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Helping Kids Deal with Rejection

This blog post was originally posted for Freedom Institute where I am a member of the dynamic clinical staff. It was also picked up by the Child Mind Institute! While I wrote this for parents, this is applicable for adults too - rejection is an experience that we all could use a little help with.

Rejection and disappointment are two difficult feelings to have; we often can get into a trap of self-blame when we don't reach some of our goals. Resiliency (or “grit” as it's now called in pop psychology) is a valuable character trait that we can foster in our children. It is inevitable that our kids will feel disappointed, rejected, and defeated at times. Here are 5 tips that can help build some grit:

 1. Comfort and validate their experience. When our kids feel validated and understood, it helps them build a sense of self. It also normalizes their feelings and builds up what I like to call “psychic muscle.” Like working out, when we can lift heavier weights we get stronger and it becomes easier. The better we are able to feel and tolerate uncomfortable feelings, the stronger and easier it is to handle the next time around. For example, if your child is disappointed because she did not get into her dream college you could say, "That's so disappointing, I know you were really hoping to get in." Many well-intentioned parents attempt to minimize feelings of disappointment for their kids, but miss the big picture. Your child is disappointed and may need some comfort before they can consider the other alternatives. 

 2. Make failing safe. Often adolescents (and adults!) are often afraid of failure. Failure is an excellent learning experience, albeit an uncomfortable one. It can help us reassess our goals and come up with a new game plan to try again. A recent article in Forbes, the author discusses five personality traits of entrepreneurs and one trait is resiliency despite failure.

 3. If you don't succeed, try again. This is not a new euphemism but often after failure a lack of motivation kicks in. If we can make failing part of the process, then a second chance (or third, or fourth!) is always there. 

 4. Tie your child's value to their character, not their achievements. It's easy for parents to want their kids to go to the best schools, get straight A's and be super stars. The whole world should see what we see and love in our kids. Yet, this pressure to succeed can send a message that your self-worth is directly correlated to your achievement. Recently, I had a group of 6th graders share their worries about getting into Ivy League schools! When your child achieves a goal like getting exceptional grades, focus on their work ethic and determination, not the end result. "That's great! You worked real hard this semester." 

 5. Take a back seat. We all want to protect our kids from trials and tribulations. 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. Try problem solving together, and let your child take the lead. It will give them confidence to handle situations in the future, and give you the peace of mind that they can, indeed, handle it.

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