Tuesday Topic: Coping With Rejection by Peers

I didn’t manage to post a Tuesday Topic last week and I missed hearing all of you share your great thoughts and encouraging words. This week’s question is from Gwen who wrote,

I would love to hear some discussion about how to deal with other children’s perceptions (and, often, rejection) of our special needs kids.

My school-aged children have lingering orphanage behaviours, and we often see these behaviours alienate our children from their peers.  When they gorge their school lunches in front of classmates, or when they are confronted with a triggering situation and emotionally regress into preschool behaviours, their friends are confused and uncomfortable.

Although there were dozens of play date invitations for my children when they first joined our family, we have watched all these invitations dwindle away to nothing.  My children never get invited to parties or play dates anymore, and the other kids think that they’re “weird,” and shun them.  It’s not that their peers are deliberately being unkind, but my children’s behaviours can be very off-putting, and are understandably embarrassing for their peers to watch.

My kids notice, of course, and they want to know why this is happening.  While I understand the reasoning of these other kids and their parents, I don’t know how to talk to my kids about this in a way that doesn’t hurt their fragile self-esteem.

Please take a moment to leave a comment or encouraging word for Gwen. I would love to hear your thoughts.

If you have a  Tuesday Topic you would like me to share, please email it to me at lisa@onethankfulmom.com and put “Tuesday Topic” in the subject line.

Encourage one another,

Lisa

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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.

32 Comments

  1. Julie Blair Pitts
    May 14, 2013

    Oh my goodness. I can soooo relate to this!! My sweet boy, who is 8 1/2, has this same issue. He has not been invited to a birthday party in years. No sleepovers or playdates unless they are literally forced upon him by me (because I need help, so my neighbor, whose son is also adopted internaitonally, watches him for me and they "play" together). At baseball camp, he became overwhelmed, and while waiting in line to learn how to bunt, he decided to lie flat on the floor with his batting helmet literally stuck to his knee.

    Reply
  2. Julie Blair Pitts
    May 14, 2013

    He was called weird that day by his peers, who then tried to engage him in a fight. He was SO.CLOSE.TO.LETTING.GO. (I fear that fury in his heart the day he lets it out on another kid, because he is bigger and stronger than others his age). The other thing–my boy was not in an orphanage–he was in a Guatemalan foster home, supposedly. Now, I wonder that he might have been in an orphanage, and they just sent the same lady twice with him so it appeared that she was his foster mother…

    Reply
  3. Julie Blair Pitts
    May 14, 2013

    …this breaks my heart at so many levels. That said, here's how I handle it: When he did the lying on the floor thing during baseball camp (and he is naturally talented player, btw), and said his friend called him weird, I asked him why he thought that he was called that. He did not know. I asked him if any other boy had decided to lie on the floor, and he said no. I told him that to that boy, and probably many others, that LOOKED weird to them. I told him that if he is in line, it is best to stay in line and not lie down on the floor (fyi: inside baseball camp in Iowa in April).

    Reply
  4. Julie Blair Pitts
    May 14, 2013

    I also reiterated that he is NOT a weird child, but sometimes, his actions may look different to other kids who do not do those things. I have encouraged him to try and make friends with boys, particularly, because he tends to favor making friends with girls, and has already made one girl uncomfortable b/c he was practically stalking her. So…he goes for friendships with boys whose home lives are less-than-desirable. Of course. So then we have to discuss that. My goal this summer is to have him in as many sports camps as possible to build his confidence, keep structure for him, and to invite some of the neighbor boys over when we can to try and help him build confidence in how to develop social skills.

    Reply
  5. Julie Blair Pitts
    May 14, 2013

    I hate this period in his life, as he will be entering 3rd grade in the Fall (Lord willing), and this is when boys tend to separate–the strong from the weak. I fear he is perceived as weak. Yet–there are boys in his class that will stand up for him–I've seen it. He is sweet. He is a sweet, kind-hearted boy from an extremely hard place. And I am right there with you, Gwen. I am there, next to you. Do you see me???? I'm waving with both hands holding white flags. Here's the kicker: we lived in Georgia until he was four, and had to return to Iowa with my husband's job. Last week, he told me he wanted to move back to Georgia (when we left, he had LOTS of friends). I asked why–and he said it was more like home to him, and that he had better friends there…and that he could make new ones. I cried a lot that day. For his brokenness that is soo unnecessary.

