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How to Help Kids Deal With Rejection

Don't minimize feelings. Do encourage resiliency

Writer: Katherine Prudente, RDT, LCAT

en Español

Rejection and disappointment are two difficult feelings to have. We often blame ourselves 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 she can consider the other alternatives.

2. Make failing safe

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.

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 children’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 superstars. 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 sixth graders share their worries about getting into Ivy League schools! When your child achieves a goal like getting exceptional grades, focus on his 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. 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. Try problem solving together, and let your child take the lead. It will give him confidence to handle situations in the future, and give you the peace of mind that he can, indeed, handle it.

This article was last reviewed or updated on January 30, 2024.