Rejections are painful. Yet, they’re an inevitable part of life. As young as they are, kids need to know how to deal with rejection, whether it’s being turned down at a stage play audition or not making the cut to the school’s basketball team.
For parents, teaching children how to navigate these complex situations is a bit tricky. You’ve probably followed some parenting “norms” when it comes to this, which only turned out to be unhelpful over time. That said, swap those norms for better alternatives, summed up in these dos and don’ts.
Don’t shun failures. Do celebrate them.
Many parents are afraid of their kids failing. As a result, children also look down on it. But the thing is, failures are normal. Plus, there are a lot of life lessons you’ll only understand when you’re at rock bottom, reeling from the rejection. So, instead of shunning failures, help your children be comfortable with it. Teach them how to overcome the fear of it.
After a rejection, celebrate failures as a learning experience. Ask kids to name one good thing they realized from the rejection. Encourage them to think of one positive change they can make in terms of attitude or skills. And moving forward, give them a comfortable avenue where they can be free to fail. For instance, sign them up for soccer games or drum lessons in Tampa. The learning environment here allows kids to be comfortable with mistakes, normalizing failures for them.
Don’t ignore the pain. Do acknowledge it.
Some parents jump directly to telling children “comforting” clichés, in the hopes of shielding them from more pain. In one way or another, you may have told them, “It’s okay, sweetie,” or “You’ll do better next time,” immediately after getting the news that they didn’t make it to the school band. This, however, doesn’t help in processing emotions, precisely because you give them no chance to deal with it.
Your goal shouldn’t be to keep them from feeling unpleasant things. Rather, you have to help them go through it. So, recognize the hurt that comes with the rejection. Let your kids wallow in it for a time. Be an active listener whenever they express discouragement. If you can connect them with an equally authoritative figure who can help them process the pain, say, a summer camp coach or music mentor, then better. It would mean a lot to them that a person they look up to understands their hurt.
Don’t focus on outcomes. Do focus on efforts.
With the overly competitive atmosphere in school and sometimes among siblings, most children tend to associate their feeling of being important to their achievements. This becomes more emphasized with the encouragement of parents to get straight As, be the star athlete or music genius, and shoot for the stars. Even the typical way of consoling after a rejection is tied to achievements, “You’ll do better next time.” Turn your perspective around.
Instead of being fixated on outcomes, take a cue from how coaches and mentors do it: they focus on the process the children go through. They commend good kicks or proper cymbal hits. In the same manner, let kids see their journey. Hopefully, they’ll see that nothing’s useless and they’re not worthless. Rejection then becomes a positive experience.
As much as you want to protect your children from rejection, doing so will do little in helping them deal with it. In fact, it may only backfire, with them struggling to process painful emotions later as adults. Make sure to take note of these dos and don’ts when helping your kids cope with rejections and failures.