Supporting Kids Through Heartbreaking Rejection

by , M. Ed., Priceless Parenting (sign up for monthly parenting newsletter and receive 20+ printable charts for kids and parents)

(listen to article read by the author)


Being rejected hurts. You love your kids and never want to see them hurt. Unfortunately you cannot prevent your children from experiencing rejection. Whether it’s not being selected for a team or not having a date for the dance, feeling rejected is painful.

Your response in these situations can provide a healing salve for your child’s wounds or deepen the pain. When you let them know that you value and love them regardless of what has happened, you provide comfort. Knowing they always have your love is a powerful antidote.

Threatening To Remove Connection

Everyone has a deep need for connection with others. When children want to hurt others, one way they do it is by threatening to remove connection.

Words can hurt. This is especially true when they are words of rejection. Even young children know the power of saying things like:

  • "I'm not your friend anymore."
  • "I don't want to play with you."
  • "You're not invited to my birthday party!"
  • "I hate you!"
Saying these things is often a child’s way of expressing anger or frustration. When you hear kids saying something like this, begin by acknowledge their feelings. You might say “You are mad that she won’t share that truck with you. It’s not ok to say mean things. What else can you say to let her know how you are feeling?”

Kids need lots of practice developing their interpersonal skills. When you hear kids saying something unkind, help them find healthier ways to express their emotions.

Experiencing a Crushing Blow

Trying out for a team takes courage. Unless your child is guaranteed to make the team, there is the risk of failure. Responding when your child makes the team is easy. The difficult part is how you respond when your child does not make the team.

In her book Braving The Wilderness, Brené Brown describes trying out for her high school drill team, the Bearkadettes. Before leaving on a family trip, her parents swung by the school so she could check the board listing who made the team. Her number was not on the team list.

She was crushed. She describes what happened next that made her feel even worse. “I walked back to our station wagon and got in the backseat, and my dad drove away. My parents didn’t say one word. Not a single word. The silence cut into me like a knife to the heart. They were ashamed of me and for me. My dad had been captain of the football team. My mom had been head of her drill team. I was nothing. My parents, especially my father, valued being cool and fitting in above all else. I was not cool. I didn’t fit in.”

Her parents silence spoke volumes. Instead of feeling comforted she writes “And now, for the first time, I didn’t belong to my family either.”

Feeling Alone Versus Feeling Supported

It can be hard to know what to say when your child is suffering. You may feel powerless knowing that there’s nothing you can do to change the situation. You don’t know what to say so you decide not to say anything.

The problem with silence is that it leaves your children creating their own interpretations. Brown discusses the issues with being silent explaining “Sometimes the most dangerous thing for kids is the silence that allows them to construct their own stories – stories that almost always cast them as alone and unworthy of love and belonging. That was my narrative, so rather than doing high kicks during halftime, I was the girl hiding weed in her beanbag chair and running with the wild kids, looking for my people any way I could. I never tried out for a single thing again. Instead, I got really good at fitting in by doing whatever it took to feel like I was wanted and a part of something.”

The last thing you want is for your child to feel all alone in their grief. You can always say something like “I’m so sorry you didn’t make the team. I know how much you wanted this.” Give your child a hug and let them know you are there for them.

When your children are distraught, they are not in a space where they are ready for a conversation about what happened. After they’ve had time to calm down, you might mention “I’m proud of you for trying out. You worked hard on the routines and gave it your best.”

Helping your child see their positive attributes helps them psychologically heal. Many people have a tendency to beat themselves up in situations like these which causes further injury. Reminding your children of their strengths will help them grow from the experience.

Being there for your children is the greatest gift you can give them. They will experience hard times. Being able to count on your love will give them the courage to take risks and grow to be their best.

About Kathy Slattengren

Kathy Slattengren

Parenting expert Kathy Slattengren, M. Ed., is dedicated to supporting parents in doing their best parenting. She helps families create homes where everyone feels accepted, heard, respected and appreciated.

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