How to Help Your Toddler with Being Shunned

Children are brutally honest. It is the blessing of childhood. It is all cute when their honesty is directed at someone else, but terrible when directed at you. It becomes significantly more brutal when directed at your child. It feels like the moment in Mortal Combat when Scorpion delivers his signature tag line “Finish him,” and delivers the final fatal blow.

I had an experience with my daughter when she was about 3 years old at a play ground. My older child is a very gentle, sensitive and playful soul. When she sees other children, all she wants to do is play. There were two little girls who looked about 5 years old. She lingered around them, but I could see them trying to get away from her. Finally, one said, “We don’t want to play with you.”

My daughter looked at me with the saddest eyes and burst into tears. My heart and soul aches so much because I could not fix it. I was helpless and there was nothing I could do. All my experience in childcare could not prepare me for the moment when my flesh and blood would be shunned and there was nothing I could do.

This is a moment every parent will experience at some point in their child’s life. They worst part is when they’re very young, you can’t explain it away, but there are things you can do to help your toddler deal with being shunned.

Validate their feelings

As you would with adults, it is important to validate your child/children’s feelings. Too often as adults, we seem to forget that children have as complex feelings as we do and minimize their responses to a stressful situation. This is especially harder during this pandemic with emotions in overdrive. So often before, I found myself quickly saying “It’s okay,” but it’s really not okay. Don’t be quick to minimize their hurt through bypassing. Rather, simply welcome them with open arms and empathize with your child. Respond with something like, “I know that hurt your feelings.”

Give comfort

Be a safe space for your child. As parents, I know we have our own issues going on, and that can often cloud how we respond. This pandemic can the reservoir of even the most patience parent. Feeling like you have nothing more to give to your child is so understandable, but it is so important to tap in at these moments. Your child will need you after such an experience and many more, so be a source of comfort.

Don’t feel tempted to fix things

As parents, we can be so tempted to fix things for our children. Don’t fall into the temptation. Ask your child if they’re able to verbalize or you missed the moment when it happened. The best thing is to just talk it through and give them a chance to express themselves to the best of their ability, even when they might sound incoherent. Help them sort through these feelings.

Make a decision

When all the crying has been subdued, allow your child to decide the next steps. Whether it is to get back out there to play and find more willing playmates, take a moment, or leave. Giving your child a sense of control is super important. As a nanny, I can’t tell you how many times I would see a pep in the step of a little one who feels he decides the next steps, rather than being forced or pushed into a decision to go back out there. It’s a scary world, even on the playground.

Keep teaching social cues

And last but nit least, continue teaching your child about social cues. It is such a hard thing for young children who simply just want to play and make a friends, but as they get older, they will understand. Teach them how to identify the persons who are willing play, and respecting the boundaries of those who don’t. Teach your child to walk away when someone doesn’t want to play. There will always be someone who wants to play with your child. Take comfort in that.

These simple guidelines are great in building a child’s self esteem and also help build the foundation for any healthy relationships.

(Photo: Arwan Sutanto)

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