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Child Behavior: Peer rejection, and how you can help your child

Addressing social crisis through the lens of peer rejection

Peer rejection

To be rejected by peers is a painful experience for both the children as well as for their parents. 

It’s difficult to keep track of the reports of school shootings or other forms of violence — all perpetrated by adolescents or young men — as they have become all too frequent occurrences in the news recently.

What are the roots of this type of wanton violence that is becoming all too common among the young today?

Warning signs

Last year I was asked by a local school district to help them identify potential at-risk students. They asked me for the specific warning signs, hoping that if found early could prevent violent school tragedies from reoccurring.

Unfortunately there is no simplistic profile. The reasons why some young people resort to this type of tragic violence are complex and not often easy to pinpoint.

Researchers and professionals have blamed many potential or possible sources of violence and antisocial behavior: availability of guns, violence in movies or the media, faults in the family structure as well as faults in the personality of the perpetrators, and still others feel the schools are at fault.

This month’s column will attempt to address this social crisis through the lens of a different potential catalyst: peer rejection.

READ MORE: The most common issues teens are facing today

Peer rejection

I have known and worked professionally with many troubled children and adolescents, and for many of them peer rejection has been a painful part of their development. Although peer rejection does not cause most young people to get a gun and go on a homicidal rampage, it does seem to be part of the troubled profile for many children and adolescents who exhibit problem, often aggressive, behavior. To be rejected by peers is a painful experience for both the children as well as for their parents.

Importance of peers

Friends provide so much to a child, especially in late childhood and adolescence. Peers provide partners for practicing existing social skills and trying out new ones. Peers contribute to a child’s sense of identity. If no one likes them or wants to play with them, their sense of personal value is diminished.

Peers provide feedback for their behavior, ideas, and they help each other make sense of their lives. Peers teach each other how to resolve conflict appropriately. They learn, if you want someone to play with, you need to learn to share, wait your turn, and be a good listener.

Numerous research studies have also demonstrated that popular children achieve at higher levels in school, have higher self esteem, are happier in school, exhibit few behavior problems and have a better attendance record. It’s noted that this peer interaction should be encouraged to take place in person — not through technology and the many devices and sites that offer pseudo relationships.

Social skills

The single most cited behavior that creates peer rejection is aggression. There are many ways of handling aggression in childhood. Just teaching a child the basic etiquette of starting and maintaining a conversation and teaching listening skills has shown to be helpful.

Practicing conflict resolution by presenting a child hypothetical childhood conflict situations and practicing solving them, as well as teaching a child to see another child’s possible point of view when conflict arises, is another technique that can enhance social skills.


Peer-rejection will typically diminish self-esteem, however, getting your child involved in an activity that he can find success with can help to reverse the process of diminishing self-esteem.

Peer rejection is a painful part of their lives for some children, and can often have life-long consequences. However, if it is recognized and remediated early it can be corrected and a child can enjoy what all children need to grow up to be competent social adults — friends!

Paul Schwartz, PhD., is a professor of psychology and education at Mount Saint Mary College.

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