Your son didn’t make the soccer team. Your daughter wasn’t invited to her best friend’s birthday party—and [*shudder*] she found out about it on Instagram. Your child finally worked up the nerve to try out for the school play but was relegated to a non-speaking role. No matter how convincing experts sound when they tout the benefits of resilience and grit, seeing your child hurt is the bitterest of pills. Here, expert advice on how best to help your kid bounce back.
1. Don’t go into denial mode
Pretending your child’s rejection didn’t happen—that they must be misinterpreting a social situation, that the teacher or coach is showing favoritism or that there must be some other, unexplained reason for what happened—will only magnify her feelings of alienation. Sitting with your kid and validating her hurt—without immediately brainstorming solutions or plotting revenge—will go a long way toward helping her heal. Acknowledging a kid’s pain “also normalizes their feelings and builds up what I like to call ‘psychic muscle,’” writes therapist Katherine Prudente for the Child Mind Institute. “The better we are able to feel and tolerate uncomfortable feelings, the stronger [we become] and easier it is to handle the next time around.” You also have the option of belting What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger á la Kelly Clarkson, possibly in front of a crowd at her school, just to drive the point home.
2. Leave Your Own Past Behind
Seeing your child rejected can re-open your own childhood wounds. But try hard to see their experiences as distinct from your own—and not make this all about you. Also emphasize that the hard knocks are sometimes necessary. Just don't be the parent who makes a huge, dramatic deal of it (or compares it to their own enormous childhood struggles).
3. Embrace Failure
Emphasize the importance of getting back up again after being knocked down. Remind them of times when they themselves have persevered through difficulty to show them what they are capable of. Tell them failure is part of growing up. Feel free to quote Albert Einstein: “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” (He was rejected from college and struggled to find a job teaching high school math, btw.) Or JK Rowling: “Failure is not fun. It can be awful. But living so cautiously that you never fail is worse.” Then there’s this gem from Reese Witherspoon: “Rejection teaches you perseverance and how to get tough. And you also learn, not every path is right for you...Sometimes the universe is protecting you from a bad job or a toxic relationship. So remember the next time you fail at something or someone leaves you heartbroken…let yourself be sad, grieve what didn’t happen for a minute but move ON. Better things are waiting for you.”
4. Discourage Quitting
Often not getting selected for a team or group can be the death knell of your child’s pursuit of that activity. But there are always classes they can take, alternate sports leagues, and theater groups they can join to keep their passion alive. Coping skills and the will to keep trying are rejection’s secret gift. Remind your kid that rejection usually comes down to one person’s subjective opinion. But perseverance is something they can cultivate for themselves. FYI Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. Walt Disney was fired from an early newspaper job for “not being creative enough.” And Oprah’s first boss told her she was too emotional and not right for TV. As Jennifer Lopez famously said: “Failure is not falling down and making a mistake…it’s stopping. Stopping is the failure.”
5. Park Your Snowplow
“We all want to protect our kids from trials and tribulations,” writes Prudente. “But if we shelter them for too long, it stunts their ability to develop a sense of self-efficacy. When we try to solve problems for them or intervene on their behalf, it sends a message that we don’t think they can do things on their own…and they start believing that.” So if you’re thinking of texting Caitlin’s mother to ask why she didn’t invite your daughter to the PJ party and also, how dare she, put down your phone. Your energy will be better spent just hanging out with your child or committing a random act of kindness together. “Parents can also help kids focus on other peers who do love and accept them, asking questions like, Who enjoys spending time with you? Who likes to have fun with you? They might also create more opportunities to spend more time with those friends,” suggests psychologist Guy Winch. Emphasize what your child brings to the table: “Parents can help replicate an exercise shown to alleviate the pain of rejection by asking kids, What do you think would make you a good friend? What do you think you have to offer in a friendship?” If all else fails (unless the situation is dire), consider backing off for a while. As Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success, told The New York Times: “The point is to prepare the kid for the road, instead of preparing the road for the kid.”