Watching our kids get rejected, especially by their own peers, is among the most heart-wrenching parts of parenthood. We obviously can’t protect them from rejection: Not only is it going to happen, it’ll be something they’ll experience to some degree their entire lives. But we can still support them in ways that both help them through the hurt in the moment and teach them how to build up their resiliency.
Validate their feelings
Think about the people in your life who you’re drawn to when you need support. Do they fall into the “ugh, I’m sorry, that really sucks” camp or the “well, at least XYZ didn’t happen” camp? Trying to make us see the bright side of something that feels decidedly dark only makes us feel worse, right?
Being rejected hurts, and having someone you love minimise that hurt makes it hurt more. Instead, counselor Katherine Prudente writes for The Child Mind Institute that we should strive to help our kids feel validated and understood.
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.
I want to raise a child who has grit. I want my son to be the kind of person who can bounce back from adversity. But grit is built not by avoiding hard feelings or letting things “roll off your back.” It’s built by learning how to work through those feelings and move past them.
Certified parent coach Meghan Leahy offers this advice in The Washington Post:
The thing that humans want most is to feel that they belong, that they are loved unconditionally. Listening is the easiest and most effective way of showing this unconditional love to our children. When we don’t judge or correct or critique or worry or interrupt, we allow our children to simply get out what they are feeling.
Surround them with people who care
We all experience a personality clash from time to time. (As one older, assertive relative once told me about an acquaintance she clashed with: “Eh, I’m just not for her.”) As nice as it would be, the fact is that not everyone is going to like us. That’s not a fun lesson for a child to learn, but it is something they will experience well into adulthood. For every one person they clash with, though, they likely have a whole bunch who truly care about them.
Help them find their tribe, whether that’s a sports team, an after-school club or a group of neighbourhood kids. Encourage the positive, meaningful relationships with extended family and friends that will help build their self-esteem over time.
Don’t try to fix it
Maybe the rejection of a friend at school is the direct result of something your child did or said to that friend. Or maybe it came out of nowhere from a child they hardly know. You can offer some perspective, such as by talking about another time he argued with a friend and it was resolved, or commiserate by sharing a time you went through something similar when you were a kid. But unless the rejection is entering actual bullying territory, your child likely will not want you to intervene. And doing so anyway would send a message to your child that you don’t think they’re capable of handling it on their own.
One thing you can do, if your child is open to it (and once you’ve listened and validated their feelings): Work on coming up with a few possible solutions together. Sometimes, if your child is dealing with a dispute with a friend, the solution might be as simple as a heartfelt apology. Or, if they’re being shunned from the lunchtime handball game, maybe there is another game they can organise with friends on the other side of the playground. The key is not to dump all your ideas on them but to ask if they’d like to brainstorm a few solutions and let them take the lead.
Ultimately, though, remember that you’re there to support them through the hard stuff, not resolve every last conflict for them.