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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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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