    Reply
  6. Julie Blair Pitts
    May 14, 2013

    His bio sister, adopted into the US as well, has often said that she would rather just be friends with dogs, because they don't judget and aren't mean. She just turned 10, and also struggles as he does. My heart aches for both of them. 🙁

    Reply
  7. Jennifer Litz Seivert
    May 14, 2013

    Wow I can so relate to this topic. We don't have orphanage behaviors but those lingering from early neglect and trauma in their birth home plus complications from in utero exposure to harmful substances resulting in outbursts of aggression or other socially unacceptable behaviors. The first year home, we had birthday parties to attend more than once a month and would have play dates at the park weekly with other school mates. But as the children have gotten older, aggressiveness is no longer tolerated by others, other families don't want to be involved with us. It makes our world even more lonely when others don't understand and quite frankly, the children sometimes act out more due to their frustration at not being included. We have done role play with puppets to try and teach better responses when triggered in social situations, but so far, the lizard brain is winning more than 90% of the time. Hopefully more practice and maturity will help them in the future.

    Reply
  8. gwenmj
    May 14, 2013

    As these issues cannot always be dealt with quickly, I understand your heartbreak. We have had a few things work….
    1. We try to find a family with peers who understand and can help their children understand. Often, it means that you need to work at building a friendship with this family by arranging "family" playdates but it has been successful for us.
    2. We have found some older children who may have more understanding. These children can understand more. They can do mutually fun things together and can help the children see sociably typcial behaviour.
    3. We have put our son in groups with other "like" children for some activities. Not "behavaiour" groups but groups of children with social delays. These children typically love unconditionally . He made a few fast friends. The parents also are very loving cause they want their kids to play too.

    We also help our children by reading social stories and role play. It is a lot of work and we have seen some success with lots of repetition. We also find edifying books to build their self esteem as they go through some peer neglect.

    Children are resilient and we often view their hardships harder than they do. The love they receive from you is more than they have seen in their short life time. Hang on, love deeply and remember their will be a time some people accept your children and love them as much as you do!

    Reply
  9. Shari
    May 14, 2013

    I think as a society we have the training of self-esteem backwards…or perhaps as Christians we live in a backwards kingdom. My daughter was rejected by her classmates because of her behaviors (a perfectly normal reaction considering her circumstances) and I used it as an opportunity to teach her that her behaviors were not thinking of others first. We talked about how the rejection of her peers was wrong and Christs way in dealing with rejection was to press in and love those who were rejecting her. She wasn't really able to "press in" to love them, but she did begin to see how her attitudes were "not thinking of others first." She was able to come to a place where she checked her attitudes for the sake of others. It took a LONG time of teaching this, maturity, coming to Christ and relying on the holy spirit for her to do this. Sadly, even after her attitudes and behaviors changed there was no forgiveness or restoration by her peers and she needed to forgive them too. Today, she is so joyful and has a passion for the lost and for those who are rejected. We teach self-esteem by teaching our children to respect and honor others.

    Reply
  10. Julie Blair Pitts
    May 14, 2013

    Painfully timely, Lisa.

    Reply
  11. Tom Vanderwell
    May 14, 2013

    It will be interesting to see what people say as we are currently living that with one of our kids…..

    Reply
  12. Sue
    May 14, 2013

    I hear you. We lack friends. One of our adopted sons has cerebral palsy and that's even more awkward. In 3 years home he's had one invitation, but the parents of the birthday child did not realize he was disabled and so it didn't go well. I am afraid to throw a party for him and have no one show up, so we just have a family birthday celebration. We joined a support group and that's helping some. I wonder if there are any in your area. I did not realize how isolating this journey would be either. I will pray for the both of us this morning.

