Helping Kids Combat Rejection & Stay Mentally Strong

Rejection isn’t easy to deal with for anyone. Studies of brain scans have found that rejection activates similar patterns in areas of the brain as that of physical pain, which is a shocking thing to contemplate. Is it any wonder we will do anything to avoid it, even if it limits our lives and opportunities? When anxiety is a factor that avoidance may be even more extreme.

Unfortunately, those limits can have a real impact on what happens to us over time. Learning to overcome that impulse is a big part of what it means to take risks and live life to the fullest. But wouldn’t it be so much better if we could learn that skill from an early age and incorporate it into our day to day before we become adults?

“Rejection can disappoint you, depress you and may even stop you in your tracks… learn not to take rejection so personally… if you’re honest with yourself and believe in your work, others will too.” -Bev Jozwiak

The 3 Lessons We Can Teach Our Kids About Rejection

We can learn a lot from rejection – more so than anything we could learn from success. But the trick is regularly reminding ourselves not to stew in the upset of failure.

“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.” -Zig Ziglar

Here are 4 life-changing lessons we can learn from moments of rejection:

Lesson #1 – Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff

Stress is toxic and not just to adults. Children can have their development permanently impacted by chronic stress, an alarming fact indeed. Unfortunately, teenagers in particular are under more pressure now than ever before. Everything from the high cost of tuition, to the difficulty of finding their niche, or just plain old insecurity caused by puberty and a social media culture that pushes young people to constantly compare themselves to others mean they are facing an uphill battle every day.

It is easier said than done, but it is important to teach our kids not to sweat the small stuff. Those little aggravations can add up to a lot of irritation by the time they get back from school. Showing them that it is good to laugh them off and move on will be a lifelong habit that will help them throughout their entire life.

“True happiness comes not when we get rid of all of our problems, but when we change our relationship to them, when we see our problems as a potential source of awakening, opportunities to practice, and to learn.” -Richard Carlson

Lesson #2 – Know That Rejection Now Doesn’t Mean Rejection Later

When I was in high school there was this competition for publication that I desperately wanted to win. I worked myself to the bone on an essay which I then submitted. I was sure I would get one of the coveted spots. Needless to say, when I got a rejection letter thanking me for my submission but declining to publish, I was crushed.

I almost didn’t submit again. But my parents and teachers really rallied for me, pushing for me to submit for the next round that would be happening later that year. Second time around I won the spot and achieved a dream I’d had.

Just because rejection happens in the moment doesn’t mean it will always be the case.

“You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.” – Johnny Cash

Lesson #3 – Rejection is an Opportunity for Evaluation

Sometimes rejection isn’t a chance to try again, but to stop and consider our priorities and what we really want. Say you ask out a date to homecoming  and they turn down your proposal. Yes, it hurts. This part is undeniable. But will obsessing over the rejection change the outcome? Not at all. Maybe you should stop and consider why you were rejected. Then consider if that matters at all. Critically thinking through the situation allows you to come to finite conclusions as well as solutions. Now it’s time to pick yourself back up and try again.

“Winning is great, sure. But if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday. “ -Wilma Rudolph


About the Author: Cindy Price

Cindy Price is a Northern Utah wife, mom, and writer. She has 15 years experience writing educational content in the many areas of parenting, with an emphasis on teen-related issues, from which she applies and expounds on her personal experience raising three teenagers. You can find Cindy on Twitter.

 

One Comment

kate

There are aspects to this article that leave me feeling very uncomfortable, as though it is somewhat removed from the experiences children and teenagers go through in experiencing rejection.

“It is easier said than done, but it is important to teach our kids not to sweat the small stuff. Those little aggravations can add up to a lot of irritation by the time they get back from school. Showing them that it is good to laugh them off and move on will be a lifelong habit that will help them throughout their entire life” – this sounds more like an avoidance strategy rather than “sitting with” a child’s experience. When we just sit with another’s experience instead of trying to teach them to “move on” this will give them the knowledge that their cares are important. I would not be wanting to teach my child to laugh off rejection – I’ve never personally as an adult laughed off rejection. There are stages of where it hurts and then you later rationalize it in a way that is acceptable/productive. Children, developmentally can’t do that, which is why it’s important they feel heard instead of being taught how to react.

The idea of rejection now, doesn’t mean rejection later is important – but again, how is this to be meaningfully explained to a child, whose sense of time etc is still developing? How is this meaningful to them? It may feel meaningful to us, as adults, because we can understand it – but not necessarily to the developing mind.

“Say you ask out a date to homecoming and they turn down your proposal. Yes, it hurts. This part is undeniable. But will obsessing over the rejection change the outcome? Not at all. Maybe you should stop and consider why you were rejected. Then consider if that matters at all. Critically thinking through the situation allows you to come to finite conclusions as well as solutions.” – I would never ever ask a teenage girl why they were rejected by their crush…this sounds to me like it’s trying (unintentionally) to find fault with the girl to explain the rejection. And critical thinking while processing rejection and hurt, especially as a teenager is near impossible. Rather again – why not just “sit with” their experience, empathize and tell them that you understand their pain?

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Growth doesn’t always announce itself in ways that feel safe or invited. Often, it can leave us exhausted and confused and with dirt in our pores from the fury of the battle. It is this way for all of us, our children too. 

The truth of it all is that we are all born with a profound and immense capacity to rise through challenges, changes and heartache. There is something else we are born with too, and it is the capacity to add softness, strength, and safety for each other when the movement towards growth feels too big. Not always by finding the answer, but by being it - just by being - safe, warm, vulnerable, real. As it turns out, sometimes, this is the richest source of growth for all of us.
When the world feel sunsettled, the ripple can reach the hearts, minds and spirits of kids and teens whether or not they are directly affected. As the important adult in the life of any child or teen, you have a profound capacity to give them what they need to steady their world again.

