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5 Ways to Help Your Kids Deal With Rejection

Rejection of any sort is tough on kids, but when it happens with public competition, it’s even...

There are 15 spots on the Little League team, and 30 kids are trying out. There’s one lead role in the musical, and 10 kids are auditioning. And out of six candidates vying for student council president, only one will win. Kids take risks all the time when they try out for something, and sooner or later, they’re going to face rejection. How they handle it depends a lot on how you deal with it.

The key is changing the concept of failure and helping kids see competition as a way to improve their skills, according to California State University professor David Hibbard, who has studied the development of perfectionism among kids. “That way, a ‘failure’ is not a failure at all; it’s the road to competence and mastery,” says Hibbard.

Here are five ways to lessen the blow for your child and turn a negative experience into a strength-building one:

1. Manage expectations.
You can’t shield your child from disappointment, but you can help him prepare for the possibility. Without being a naysayer, remind him that many more kids are trying out this year or that he’s up against players with more experience. By making him aware of the hurdles he faces going in, he’ll gain a better perspective if things don’t work out.

2. Offer encouragement, not accolades.
When kids are competing for a spot, there’s no such thing as “the best.” There may be three, five or 10 equally strong contenders -- all of whom think they’re No. 1. Tell your child you’re proud of the work he’s done to prepare for the tryout and that you think he has as good a chance as anyone else (assuming that you do), but stop short of telling him he’s the best.

3. Allow venting.
When your child doesn’t make the team, don’t put a cheery face on the situation. It’s a huge blow for her in the short term, and she needs you to acknowledge how painful it is. Let her cry or stomp around furiously for a few minutes, knowing that you accept and support her no matter what. Then, talk about the feelings around disappointment. “Having a warm, compassionate discussion helps a child learn from the competition,” says Hibbard.

4. Help your kids reach out.
Kids often retreat after a rejection -- particularly a public one. But pulling back only reinforces the feelings of being a loser. If a friend made the team or won the election, encourage your child to call and offer congratulations. Suggest that he email the coach and find out what skills he should work on. Your child will see that failing at one attempt doesn’t affect his relationships or reputation.

5. Set new goals.
Once your kids have gotten past their disappointment, help them develop new goals to work toward -- shaving a minute off their speed before the spring track tryouts or improving their vocal range before the next set of auditions. Stress to them that both failure and success are the result of trying, and that many failures have led to future victories.

By giving them the tools to handle rejection, you’ll teach your kids that it’s worth setting goals and taking risks, no matter what the outcome.


Photo: @iStockphoto.com/RichVintage