    Reply
  13. Carrie
    May 14, 2013

    Gwen brings up a good topic. In the 5 and 3 years our 3 kiddos have been home we have lived and continue to live the scenario she spoke of with her kiddos.
    It is an interesting place to parent when it comes to social cues, fear based trigger behavior and ELL all swirled together in one large pot.
    For us, adopting older kids, we knew we would run into the natural response of peers and adults to talk to and treat our kids based off of how old they look. Fully understanding that people would not understand the complexities of a child with the birth age of 14, the street smarts of a 21yr old, the emotional security of a newborn, the academic level of a 1st grader and the social skills built and developed in an orphanage setting. (Often survival of the fittest)
    Knowing the average peer, adult and teacher wouldn't need to know the details of all the colors of paint that make up our child's canvas up to this point, we became good detectives on the look out for the "one in one hundred " people who had a heart to accept our kiddos just the way they are and be excited when there was growth or no growth.
    It's been five years, with alot of hurt feelings we have had to navigate, mostly on my part as the parent. (my kids tend to be more resilient than me when it comes to looking past hurtful situations in public)
    Looking back I can see that we were intentional about finding the "one" family, one school friend, even one older sibling that loved unconditionally. Each of our 3 now have one place where they can be the beautiful people they are freely without fear.
    Unfortunately those places are all different and school isn't one of them for one of my kiddos.
    For this kiddo they need to be at school for the depth of the special services they receive that I can't provide without alot of private pay if I chose to homeschool. Through A LOT of creative advocating and working with the district we have worked out a schedule that is very individual and specific to decrease peer interaction. The staff, and teachers are STELLAR… But peer interaction are unstable and unpredictable for triggers so we got creative. Can I say I'm THANKFUL!!!! Yes! We all know that felt safety grows over intentional time. Our hope and goal is that more and more will be able to be added as the years go by.
    The Lord heard our plea, cries and angry shouts over the years for "just one Lord… Just one person/friend " that we could grow a safe connection with so our kids could play, learn Social skills, coping strategies, food safety and work through triggers without judgement.
    Bottom line … Our kids don't get multiple different invites to the roller rink, the swimming pool and Friday after school play dates. BUT each one has one connection to a friend who has a SUPER parent involved who sees the gift of life, love and play and provides an educated safe place for our kids to go.
    For now We spend MOST of our family time creating "fully present" relationships knowing that as time goes by our very amazing kids will gain skills needed for their overall growth and safety to gain a broader connection relationally in the world outside.
    Here's to ALL the families who are standing WITH Atheir kids fighting against their histories instead of fighting against the behaviors caused by their history!! It's a hard battle but soooooo worth it!

    Reply
    1. Sonya Hillrich
      May 14, 2013

      love this…praying for "one connection to a friend who has a super parent involved"
      thanks for the tip!

      Reply
  14. Bobbie
    May 14, 2013

    Have you considered signing your kid up for a social skills class or starting a Friendship Circle at their school? Does your kid have a particular interest, one that you can sign him up (e.g. soccer, lego, art, whatever) for a class in, to introduce him to a *different* set of kids than his classmates? Could you invite a the classmates whole family over for dinner or brunch, to let the kids/families play in a less-pressured situation (and where you can be nearby to intervene if necessary)?

    Relationships are reciprocal (traumatized or not; special needs or not) and sometimes there's just too much water under the bridge for your kid to have anything beyond a cordial relationship with some of his classmates — and you could always *gasp* be honest about it when your kid inquires about why he doesn't have friends/playdates: "perhaps if you stopped throwing a tantrum like a 3 yr old when your quiz team loses, your classmates would be more open to having you on their team", "I'm very proud of you for having NOT stolen Bobby's lunch for six weeks… but you spent *two years* stealing his lunch at least twice a week. He's required to be (and is) polite to you — but he's entitled to dislike you" and "You cut Susie with a protractor 2 yrs ago badly enough to require six stitches – she's STILL scared of you. She's entitled to be scared of you. Perhaps you could consider playing with [classmates you haven't eve physically assaulted] at recess instead?".

