Every child has at least some worry about the possibility — if not the experience — of being left out by the group or rejected by a former best friend. In early elementary school, leaders may be secure for a week, a month, or two months, and then that too changes. Often, to avoid being rejected themselves, kids can be disloyal and mean in public to a supposedly good friend. No child is guaranteed continuing social success.
When to Respond
Some adults view childhood as a carefree time, having forgotten their own early uncertainty about being socially accepted and having loyal friends. In fact, indifference to social matters at this age is worrisome. The elementary- or middle-school age child who is a willing loner is out of synch with expected behavior. The more typical child, rather than being carefree, is painfully aware of the importance of social acceptance, popularity, and having and keeping friends.
We have learned from research studies of children that being accepted though largely ignored is not as painful as being openly disliked. Early social outcasts probably face more problems down the road. Children who are consistently rejected by their peers at this age are most likely to drop out of school in adolescence. And being truly friendless is at least as much cause for concern as persistent academic or learning problems.
But avoid worrying about your children's social success or failure on any given day or week. Unless social isolation is longstanding and persistent, it doesn't warrant great concern. Children this age will have their "in" days and "out" days, disputes with good friends, and temporary partings. They also may forget yesterday's social successes when one thing goes wrong today.
How to Respond
You can help by:
- Providing consistently loving support.
- Appreciating the pain caused by even a temporary social failure.
- Befriending the teacher and planning together how to help the child who feels left out.
- Patching up an imperiled friendship by talking calmly and warmly to both children.
The teacher can tell you which kids seem to work and play well with your child, so that you can arrange playdates after school. Teachers can also guide you toward after-school activities that encourage friendships, both new and old. Parents and teachers can share observations about children's social strengths and weaknesses.