Regardless of the cause, rejection leaves a stinging wound.We can’t prevent it, but we can proactively EQUIP our kids to cope with rejection.
Rejection Starts Early
A normally joyful girl leaves preschool happy then immediately succumbs to tears in the car when asked how her day was.
‘Today the kids were laughing at me, but I WASN’T being funny!’
Hugs, encouragement and more questions reveal that several children laughed while pointing at her in line. She couldn’t figure out why they would laugh at her. The experience left her feeling confused and sad.
Her feelings were hurt. My heart hurt.
Feelings Get Hurt
I told her how sorry I was. We talked about possible reasons they laughed; maybe they weren’t laughing at her.
We discussed what to do if it happened again. She could ask them why they are laughing, and if needed, tell them she doesn’t like what they are doing. It’s ok to ask them to please stop. Then if needed, find an adult to help.
She calmed down and didn’t bring it up again until dinner. This time she told the story differently. She decided someone else must have been funny. We may never know for sure, but for now, she’s not hanging onto it.
Phew. Crisis averted.
But maybe not?
It’s OK to Advocate
The thing is, this is not the first time she’s been upset after school. Several other afternoons she sadly told me no one would let her play with them. Further questioning revealed that in those instances she did play with one or two other kids, but not in the group.
Initially, my husband and I figured it was the result of little misunderstandings. But the repetition and escalation of hurt feelings made us decide to ask her teacher about it.
The next class day, I spoke to her teacher. Our concern was well received. Apparently the kids often play in groups with one or two ‘leaders’ who like to direct play during free time. She explained our daughter is easy-going and often bounces between groups. She does often play one-on-one outside of the group. They had not observed her being upset or any direct exclusion but agreed to be watchful going forward.
I felt heard, and we had a plan – I felt relieved.
Repeated Rejection Stings
Then, a child still in the hallway looked directly at our daughter and declared,
‘Hey! You’re NOT my friend!’
Thankfully, our daughter was not paying attention. She was busy entertaining her baby sister, so we quickly left. I was so grateful to hear the child’s shocked mom intervene behind us. I am certain she addressed it well.
Now I was the one choking back tears in the car. All those other sad moments were validated with five powerful words.
Rejection Is A Reality
I feel deep sadness that at the age of just three, we need to teach our child how to deal with rejection.
Truthfully, I’m not sure why the age surprises me so much – I’ve heard our kids say things like ‘you can’t play with me’ to each other and to other kids before. No age is too young for other kids to try to exclude another – they are testing boundaries. We address it and move on. I think what saddens me most is that it seems to be happening to our daughter repeatedly and is causing increasing hurt.
Rejection is a feeling most adults can identify with – we’ve all felt rejected to a varying degree. We have adjusted our behaviors and internalized feelings in positive or negative ways after feeling rejected – whether deserved or not.
Regardless of the cause, rejection leaves a stinging wound – one I am sad our children will experience.
We can’t prevent it, but we can proactively EQUIP our kids to cope with rejection.
Equipping Children To Cope With Rejection
Over the past week, I’ve been pondering and praying about how to do that. Another day I’ll flush these ideas out – for now they are best summed up by these three main points:
Encourage Kids to Share Feelings
Children need to know they are encouraged and safe to share how they feel with safe adults, including parents, teachers and family members. Do your kids know who safe adults are in their lives?
Our children encounter new experiences all the time. Some of them will be confusing, painful, joyful, hurtful, concerning, or exciting. Or they may be having feelings they don’t even know how to express.
We WANT to listen, validate, comfort, encourage and help.
One way we encourage our kids to share their experiences is by asking them to share a High and a Low point from their days. As they share what happened, we have a chance to ask more questions, to hear how they felt in the moment, and how they feel about it now.
Our Words and Actions Matter
As adults, we’ve all experienced the sting of rejection. We know what it feels like to be hurt, and see others be hurt. This empathy fuels compassion, and helps us choose our words wisely.
Teaching our kids to be kind, defend others as they can, and be quick to apologize is a big undertaking. It requires diligence, and will certainly not be without setbacks and challenges.
As our children experience rejection, it’s important to share our compassion and empathy with them. Our understanding and sorrow over their hurt feelings allows them to express those emotions, and also learn how to respond to others when they observe rejection happening.
It also helps our kids remember how they felt if tempted to reject another child, or when they’ve done it already.
Instill and Confirm Who They Really Are
Our children’s identity begins with who they are to God. It’s reinforced by who they are to us and to others who love them.
Rejection by 3 year olds isn’t uncommon. It confirms that no age is too young to start teaching your children who they are in Christ. The world is ready and actively battling against the truth and teaching our children to find their identity in their actions, achievements and eyes of others.
Equipping our children to see themselves as God sees them will be a lifelong battle. A fierce one.
Our children desperately need to know the truth about WHO they are. These truths must be hidden deep in their hearts:
WHO made them – and who God is
HOW loved they are – by God and by us
No person determines your value – only God
Jesus knows about rejection and offers comfort and understanding
Help Your Kids to Deal With Rejection, Focus on the Family
Family Faith Building: Teaching Kids About Identity, Gather & Grow
5 Things You Should Say to Your Kids Every Day to Build Strong Identity, Jessica Wolstenholm, Faith Gateway