Like most kids who are five, Jia Jiang’s son Brian hears “no” often. But unlike most kids, who might see the word as their invitation to melt onto the floor and wail, Brian sees it as an opportunity. Or at least that’s what his dad is training him to do.
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Jiang is known as “the rejection guy”. Five years ago, he started posting videos on YouTube of his “100 days of rejection” experiment, a personal quest to overcome his deep fear of hearing the word “no”. For the aspiring entrepreneur, the shame around rejection was becoming a constant trap, so he wanted to desensitise himself to it. To do so, he wilfully sought out rejection on a daily basis by making odd requests of strangers – he asked for a “burger refill” at Five Guys (no), a hair trim at PetSmart (also no), and a lesson in sales from the salesman at a car dealership (sorry, but no). He did get a lot of yeses, too – shout-out to Jackie at Krispy Kreme who graciously granted his request of concocting the Olympic symbol out of doughnuts – but what the experiment really gave him was fearlessness. Now, after hearing his popular TEDx talk about the experience and reading his book Rejection Proof: How I Beat Fear and Became Invincible Through 100 Days of Rejection, people commonly ask him: What can parents do to help their kids better handle rejection, a necessary part of life?
Jiang has some ideas. Now with two kids of his own, he believes we need to think of the ways we try to protect our children. “In upper middle-class families, our goal is to make our kids feel good,” he says. “We want them to feel happy. That is important, but what I’ve found I need to do is expand their comfort level. I need to tell them that it’s OK to get a no. Actually, I’ll say, ‘Why don’t you go out and keep trying to get nos? I wish I had done this myself when I was eight instead of when I was 30.”
Here’s what you can do to help your kids become more rejection-proof:
Let ‘No’ Be a Starting Point
“When I say no to my kids, I don’t say, ‘No, end of story. I don’t want to hear you argue,'” Jiang says. “I say, ‘No. But give me an alternative proposal.’ I don’t want them to see ‘no’ as the end of the conversation, but as the starting point of a negotiation.”
With his five-year-old son Brian, negotiations happen all the time. “The guy is a little monster,” Jiang says with a laugh. “In his mind, it’s always, ‘How can I get a yes?'” One night, Jiang says Brian wanted a popsicle for dessert, but popsicle night is on Wednesday, and it was only Tuesday, which is mango smoothie night. Brian doesn’t really like mango smoothies, but he made his dad a proposal: If he could have a popsicle that night, he would drink more mango smoothie than he normally does the following day. Jiang says he wants the kid to have more fruit, so he accepted the proposal.
Of course, “no” is often the final answer, and that’s fine, too. “Sometimes, no matter what he says, I’m not going to say ‘yes’,” Jiang says. “The Golden Rule in sales is ‘Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer,’ but I think it’s OK to be rejected. We should give people the freedom to reject us if they need to. When we’re less attached to the results, it allows us to focus on our own efforts.”
Help Kids Build Their ‘Courage Muscle’
Courage is a skill that takes practise, which is something that I often need to remind myself. When Jiang set out on his 100 days of rejection, he started small, such as asking the cashier at Dominos if he could deliver their next pizza, and then gradually increased the difficulty of his challenges, working up to asking for an interview with Barack Obama. Parents can help their kids exercise their “courage muscle” by having them ask for what they want.
Recently, when Jiang’s family was about to get off a plane in Orlando, he asked Brian, “Do you want to know what a cockpit looks like?” When Brian said yes, Jiang said, “Why don’t you ask the pilot to show you?” And so he did. “The pilot was like, yeah, come on in!” Jiang says. “It was pretty cool.”
Jiang says it’s important to praise kids for their acts of courage, but the way in which you do it matters. “It’s not about praising the fact that they got something – it’s about praising their behaviour. You don’t say, ‘Hey, great job getting that candy.’ Instead, you can say, ‘I liked the way you asked.'”
Teach Them to Ask to Give
Becoming rejection-proof isn’t just about asking for things for ourselves, but also asking to give to others. Help kids learn how to jump in and help: “Can I help you carry your bags?” “Can I buy you a cup of coffee?” If they say no, that’s OK.
Kids understand the depths of rejection early on. Jiang vividly remembers when his Year One teacher had all the kids in his class compliment each other, and he was one of the few who did not receive any compliments. The pain followed him throughout his life. But after his 100-day experiment, Jiang realised that being rejected has nothing to do with our worth – it’s just that what we’re offering does not fit with what the person wants or needs in that moment. He learned to be grateful that people would consider his offer, and that helped him push forward. As parents, we can teach our kids that a “no” is not the end.