    The last one actually happened to my daughter in second grade — by a classmate, B, with RAD + alphabet soup other diagnoses. B's been stable for the last year or so, but my kid is still very, very wary of him. And I can't blame her. I require her to be polite to B — as this stops the world from descending into anarchy — but i cannot and will not make her like him. Every couple of months, I get a heartbreaking call from B's mom, asking why my kid is nice to B but declines all playdates with him (and tell her the truth. I mean really. Her kid STABBED mine).

    As such, I'd advise parents of special/traumatized kids who are shunned by classmates to consider if their PreciousDarlingAngelFace kid has done anything to make their classmates dislike them.

    Reply
  15. Natalie T.
    May 14, 2013

    I could just cry about this topic because its on my heart right now as I see time and time again this happen to my babies. My girl gets no invites to the 4th grade girls things, no memo in the everyone wear the same shoes day, no party or even sleep overs (even if we won't let her). The food issue is severe where sometimes school kids get food "missing" from lunch boxes (they know it was taken by her) as well and so I think it may be a trust issue with her peers. Her "mood" is off and so i know its hard for them to relate to her. She is also very akward and well I can understand why …but oh it hurts. . I think it would not as much if I knew it didn't effect them but it does. To be honest some parts of feel like beacuse my kids are older that there is such a mystery of what they have been exposed to, so in order to keep their kids safe they avoid the temptation. Even if we have not had any strange and questionable inappropriate situations I still assure my "weary" friends that I never let the kids play behind doors of even out of sight. We have noticed a huge decrease in our social life, no invites to dinners, it's changed and its hard to not take it personal for my kiddos.

    It does make a huge difference to have play dates with other adoptive families. I don't feel like I need to explain every outburst every behavior and look in their eyes for compassion. I hear you on this. I wish it was easier becaue they already have so much to combat this just adds to an already difficult obstacle. Thanks for ironing this up. Loves!

    Reply
  16. Natalie Teabo
    May 14, 2013

    Just wrote a comment .. It’s a big one for us too.

    Reply
  17. Natalie Teabo
    May 14, 2013

    And I just realized I was suppose to be “encouraging” when I was just empathizing instead ..yikes. Sorry.

    Reply
  18. One Thankful Mom - Lisa Qualls
    May 14, 2013

    Natalie Teabo, being empathetic IS encouraging. Knowing we are not alone, having somebody say “me too” diminishes the isolation. Thank you for commenting.

    Reply
  19. Mary
    May 14, 2013

    We are facing this, too, for the first time this current school year and soon, summer. We homeschool and our son has ASD and is 11 years old. I look forward to the encouragement. Thank you, Lisa.

    Reply
  20. Tammy
    May 14, 2013

    My son is now 10 and has been home for 2.5 years. He's in his second year at his current school. Last year, he was the charmer and everyone loved him. This year, there have been trigger situations and he's starting to feel isolated. He is just so sensitive to rejection that he overreacts to the slightest insult. His reaction tends to be verbal – and he tells me that he is defending himself. It's just such a hard one to handle. He's a great kid with leadership qualities and always wants everyone to feel included. But certain kids are pushing his buttons and his reactions are hard for the other kids to understand. And…, because he so much wants the peace, he resists letting adults know what is going on because he doesn't want the other kids to get in trouble. It's so complicated – but my heart hurts because he is so wounded by it all…. I would love to hear advice….

    Reply
  21. One Thankful Mom - Lisa Qualls
    May 14, 2013

    I just read through the first 15 comments, and I have to say that I have the most amazing, inspiring, intelligent readers. Don’t miss this.

    Reply
  22. Julie Blair Pitts
    May 14, 2013

    Sorry that half of those were probably mine!!

