If you were to ask a little girl or boy, sulking on the soccer field or at home after a horrible day at school, "What’s wrong?", they’d probably shrug their shoulders and pull away, unable to put into words what they’re feeling.
They’re sitting there, defeated, with a broken heart after not getting chosen as prefect or for the soccer team, or after getting bad grades, or getting rejected by the girl or boy they’d been crushing on the entire year.
But it’s important that we do get our kids to talk about how they’re feeling, especially when those feelings are disappointment and rejection.
What happens when we bury our feelings
We often hear that traumatic childhood experiences come back and haunt you later in life. And children are more prone to developing PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) than adults, as their brains are still in development. Local studies revealed that as much as 20% of young people and clinic patients in South Africa had been diagnosed with PTSD.
And although a broken heart may not seem like such a big deal to you, the way you teach your child to deal with whatever they may be feeling, well, that’s something they’ll carry with them for the rest of their lives.
As we've written before, if our kids tell us they’re sad about something seemingly small and we respond with, "There are kids with bigger problems", our children may feel less inclined to share their feelings when they’re experiencing real trauma, and they'll learn to cope with whatever they might be feeling on their own. This could eventually lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms, from cutting themselves to bullying others.
In some cases, they might bury their feelings of rejection altogether and have these manifest later in life when something triggers them again, and in extreme cases it could result in them dealing with it in aggressive ways.
Consider the staggering stats around domestic abuse, or the number of mass shootings all over the world. Peter Ross, a writer for the Observer, traced the circumstances surrounding these. He explained that for the most part, the shootings tend to happen just after the shooter received bad news "they clearly couldn't process".
He continues, "It’s also clear that an increasing number of men are not able to manage their feelings, frustration and anger in a healthy manner. So many of these cases show a man at the end of his tether, had one too many setbacks, and finally snapped."
- Read more on how to help your children deal with trauma: When bad stuff happens
1. "Comfort and validate their experience"
It’s important to acknowledge what our kids are feeling and not dismiss it because we might not remember just how badly our first crush actually crushed us. We can respond by saying, "Oh no, that’s so disappointing! I understand you must be heartbroken," instead of the usual, "There’s plenty of fish in the sea."
And let’s be honest, there’s nothing quite as painful, to truly hone in on that feeling, like unrequited love. I mean, they call it a "crush" for a reason.
2. "Tie your children’s value to their character, not their achievements"
While we all want our kids to succeed, it is important to let them know that their achievements do not define them. Because while it’s great when our kids get what they want, when they don’t, they can often feel like they aren’t quite good enough.
3. "Make failing safe"
Let them know that we all get rejected. Remind them that there’s nothing wrong with being rejected and again, there is nothing wrong with them.
It might be a good idea to tell them about a time in your life when you too were rejected and then one where you also succeeded.
It is important to let them know that this happens to all of us and while you shouldn’t tell them in the bluntest way that it isn’t the end of the world, you can help them understand that life certainly does go on.
4. "If you don’t succeed, try again"
They might feel defeated at first, but once their frowns progress to mildly disappointed smirks, you can encourage them to try again.
However, it is important that our kids also know, particularly when it comes to romantic feelings and potential relationships, they should respect the other person’s decision. While we want our kids to never give up, we can’t very well teach them that a definitive "no" means anything but "no".
- Also read: A great way to teach our kids about consent
5. "Take a back seat"
Although we want to be there for our little ones to help them through their very first crush, Prudente explains that we need to give them the space and time to actually be sad, instead of expecting them to just move on.
Sure, as a parent we absolutely hate seeing them heartbroken and we can do our part to talk them through it, but eventually we’ll need to take a step back and let them deal with whatever they may be feeling in their own time.
Rejection, especially from a girl or guy you’ve been pining over for the entire year, will not simply vanish from your mind and heart, over a quick pep talk and ice-cream.
So although they may be feeling a little down on their luck, with these 5 steps, you could encourage them to talk about their feelings, deal with it in a healthy way, and then move on and forward.
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How have you helped your little ones deal with rejection in the past? Tell us by emailing to firstname.lastname@example.org and we may share your comments with the Parent24 readers.
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