A normally joyful girl leaves preschool happy then immediately succumbs to tears in the car when asked how her day was.
‘Today the kids were laughing at me, but I WASN’T being funny!’
Hugs, encouragement and more questions reveal that several children laughed while pointing at her in line.
Her feelings were hurt. My heart hurt.
I told her how sorry I was. We talked about possible reasons they laughed – maybe they weren’t laughing at her.
We discussed what to do if it happened again – ask them why they are laughing, and if needed, tell them she doesn’t like what they are doing and please stop. Then if needed, find an adult to help.
She calmed down and didn’t bring it up again until dinner. This time she told the story differently. She decided someone else must have been funny. We may never know for sure, but for now, she’s not hanging onto it.
Phew. Crisis averted.
But maybe not?
The thing is, this is not the first time she’s been upset after school. Several other afternoons she sadly told me no one would let her play with them. Further questioning revealed that in those instances she did play with one or two other kids, but not in the group.
Initially, my husband and I figured it was the result of little misunderstandings. But the repetition and escalation of hurt feelings made us decide to ask her teacher about it.
The next class day, I spoke to her teacher. Our concern was well received. Apparently the kids often play in groups with one or two ‘leaders’ who like to direct play during free time. She explained our daughter is easy-going and often bounces between groups. She does often play one-on-one outside of the group. They had not observed her being upset or any direct exclusion but agreed to be watchful going forward.
I felt heard, and we had a plan – I felt relieved.
Then, a child still in the hallway looked directly at our daughter and declared,
‘Hey! You’re NOT my friend!’
Thankfully, our daughter was not paying attention. She was busy entertaining her baby sister, so we quickly left. I was so grateful to hear the child’s shocked mom intervene behind us. I am certain she addressed it well.
Now I was the one choking back tears in the car. All those other sad moments were validated with five powerful words.
I feel deep sadness that at the age of just three, we need to teach our child how to deal with rejection.
Truthfully, I’m not sure why the age surprises me so much – I’ve heard our kids say things like ‘you can’t play with me’ to each other and to other kids before. No age is too young for other kids to try to exclude another – they are testing boundaries. We address it and move on. I think what saddens me most is that it seems to be happening to our daughter repeatedly and is causing increasing hurt.
Rejection is a feeling most adults can identify with – we’ve all felt rejected to a varying degree. We have adjusted our behaviors and internalized feelings in positive or negative ways after feeling rejected – whether deserved or not.
Regardless of the cause, rejection leaves a stinging wound – one I am sad our children will experience.
We can’t prevent it, but we can proactively EQUIP them to cope with it. Over the past week, I’ve been pondering and praying how to do that. Another day I’ll flush these ideas out – for now they are best summed up by these three main points:
- Encourage kids to share their feelings about circumstances and relationships with us – whether those moments were joyful, hurtful, concerning, confusing, or exciting. We WANT to listen, validate, comfort, encourage and help.
- Our words and actions matter. Knowing what it feels like to be hurt helps us remember not to treat others that way. Teach our kids to be kind, defend others if they can, and be quick to apologize and then change their behavior if they cause another to be hurt.
- Instill and confirm who they really are – to us, and to God. This experience confirms that no age is too young to start. They need to know these truths about WHO they are deep in their hearts:
- WHO made them – and who HE is
- HOW loved they are – by us and by God
- No person determines your value – only God
- Jesus knows about rejection and offers comfort and understanding