    Reply
  23. Tom V
    May 14, 2013

    Any of you facing this along with all of the challenges that middle school brings? Any thoughts on how to balance that would be great……

    Reply
  24. Leah
    May 14, 2013

    This is a hard one.
    We've employed two strategies that have helped:
    1. In hired an older girl that had exceptional play skills and maturity beyond her years. We had a weekly 1 hr play date to practice play skills. I worked with the older girl and our daughter's therapist to develop a play schedule with increasing difficulty. We saw our daughter make huge progress with this training. We still keep play dates with peers to one hr and we supervise so success is more likely to occur. This means we host and plan but it's worth it.

    2. We structure play and provide our daughter with a ton of tools. We have options like hiking, skating, biking that do not require advanced play skills at the ready. We take breaks for snacks, quiet time and alone time during play. We role play and practice the "plan" before all new peer interactions.

    Reply
  25. daysofwonderandgrace
    May 14, 2013

    Such interesting comments! My heart goes out to you whose kids have enough social awareness to feel that others are ostracizing them. My daughter, who is six, has CP, cannot communicate whether she notices or not. But she is naturally extroverted and loves people so I know it is important that she not stay inside the box her disabilities scribe for her. Here are some things I have stumbled upon:

    1.) Joy attends a school where there is a wide “mix” of students on every level: ethnicity, first-language, economic class, (dis)ability. It is easier to be different in a crowd where there are more differences, than few.

    2.) My girls play with their emotional-age peers, not their chronological-age ones. Kids who are two think Joy and all her toys are really cool . My soon-to-be-third grader (with FASD) gets along really well with the kindergartners-first graders in our neighborhood.

    3.) If I wait for the invitations, they will never come. So we ask friends over to our house. My kids don’t even realize play dates are more typically reciprocal, not one-sided. The “friends” we invite are shades of Joy –in fact I pick them out in her special-ed. class and at the center where she does therapy. In other words, they are the other kids who rarely get invited to parties and who have a variety of issues that place them mainstream. Their moms come, too, and we visit while we help/watch our kids play. I didn’t realize until later that this is a ministry –that the moms of kids who others marginalize, are marginalized, too. I am not outgoing/very social myself. But it is very easy to connect with women who know the ropes, much harder for me to connect with women who have not known adversity.

    4.) This fall is the first time Joy will be in main-stream classroom with age-peers. (Until now she has been in a special-ed classroom only.) Knowing most of them will way ahead of her cognitively/emotionally I plan to ask to come in for an “all about Joy” sharing session, hoping to set their expectations realistically –especially the things I know they’ll find “weird” –and suggesting ways they can help her/be her friend.

    Shari (second comment in the list), thank you for offering that paradigm. I want to be more intentional about that with my girls and I love the words you put it in.

    Reply
    1. Acceptance with Joy
      May 14, 2013

      I love this, dayofwonderandgrace!!!

      SO beautiful and so needed, because as I have found there are a LOT of special needs kids in our town, but we would NEVER even know they are there almost!! I have to be more intentional about inviting them into my sphere…. I am learning and beginning to make connections.

      My kids special needs and are mainstreamed, and they are DIFFERENT (not orphanage history, but neglect) than the other children. I know that they end up playing alone on the playground a lot of times – but I also realize it is often their choice. A large group of boys playing ball is overwhelming to James. If there are only 5 boys playing he will join. Missy can't always figure out what the game is even though she is super social. I am GRATEFUL that they have not been bullied at all and that the school has made extra effort to instill in all the children that EVERYONE deserves respect and dignity and they have a zero tolerance policy on bullying.

      No, my kids don't get invited to school kids parties, but the children at church have been exceptional.. As they all grow I see the gap widening socially and intellectually, etc….and I wonder how it will change, but we are so blessed that the parents of the other children have taught them to love the least of these. This is something my special needs children need to be made aware of and taught…. and that may take a long time since we are still building empathy.

      Reply
  26. One Thankful Mom - Lisa Qualls
    May 14, 2013

    I loved your comments, Julie Blair Pitts! Thank you.

