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How to Teach Your Toddler to Deal with Social Rejection

Don't Wanna Be Friends?

When our daughter started preschool last year, I was a tad apprehensive. After all, my little girl had only had me as a primary playmate for over two and a half years. Would she be shy around all the new faces? Would she have the right social skills? Turns out my fears were unfounded. Not only was she social enough, she was (and is) highly sociable. Reaching out to complete strangers, wanting to play with every child who so much so looked in her direction and really happy in the midst of her playgroup.

I was thrilled to say the least. However, it turns out that with sociable babies and toddlers comes the challenge of social rejection.

Not all her overtures for friendship are accepted, a group play date turns a sad affair because a couple of children refuse to play with her, a toddler she reaches out to in the park runs away screaming to his nanny. I can see that it hurts her and it breaks my heart when she turns around and asks me, “Mama, why doesn’t baby want to play with me?”

Honestly, I don’t know why. But here’s what I say and do and I guess, it helps. However, I’d love to hear about your experiences with this preschooler mom’s dilemma and how you deal with it, so please do share in the comments.

Make a Social Excuse

“Baby, that little boy is probably feeling shy and so we should give him some time on his own”, “Maybe Pria wants to play on her own today, we’ll come back another day.” Yes, I make social excuses for a toddler turning down my daughter’s friendliness. Is it right? I don’t know. But I do know that it makes her feel better and she is ready to practice her social skills with another child without a second thought. So, I do it.

Be Loving and Gentle

A warm hug, a tummy tickle or a big, sloppy kiss always cheers my daughter up. So, I follow the social excuse up with a big hug and kiss and she’s ready to go mingle again.

Allow Her to Express Her Feelings

She gets upset when a “friend” refuses to play with her or a child doesn’t react to her reaching out to them. I can see it and so, I usually ask her if she feels sad. Then, I have to remind myself to NOT say, “Don’t feel bad” and instead, say, “I understand. Mama felt sad too but {insert social excuse}.”

That’s about it. My simple strategy for helping our toddler develop stronger social skills while dealing with “friends” who don’t want to play with her.

As preschool season starts, what would you recommend doing to help sociable preschoolers deal with being turned down by a peer?

Photo Credit: Sabine van Vliet

Prerna


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Comments

  1. Oh dear, I wish I had that problem. My son (all of 34 months) is the other boy mentioned above, the one who ran to his nanny. His social behavior is so unpredictable, some days he’s the darling of the group; others, he wants to thrash everyone else and play by himself. I guess you can pass off such behavior as a ‘mood’ thing, but it does get embarrassing when he appears to be the meanest kid in the group :-(

    • The Mom Writes says:

      Hi Fab, thank you for sharing the other side of the coin, so to speak:-) I can surely understand how you, too, must feel. I guess toddler behavior is unpredictable and hence, one can’t do much about it.
      I’d love to, however, know whether there is anything else that I can do as a mom other than just “make up” an excuse. :-(

  2. Great topic. I love that you write “allow her to express her feelings.” It’s easy to forget that out little ones have a large array of emotions and tapping in to them gives parents a window in to what a child is experiencing and what they might be thinking. This alone can be the bright beginning of bonding and dialogue, trust and problem solving. Younger kids often need help to learn how to label feelings with words so your question of “does this make you sad” makes sense. As kids get older however, I like to let them fill in the blank with how they are feeling so that they are more autonomous in their thought.

    Sounds like your daughter has wonderful resiliency and adaptability around other kids. What great skills!

    • The Mom Writes says:

      Thank you, Keyuri! I agree, as adults, we often forget that our little one, too, has feelings. I am making a conscious attempt to acknowledge our daughter’s feelings and let her express them as positively as possible. Since I often wonder if I’m doing the right thing, I am really glad to hear that you agree with my approach. :-)

  3. Very good topic , Prema.

    My kid is a little older, 4 years and in his age group the social rejections are a little more harsh and state of rejection stays for a little longer now. Sometimes they could be mean too. I have tried the method you use, but it is not working as the kids are mature enough for logical reasoning and the situation gets complex many times

    Recently my boy stumbled over a lego buidling that his friend was building. The girl was upset and did not want to play with my son anymore. My son asks me , “why does she not talk to me anymore. I said sorry to her. I said I didnt mean to break it” …sometime I have the asnwers, like this one – “I understand. Imagine how you would have felt if she had broken yours, even by mistake. She is upset now. She has to build the whole thing again, so lets give her some space to do that. She will come and talk to you when done.” but I had to repeat this few times to get thru my 4 year old. Although he calmed down, he still walked around with his upset face for the entire evening.
    Anu recently posted..Once upon a time I was pregnant

    • The Mom Writes says:

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience, Anurooba. I can really relate to this. I agree, as kids grow older, it becomes even more difficult to explain the “rejection” to them but I guess, as parents, we can only be loving and gentle in our explanation and encourage them to still reach out and be friends wherever they can.

    • oops, sorry. Misspelt your name. ‘m’ looked like ‘rn’ when I typed :(
      Anu recently posted..Once upon a time I was pregnant

  4. Such a great post Prerna – sometimes kids surprise us with what we’re nervous about and what they figure out on their own. :-)
    Angela England (@AngEngland) recently posted..Unique Green Vegetables Everyone Should Try

    • The Mom Writes says:

      Thanks, Angela! SO thrilled to see you here. And yes, you are spot on – kids are a bundle of surprises. Strangely, these days, I find myself learning a lot from my toddler’s behavior. Yet another suprise! :-)

  5. thank you for this timely post. i was just wondering about this and if i was doing the right thing. my daughter is very social and just as you describe with yours. she starts preschool end of August and I do not fear her being anti-social but instead being the rejected one because she is very social. she is very polite, very upbeat, and a natural leader as kids are drawn to her. she is very good at rallying kids to her fun cause but there are times when kids want to do their own thing and that bright upbeat face can turn to a frown and heartbreak. i have been doing what you have been doing but I also tell her the blunt truth that not everyone will want to play with her and she has to respect other people’s feelings too. i do need to be better at acknowledging her feelings too and not just brushing them off half the time with the initial intent that me doing so would make her “toughen” up. she excels socially- i know i’m biased – and do not want the preschool kids to mess up her spirit but i also cannot keep her from the world.
    jennylou recently posted..Chantily Lace Earrings

  6. Very neatly written. I have a different issue though, I am a mother to twins and they turn three in two weeks. And my issue is that the both of them refuse to interact with other kids because they have each other for company! I have to coax them to play with other kids and interact with other kids at the park.

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