Rejected Children and How to Help Them

Girl being teased by other girls
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A "rejected child" is someone who is strongly disliked by his 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.

Two Types of Rejected Children

Rejected children may be aggressive or withdrawn.

In either case, adults must take time to determine whether behaviors related to rejection were 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Rejected children also tend to act withdrawn, quiet and unhappy. In many cases, such children are socially awkward or "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. Parents of children with developmental or physical challenges, or for whom language or cultural barriers may be an issue, can help their children prepare for social interaction.

Coaching, peer buddies, social skills classes, and other techniques can help children prepare for social engagement in a school setting.

Parents can also help their children to avoid rejection by working with them on problem behaviors that could cause problems. Such behaviors may include thumb sucking, nose picking, blurting, attention grabbing or bragging, interrupting, etc.  Other issues to look out for include 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 is 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. Important steps will include:

  1. helping your child to become aware of and extinguish bothersome behaviors
  2. teaching your child how to ask and answer questions, share the floor, and bring up topics of common interest
  3. working with your child to determine his strengths and interests, and then building on those strengths through engagement in afterschool or community programs.

    Related terms: average child, controversial children, popular children, neglected child, sociometric status


    Furman, Wyndol, McDunn, Christine, and Young, Brennan. The Role of Peer and Romantic Relationships in Adolescent Affective Development. In N. B. Allen & L. Sheeber (Eds.) Adolescent emotional development and the emergence of depressive disorders. 2008. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

    Wentzel, Kathryn R., & Asher, Steven R. The Academic Lives of Neglected, Rejected, Popular, and Controversial Children. Child Development. 1995. 66:754-763.

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