Most parents know that rejection is an inevitable part of growing up — but try telling that to your son or daughter. Janet Chan, editor-in-chief of Parenting magazine, and Rachel Simmons, author of "Odd Girl Speaks Out: Girls Write About Bullies, Cliques,” were invited on the “Today” show to discuss how parents can help prepare their children for rejection from their peers as part of our special series, “Raising Kids Today.”
Rejection is a part of life, but it's crucial for parents to help their children learn how to deal with setbacks — whether they're cut from a sports team or left out of a clique. The most important thing for a parent to remember is to keep your cool — at least in front of your child. When your child is snubbed, it can bring up old feelings of rejection for you too. If you're responding from your own hurt feelings, it's hard to be helpful. And if your child picks up on them, it may make him feel worse about the whole thing. You need to switch gears and be supportive, rather than venting your own disappointment.
When children face rejection from their peers
You may tell your child that life isn't a popularity contest. But to him, it can certainly feel that way. Starting in kindergarten, children become more selective in choosing their friends. That's good, but it also means that they sometimes get hurt.
All children at one time or another feel rejected by their peers. The reasons are often as capricious as a shift in the weather. A child's appearance (her hygiene, weight, race, a disability), her manner (such as a stutter or atypical gender behavior), her economic or ethnic background, poor social skills, or personality (being aggressive, withdrawn, anxious, overly sensitive, or quick to take offense) can all be factors.
If you think your child might be facing rejecting from his friends:
Don't judge too fast
If your 4-year-old has been pushed off the slide by one of his playmates, don't automatically rush to his defense. Young children are easily distracted, and are much more likely to toddle off to the swings than they are to take offense to their friends' actions. Your child will mirror your reaction — so if you get upset, chances are he will, too.
Use your own experience as an example
It may help for you to haul out a humiliating story from your own past (being stood up for the prom might finally come in handy!) — but only if you can set a good example by explaining how you got over it.
Try to focus on helping your child find his own way to cope
"Say, ‘I know you're upset because your friends didn't come over. What are you going to do to make yourself feel better?’ This gives your child the opportunity to see himself as someone who can survive a difficult social situation. You may be surprised to find out that he has more inner resources than you think.
Treat others as you'd like to be treated
Remind kids that there have been times when the tables have been turned, and they've been the rejecter, so that they can begin to understand the importance of empathy in making — and keeping — friendships.
As kids hit the pre-teen years, they may start to encounter cliques. Cliques and popularity affect girls far more strongly than boys, since boys are drawn together more by activities, while girls are beginning to explore relationships and emotional intimacy. Girls tend to be more closed and can make it very difficult to join their group if you're not considered someone who's liked a lot. Boys, on the other hand, travel in larger, looser groups, which also supply a pool of ready players for their games.
Once children get to high school they may discover a more relaxed, diverse social system. Until then, expect them to navigate some treacherous waters, while bearing in mind that experiencing a little rejection and learning to cope with it isn't necessarily a bad thing. It happens to all of us.
Although you might think your pre-teen wants you to be invisible most of the time, it's more important than ever to show your support when they're facing some form of rejection from their peers. They want you to be there for them — whether that means a one-on-one conversation about what's bothering them, or a movie and pizza night at home when they weren't invited to the big party.
Beyond the classroom, your child may discover new confidence and more like-minded peers in an athletic league, an arts program, or a church group. It's important to create opportunities for your child to make friends with a wide variety of people. With a large support network to draw on, a child has an easier time putting a temporary rejection in perspective while seeking the company or sympathy of others.
Being rejected from a team, club, or school
Whether coming up short in a try-out for a sports team or not making the final cut of auditions for the school play, kids can feel the agony of defeat with surprising intensity. Kids will never like to lose, but as a parent, it's your job to make sure they're willing to take the chance and play again.
Around the age of 11, children enter the period of select or elite teams, like traveling squads, and by middle school, nearly all sports teams and many activities require tryouts. Prepare your child for the possibility of not making the team before tryouts begin. Parents should convey to their sons and daughters to prepare to make the team, to work hard to do so and most importantly, feel good about themselves no matter the outcome.
If your child truly enjoys the sport and is rejected from a team, do everything possible to keep them interested and involved. When a child doesn't make the cut, he is often discouraged and drops the sport. Look for alternative leagues, or sign them up for sports camps to improve their skills.
Use examples. Michael Jordan was cut as a sophomore from his high school team, but didn't give up — he practiced even more, tried out again the next year and went on to become one of the greatest athletes of all time. Even Albert Einstein failed his first college entrance exam!
It is difficult enough for a child who hasn't made a team or been accepted to the school of their choice, but doubly hard when his friends do get picked. There could be a temporary break in the friendship, or it could end in a permanent break. Parents should do whatever they can to encourage strengthening other friendships during this time.