Our 8 year old is enamoured with a boy two years older down the block. This boy can take or leave our son – if there’s no one else to play with, he’ll play with out son. If someone else is around, he blows our son off. The rejection seems to hit our son like a physical blow each time it happens, yet he pursues this boy relentlessly. Do we stand by and watch, holding him when he weeps, or can we do something more?
First of all, you are doing something significant. “Holding him while he weeps” is one of the most important things parents can do for a child. Some trauma specialists believe that it is not the actual bad experiences, such as accidents, surgery, bullying, rejection, failure, and even abuse that damage a child psychologically. The damage is done when the child has nowhere to go with his emotions after something bad happens, so he keeps them inside. Then the bad experiences become “engraved” in his brain, and he begins to view the world as though these things will always happen. Or, if an experience is so traumatic that it is not fully remembered, it will cause post-traumatic stress disorder, including emotional numbing and “flashbacks” of the terrible events. When a therapist works with a person with post-traumatic stress disorder, he or she tries to help the person go through his memory of the traumatic event and put together his story of what happened, expressing his emotions as he does so.
When you hold your child while he weeps, you are doing what is needed to help him resolve what has happened to him. You are giving your son several important messages : “We care about you. We know things are sometimes hard, but you’re not alone and you won’t be overwhelmed. You can handle difficult things. We are there for you, and we won’t abandon you when you need someone. Your emotions are okay, and it’s fine to express them.” All these healthy messages will become part of your son’s view of life. Parents who tell their child not to cry, or forbid their child to play with the rejecting child, deny their children the opportunity for comfort and for receiving these validating messages.
What else can you do? After your child finishes crying, you can ask him whether he thinks he wants to continue playing with this boy. You can help him think through something to say to the other boy about how he feels. If he’s about to go over there, you can remind him what happened last time, and assist him in deciding whether he still wants to go. Don’t make the decision for him.
Since your son is only eight, it is still up to you to help him find other friends to play with. Don’t just leave it up to him to roam the block and find people. Get a list of classmates he likes, with their phone numbers. Enrol him in activities where he can meet new children. And then deliberately invite over children you think would be good company for him. Then he will have some alternatives to playing with the rejecting boy.