her, “I know you’re scared, and it’s ok to feel that way.” But, let’s work on making it better.
3. Talk to the Teacher about your Child’s Fears of Social Rejection
We called her teacher to express to her our daughter’s concerns. She was very open to keeping an eye on things. We told our daughter to go to her if someone is being mean or if she has a problem. Our daughter’s teacher was completely open to this, and now, my daughter has an ally.
4.Develop Other Friendships
I thought it’d be important for our daughter to develop friendships in other settings. Thus, we decided to enroll her in a swim lesson program that involved a group of kids. This will allow her to develop more confidence in developing relationships with others. An added bonus, of course, is that she enjoys swimming and she is also learning a new skill (which further increases her self-esteem!).
5.Discuss Other Problem Solving Strategies for Handling Fears of Social Rejection
During my discussion with my daughter, I asked her “What can you do if someone is being mean to you?”
Her response was to find another person to play with, which is a great answer and way to solve the problem. It’s also important to address and validate their sense of anxiety and fear that may come from those situations. For example, I talked to her about how she’s made good friends in the past (even when she was scared at first), so she can do this again. It may also be helpful to discuss what she did to make friends with her, so she understands that she can use that strategy again with other kids. For example, it may be a matter of only asking other kids to play.
Final Thoughts on How to Help a Young Child with Social Rejection
These types of fears are normal at this age. Thus, as parents, we can help our children handle these fears by validating their feelings and by helping them problem solve how to handle these situations. It’s also important to help them develop a growth mindset, which is related to resilience. It’s the idea that they get up and they keep trying.
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Hargis, A. (2018). Toddler discipline for every age and stage: Effective strategies to tame tantrums, overcome challenges, and help your child grow. Rockridge Press: Emeryville, CA.