There are many parts of parenting that never get easier. Worrying about your child’s safety when they are an infant only intensifies as they pass that driving exam. Getting your crying three-year old to wear a coat in the winter can’t prepare you to argue with your teenage daughter about why a bikini doesn’t count as a “top” in public. Thinking about what preschool to send your child to seems like a walk in the park compared to the decision of what high school will prepare them to get into the best college.
Through all these experiences, however, it is usually the parent who feels the overwhelming emotion of failure and rejection when things don’t go as planned. When our child comes home crying because they were freezing at school without that coat, we question if that was really a lesson we needed to teach at that moment, and spend the rest of the evening feeling guilty for making them go through this hardship. And yet, through all these decisions, the adults are bearing the brunt of the emotions. The child forgot about the coat by dinner time, yet we are going to be up at night with layers of guilt, questioning our role as a parent.
So how do we prepare our children to successfully experience the emotion of rejection and failure when we struggle to take it on ourselves? We must look at how we can raise a resilient child to face rejection and failure and come out stronger because of it.
Many of our 8th grade students are in the midst of high school applications. Over the years this process has gotten more complex and intense, feeling similar to when I was applying to college (and even then, the process was less daunting). Our children are writing essays, taking three-hour exams, sitting through virtual open houses, shadowing when they can, and placing all of their hopes and dreams in the hands of an unknown admissions team. The stakes are high for these fourteen year olds. While the majority of our recent grads have been accepted to their 1st or 2nd choice school, and while we generally want to be optimistic for the best results, it is inevitable that kids may receive an email that begins with those unnerving words, “We regret to inform you, that unfortunately we cannot offer you a place at your dream high school for the 2021/22 school year.”
How do you prepare your child to see that? Here at ISDenver, we have often used terms like grit and growth mindset. We intentionally foster an environment that allows for mistakes to be made and reflection to occur. The strength-based approach is deeply embedded in the IB curriculum as well as the SEL curriculum we push out at every grade level.
So how do you, as a parent, take this familiar language and approach and apply it at home so that your child can handle the emotions linked to rejection? The American Psychological Association and the Child Mind Institute recommend the following:
- Make It Okay to Fail - Talk about times when “failure” led to better outcomes or when failure allowed us to learn and grow. There shouldn’t be a punishment for failing when an honest attempt was made.
- Validate Feelings - It is always important to acknowledge how your child feels. This does not mean you agree with their response to those emotions, but we can never say someone’s feelings aren’t valid. Don’t try to make them feel something else. CMI states, “The better we are able to feel and tolerate uncomfortable feelings, the stronger and easier it is to handle the next time around.”
- Challenging Unrealistic Thinking - Help your child focus on what they can control. They can control the simplest choices, such as what they eat for breakfast, or larger choices like how much they study for an upcoming math test. Any part of their day that they can choose will add relief to the bigger decisions that lay in someone else’s hands.
- Place Value on Character, Not Achievement - So much of your child’s life is tied to academic achievement. Only part of the high school admissions process directly relates to test scores and grades, so make sure to send the message to your child that character will get them farther than anything else. The level of effort, kindness, and respect that your child shows is truly a testament of who they are as a person, not how they score on one exam.
- Teach Coping Mechanisms - Teach your child how to handle negative feelings. Again, it’s okay to feel sad or mad or jealous, but what we do with those emotions is what can create a negative cycle. Teach your child deep breathing, journaling, or drawing to express their feelings, crumble up the rejection and throw it as hard as you can against a wall, or have a positive thoughts jar that the family can add to and pull from when needed. There are lots of ways to help your child independently handle their emotions, but model it as well, so they know it’s there when they are struggling.
At the end of the day, your child will get past their failures and rejections. There will be one sided relationships, tests that don’t get passed, and leads that go to another performer. But the more we can prepare our children to handle these difficult experiences, the easier they will find their way out and be better off because of it.
How to Help Kids Deal With Rejection - https://childmind.org/article/how-to-help-kids-deal-with-rejection/
- growth mindset
- social emotional learning