I used to have a parent who would come down frequently to meet me regarding her child’s relationship with her peers. Most of the time, she believed that her daughter’s peers were ill-treating her and ostracising her on purpose. After observing and interviewing her peers, I realised that her child was adopting some strategies (which she had perceived to be the best ways),such as criticising her peers’ work, to gain their attention. She did not realise she was really putting them off. It was brought to her mother’s attention and soon, with support and encouragement, the child managed to have some close friends from class. 

Children, without realising, can be rather mean to each other. A research found that these mean actions range from physical abuse to plain ignoring of a peer. While scientists have found that children who are disliked by their peers are more likely to be rejected; cruel rejection can also take place between children who consider themselves best friends.

Factors that lead Children to do Mean Things

When children do mean things to each other, it is really a mix of factors that contribute to this issue. Such factors include:

  • impulsivity
  • immature problem-solving skills
  • difficulty managing of emotions
  • limited perspective taking
  • group think
  • experimentation (What happens if I act this way…)

Science research also suggests if a child respond to it appropriately, it can help to make the situation better or worse.


RELATED: When Your Child has Trouble Making Friends


Why  Your Child’s Response Matter

Children, like adults, tend to respond differently to rejection. Some of them use humour to diffuse the situation. Others may ignore. There are also those who become very revengeful and obsess with hurting the person who they perceive had hurt them badly ( it is more of the ego has taken a beating). Those who whine and plead would face further rejection and may even become a likely target for bullying. Finally, there are those who request to be shamed further as a desperate attempt to win friends. One particular example that comes to mind was a case I encountered when a child asked others to continue throwing things at him when he was mocked as that was the only social interaction he had.

While there are cases where children are victims through no fault on their own, most cases of bullying are derived when children play a role in eliciting rejection. While this does not justify meanness, it helps to teach your child to be less of  target for rejection. The key is to find out how did they contribute to the issue.

When Moving Schools May not Help

Scientists conducted an experiment when they identified three 10 year old children in a playgroup who were generally disliked and placed them in another group with strangers. They would meet up weekly for six weeks. Unsurprisingly, three sessions were all it took for them to be disliked again as the second group had the same perceptions as the first one. The issue was these children were oblivious to their social issues and did not work on improving them!


RELATED: When Your Child Mistakes an Audience for Friends


Boys Vs Girls

Naturally, boys and girls tend to be disliked due to different things. Below are some differences that contribute to their issues:

When boys are rejected by peers, they may be:

  • hostile and aggressive
  • shy
  • withdrawn
  • uncooperative
  • unhygienic
  • behave immaturely

When girls are rejected by peers, they may be:

  • bossy
  • express more negative emotions
  • talk more about breaking rules
  • indirect aggressive by spreading rumours or convince others not to like someone (may start as early as preschool!)
  • poorer conflict resolution skills

Sometimes, as proactive parents, we tend to jump in quickly to save your child from bullying. Yet, sometimes, it might be better take a step back and listen to his/her peers to find out what is wrong without judging. Only then, you are doing yourself a great favour by not being a helicopter parent but a greater favour to your child by intervening appropriately.