When we think of letting our children face disappointment, we often think about it from a resiliency or “grit” standpoint. How will they handle when they can’t do something the first time? What do they do if a child at school won’t let them play? What happens if they don’t make the team? Our response to many of these types of rejections is the age old: “try, try again.” But that’s not the only form of rejection, and it’s certainly not the only way rejection should be handled.
What’s almost worse is when the comments start, “Well, if only girls had been nicer to him…” or “would it have hurt them to say yes just once?” Let’s make this very clear. The fault does not lie with the one doing the rejecting. The fault lies with how the other person handles that rejection.
Many of us are recognizing that we need to allow children to say no to physical touch - that it’s ok for them not to want to hug Grandma or to sit on Santa’s lap. Teaching them that their “no” matters is a big deal. It makes it easier to say no later, to trust those gut feelings. We’re getting better at talking about consent. We want our children to be able to get out of a dangerous situation, to stand their ground when someone is pressuring them to do something they’re uncomfortable with. Our children could be a victim someday, how do keep them from that?
What we don’t like to consider, is that our child could also be the perpetrator someday. that each perpetrator was also a child, needing to learn these lessons. But the lesson we don’t think about is for the person who has received the no. How do we handle rejection? How do we handle being said no to? How do I help my child whose sibling just said, “No I don’t want to hug you right now,” process that rejection, as small as it may be, and take responsibility for their own emotions?
These are lessons we have to start early. When we say, “But he’s just wanting to hug you!” not only do we negate the first child’s no, but we are telling the other person, “someone saying no doesn’t matter. They are obligated to give you that hug.”
Here are 4 steps to process rejection:
First, respect the no. If you ask to give a hug, and the other person says no, don’t do it.
Second, validate and process emotions. Validate the disappointment. “Sometimes we feel sad if someone doesn’t want to give us a hug. How are you feeling right now?” Maybe it’s sad, or angry, or lonely. But let’s identify it!
Third, empathize. We try to imagine someone else’s feelings and relate them to ours. “I know what it feels like when I don’t want to be tickled. That might be how they feel about being hugged right now.”
Fourth, take responsibility for your emotions and actions. Maybe it’s play somewhere else. Maybe it’s asking a parent for a hug instead. Maybe it’s asking, “Can I high five you, instead?”
Working through our emotions and responses to others is a lifelong skill that we have to practice. “The better we are able to feel and tolerate uncomfortable feelings, the stronger and easier it is to handle the next time around (Child Mind Institute).”
I spoke about this with a Mashable writer - check out this article with ways to help children deal with romantic rejection!