Navigating Rejection

This past week, my youngest (aka – “The Professor”) hit his first wall of rejection in school. He wasn’t alone, mind you, as he was one of over 100 students who didn’t make the cut for a popular STEM(Science Technology Engineering Math) academy in our school district. It was a heavier blow than we thought. In this moment, it wasn’t in his plans to be outside of the MESA(Math Engineering Science Academy) program.

While he withdrew to deal with the disappointment, I sprang into action, gathering as much information as I possibly could about options outside of our overcrowded high school – summer programs, curriculum options, opportunities abroad.

Did you know France has a 3-week architecture program for middle & high school? Here’s the link, if you’re curious:

As I bookmarked opportunities, I found myself trying to balance my own feelings of sadness and panic with those of my child.

That’s when it hit me like a ton of bricks - I realized I was doing the very thing that I coach parents to avoid. I was in “fixer mode.” I had completely skipped over that moment where I should be asking him what HE wanted & needed in this moment.

The Professor had been talking about this STEM program since 5th grade – 4 years of anticipation and expectation. But was my rush to uncover alternatives more for him or for me?

Rather than jumping to solve a perceived problem for my child, I decided to practice what I preach - to step back and provide us ALL some room for personal growth. For a kid who has little to no experience with rejection, the following parenting tips can help everyone build a little resilience.:

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  1. Validate and acknowledge their feelings. Rejection can be humbling;listen to your child and give them the space to move through their emotions.

  2. Give them space to process the event. Let your child set the pace and keep the lines of communication open. Some kids need to keep talking it out, while others may need to sit in silence. Let you child help guide you, as their method of coping and processing may be very different from your own. For my youngest, space and quiet is the best formula.

  3. Visualize your new reality. Bringing the event into perspective can be a huge part of building a resilient mindset. Questions like “What will this mean for you in 10 days/weeks/months/years?” can give them space to think about the long-term implications of an event. When they are ready, help them build a new reality from the current moment in time, giving them) the space to realize a fresh or different path and a vision beyond their personal setback. For the Professor, his dad & I asked all of the above and a few more: “On a scale of 1-10, how important was this to him? What was HE truly interested in pursuing as his “back-up plan? How important was it to for him to be able to re-apply to this program in the future?” Each of these questions reframed this event and opened the door for new possibilities.

  4. Explore alternative Opportunities. As the saying goes, “When one door shuts, another one opens.” There is always more than one path to take. Help your child them think of things that they can explore or do now that are alternatives, based on their new reality. For the Professor, the choice in electives was exponential now that he was free of the strict curriculum in the academy. Once he moved beyond the disappointment and began painting a picture of alternative outcomes, he was ready to get into action and open to creating a new reality based on the opportunities identified.

We all fail at some point. It is what we do in the face of failure or disappointment that can determine the direction we grow. Having a parent or coach who can help reframe the situation can be a huge asset for kids as they hit new hurdles, and enabling your child to look beyond and build a new personal story can build muscle memory to support resiliency.

I’m not perfect in the parenting category, but with a little reflection and a big pause, I have learned to help my kids work through many of these issues one step at a time. The bonus it that I’ve grown right along with them.

At 14, the Professor’s doing just fine. He may not have met his immediate goal, but it turns out his new reality isn’t quite so awful after all.