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Rejection in Childhood

Rejection is a part of life.  It happens both in childhood and adulthood.  Sometimes it’s constructive (in that we learn and grow from it); sometimes it’s destructive (in that it leads to feelings of worthlessness, depression, or anger); sometimes it has elements of both.  Often, the difference between constructive rejection and destructive rejection centers around how the rejection is delivered and received.  Read on to learn these pivotal distinctions and how you can help your child receive rejection (regardless of its delivery) as constructively as possible.

The delivery of rejection can be couched in constructive or destructive terms.  A constructive rejection may be, “You did not get a part in the school musical this year.  You have a lovely voice, but your vocal range is narrow.  We’d like you to take voice lessons to broaden your range and try out again next year.  With a broader range, your lovely voice would be a tremendous asset in a musical.”  This is constructive because it gives a specific reason for the rejection, provides specific suggestions for ways to achieve improvement, and offers praise and hope for subsequent outcomes.  Compare this to a destruction rejection:  “You didn’t make the basketball team.  You’re extremely uncoordinated and always tripping over your own shoelaces.  Seriously, you need to find something else to focus your energy on, you klutz.”  Not only does this fall short of the descriptives above for constructive rejection, it comes across as a personal attack.  Furthermore, it very likely contains falsehoods.  It is unlikely that the recipient of the rejection is “extremely” uncoordinated and “always” trips over his/her own shoelaces.  Words like “always”, “never”, and “extremely” are usually overstatements and therefore inaccurate . . . and often hurtful.

The receiving of rejection is based in part on how the rejection is delivered.  Obviously, constructive rejection tends to be received better than destructive rejection.  However, strong-minded people have been known to receive destructive criticism in a constructive manner.  For example, the alleged klutz above may think, “I’m more capable than you think I am!  I’ll show you!  I’ll practice every day after school until I master the game.  I’ll use your words as a springboard to my success.”  Conversely, fragile egos have been known to receive even constructive criticism in a destructive manner.  For example, the vocalist may think, “I didn’t get a part in the musical.  I suck at singing.  I’m so embarrassed; I must have really bombed the try-out.  I’m never going to do that again; I don’t want to risk feeling this bad when I get rejected again.”

You can’t shelter your child from every childhood rejection . . . nor should you want to as that would render your child less prepared to handle well the rejection in his/her adulthood from which you cannot shelter him/her.  Therefore, as a parent, your role is to help your child receive rejection constructively, even when that rejection is delivered destructively.  So, in the case of the destructively delivered rejection, you could say to your would-be basketball playing child, “I’m so sorry that the coach was so hard on you.  I understand why your feelings were hurt and why you want to give up.  If that’s what you choose to do, I’ll support your choice.  Before you make your choice, though, is there anything you can use from this feedback to help you improve and become the basketball player you want to become?  Or do you believe that this perception that you are a hopeless klutz is accurate?  Is that his perception or your reality?”  If your child ultimately decides that the coach’s perception was baselessly harsh and contains little to no constructive feedback, you are well advised to soften any negative feelings your child may then feel about the coach’s perceived bias against him.  For example, you may say, “We are all flawed human beings.  The coach may be an angry person, or maybe he is discriminatory, or maybe he just had a bad day.  We all need a little forgiveness, don’t we?  If the coach continues to behave this way, we may need to meet with him or with your athletic director to find a workable resolution.  In the meantime, though, let’s see if we can be as understanding of your coach’s difficulties as we wish he would have been of yours.  Ok?”  By helping your child discern between valid and baseless criticism and frame rejection as feedback for self-improvement, rejection thus becomes opportunity for self-awareness and personal growth.

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