When their fears are really big, such as the death of a parent, being alone in the world, being separated from people they love, children might put this into something else. 

This can also happen because they can’t always articulate the fear. Emotional ‘experiences’ don’t lay in the brain as words, they lay down as images and sensory experiences. This is why smells and sounds can trigger anxiety, even if they aren’t connected to a scary experience. The ‘experiences’ also don’t need to be theirs. Hearing ‘about’ is enough.

The content of the fear might seem irrational but the feeling will be valid. Think of it as the feeling being the part that needs you. Their anxiety, sadness, anger (which happens to hold down other more vulnerable emotions) needs to be seen, held, contained and soothed, so they can feel safe again - and you have so much power to make that happen. 

‘I can see how worried you are. There are some big things happening in the world at the moment, but my darling, you are safe. I promise. You are so safe.’ 

If they have been through something big, the truth is that they have been through something frightening AND they are safe, ‘We’re going through some big things and it can be confusing and scary. We’ll get through this. It’s okay to feel scared or sad or angry. Whatever you feel is okay, and I’m here and I love you and we are safe. We can get through anything together.’
I love being a parent. I love it with every part of my being and more than I ever thought I could love anything. Honestly though, nothing has brought out my insecurities or vulnerabilities as much. This is so normal. Confusing, and normal. 

However many children we have, and whatever age they are, each child and each new stage will bring something new for us to learn. It will always be this way. Our children will each do life differently, and along the way we will need to adapt and bend ourselves around their path to light their way as best we can. But we won't do this perfectly, because we can't always know what mountains they'll need to climb, or what dragons they'll need to slay. We won't always know what they’ll need, and we won't always be able to give it. We don't need to. But we'll want to. Sometimes we’ll ache because of this and we’ll blame ourselves for not being ‘enough’. Sometimes we won't. This is the vulnerability that comes with parenting. 

We love them so much, and that never changes, but the way we feel about parenting might change a thousand times before breakfast. Parenting is tough. It's worth every second - every second - but it's tough. Great parents can feel everything, and sometimes it can turn from moment to moment - loving, furious, resentful, compassionate, gentle, tough, joyful, selfish, confused and wise - all of it. Great parents can feel all of it.

Because parenting is pure joy, but not always. We are strong, nurturing, selfless, loving, but not always. Parents aren't perfect. Love isn't perfect. And it was meant to be. We’re raising humans - real ones, with feelings, who don't need to be perfect, and wont  need others to be perfect. Humans who can be kind to others, and to themselves first. But they will learn this from us. Parenting is the role which needs us to be our most human, beautifully imperfect, flawed, vulnerable selves. Let's not judge ourselves for our shortcomings and the imperfections, and the necessary human-ness of us.❤️
The behaviour that comes with separation anxiety is the symptom not the problem. To strengthen children against separation anxiety, we have to respond at the source – the felt sense of separation from you.

Whenever there is separation from an attachment person, there will be always be anxiety unless there is at least one of 2 things: attachment with another trusted, adult; or a felt sense of you holding on to them, even when you aren’t beside them. 

If separation is the problem, connection has to be the solution. The connection can be with any loving adult, but it needs more than an adult being present. Just because there is another adult in the room, doesn’t mean your child will experience a deep sense of safety with that adult. This doesn’t mean the adult isn’t safe - it’s about what the brain perceives, and that brain is looking for a deep, felt sense of safety. This will come from the presence of an adult who, through their strong, loving presence, shows the child their abundant intention to care for them, and their joy in doing so. The joy in caretaking is important. It lets the child rest from seeking the adult’s care because there will be a sense that the adult wants it enough for both.

This can be helped along by showing your young one that you trust the adult to love and care for your child and keep him or her safe in your absence: ‘I know [important adult] loves you and is going to take such good care of you.’ This doesn’t mean children will instantly feel the attachment, but the path towards that will be more illuminated.

To help them feel you holding on even when you aren’t with them, let them know you’ll be thinking of them and can’t wait to be with them again. I used to tell my daughter that every 15 seconds, my mind makes sure it knows where she is. Think of this as ‘taking over’ their worry. ‘You don’t have to worry about you or me because I’m taking care of both of us – every 15 seconds.’ This might also look like giving them something of yours to hold on to while you’re gone – a scarf, a note. You will always be their favourite way to safety, but you can’t be everywhere. Another loving adult or the felt presence of you will help them rest.
Sometimes it can be hard to know what to say or whether to say anything at all. It doesn’t matter if the ‘right’ words aren’t there, because often there no right words. There are also no wrong ones. Often it’s not even about the words. Your presence, your attention, the sound of your voice - they all help to soften the hard edges of the world. Humans have been talking for as long as we’ve had heartbeats and there’s a reason for this. Talking heals. 

It helps to connect the emotional right brain with the logical left. This gives context and shape to feelings and helps them feel contained, which lets those feelings soften. 

You don’t need to fix anything and you don’t need to have all the answers. Even if the words land differently to the way you expected, you can clean it up once it’s out there. What’s important is opening the space for conversation, which opens the way to you. Try, ‘I’m wondering how you’re doing with everything. Would you like to talk?’ 

And let them take the lead. Some days they’ll want to talk about ‘it’ and some days they’ll want to talk about anything but. Whether it’s to distract from the mess of it all or to go deeper into it so they can carve their way through the feeling to the calm on the other side, healing will come. So ask, ‘Do you want to talk about ‘it’ or do you want to talk about something else? Because I’m here for both.’ ♥️
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