    Reply
  27. Julie Blair Pitts
    May 14, 2013

    Lisa Qualls…you are too kind. I could have gone on, but refrained myself. The depth of THAT pain is overwhelming right now. I could be Gwen. I actually had to tell a neighbor that my son is safe for her two sons (same age) to play with after an incident (not harmful to anyone) happened. I am literally about to explode. Or implode. Not sure which is the better descripter at the moment.

    Reply
  28. linda
    May 15, 2013

    Now that our kids are both teens, we have more difficulty with peer groups. Both are affected by fetal alcohol, but our 15 yo daughter is also slightly developmentally delayed. The problem is that she is gorgeous, so she attracts boys and young men. Her only friend that is a girl her age isn't the best influence, so I try to encourage contact with supervision, which is frankly getting harder now that they are older. My son, on the other hand, has many friends in the neighborhood. He does seem more 'normal' most of the time, and is able to hold it together away from home. He is well liked by the kids and parents in the neighborhood. I have, however, found that my kids' behaviors have turned off most Christian families. I understand their desire to keep their kids from my kids' street smarts and manners. Yet now that their kids are all teens and, I think, less likely to be influenced by the occasional swear word or socially awkward behavior, I am feeling more pressure, not less, to keep my kids away from theirs. I am afraid for my kids, because they are so easily influenced by peers because of their background, and their peers aren't Christians.

    Reply
  29. Finnians Mom
    May 18, 2013

    Why don't you talk to their classmates and explaine why they behave the way they do ( gorge school lunches isn't a nice thing to witness but very understandable for even young children when explaned properly).

    I have been a preschool teacher for a very long time and my experience is that even the very young) children can understan and cope a lot of situations and behavours WHEN they have properly been explained so that they have empacy for the child. Otherwise they just don't get it and think it's strange or weird and act in a dismissive way.

    I've seen this with my own child. He was a three year old chinese orphan when we brought him home. As a teacher, the other children where very curious about my son and gattered around him every time I was at the school. My son was very scared of other children (he stood with his face the other side and hands straight before his face screaming NO!!!!! untill picked him up and he was out of reach for the other children) if any child came towards him. I explained that he was in a big orphanage with lots of older children an very, very few toys so that he was afraid of them( that they would hurt him or take away his toys) and wanted nothing to do with them. The best they could do to help him was to pretend he wasn't there. It worked for him and the children could understand his fear. They never thought he was odd or weird or strange because they could somehow relate to him and his fears.

    Children can understand a lot once you explaine it properly to them, they just can't figure it out by them selves. They need you to point it out. Good luck!!

    Reply
  30. crazycatruns
    May 21, 2013

    A little late, but I'll add my thoughts:

    I don't really have an answer for Gwen as this is something we have not very successfully overcome, but wanted to assure her that she is not alone. Our children have been home 4-5 years and generally do not engage in the type of regressive behaviors Gwen describes. Yet, their behavior/personalities tends to keep others at bay and they all struggle socially, albeit in slightly different ways. One is so insecure that she is constantly calling everyone sister (like the girls at the orphanage were her "sisters") but this tends to really weird out other high school girls that really don't have a relationship with her other than being on the same sports team. We try to point this out without being too negative (she is very sensitive and any criticism can sent her off…). I suspect that part of her knows this is weird, but she can't really help it because she just can't figure out how to connect. She desperately wants friends and to be "cool" but yet doesn't want to actually share her true self with anyone. As a result, her "fake" self (the one she makes for social occasions) is really awkward and off-putting. It's a vicious cycle honestly.

    Two of our other kids just have very superficial friendships (friends to play with at recess but few playdates, birthday parties, etc), They just don't have an interest in getting to know kids better. They are more self-focused (not as conceit but survival?). For example, they often don't bother to learn kids names and even after 5 years of being in our family, regularly call their grandparents by the wrong names. It's just not a priority for them. We've tried to talk to the kids about why it's important to care about how other people feel, but they still aren't quite "there" yet. I hope they develop it eventually (and there has been progress) but I don't think you can really teach someone to care when they truly just don't.

    Reply

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