The Parents' Guide to helping your teen cope with rejection
Whether they've applied for an apprenticeships, university place, job or other next step, competition for places can be highly competitive and, inevitably, some applicants get turned down. Experiencing rejection for the first time can be tough. As adults, we have had many years to develop the coping mechanisms to deal with this type of disappointment. However, this may be your child’s first experience of rejection and it can feel very personal - perhaps even like it's the end of the world. But it isn't! Help your teen accept and move on from the decision, without it damaging their self-confidence.
Find out what more you can do at home to help your teen manage stress in:
It's OK to feel hurt
Rejection can be hurtful and it's OK to acknowledge this. Don't dismiss their feelings and jump to encouragement by saying "everything's going to work out fine" (even though it will and this is good advice in the long-term) before allowing them chance to express how they feel and perhaps even cry or rant a bit. That said, it's important they feel reassured that rejection does not define them as a failure. Disappointment is an element of life, the key is to take stock, learn any lessons that could be helpful in the future and move on. This is part of building resilience - the ability to bounce back from setbacks rather than being overwhelmed by them.
Reduce the power of rejection
Try to encourage your child to research and apply for more than one opportunity at a time. If possible, aim for several applications concurrently. This way your child isn't placing all their eggs in one basket and thinking their entire future depends on one pathway. Instead, if one doesn't work out, they've still got open possibilities with others.
This is easy to achieve with university applications because they'll apply for five universities via UCAS and that's an automatic part of the process. It's less obvious with jobs and apprenticeships, especially as applications for these need to be made individually and each one takes a lot of work. However, where possible, they should invest the time and make multiple applications, aiming to keep their options open - it will serve them well in the long term.
Helping them regain control
Encourage your child to request feedback about any rejections. Whilst not all companies offer this, many do. Feedback will help your child understand the reasons for not being successful and will help them improve for future interviews and applications. Companies have a lot of experience in providing feedback and it is likely to be sensitive and constructive.
How we perceive a situation will have a significant impact on how we feel about it. Using the reframing technique of looking at a situation from a more positive angle can help them feel better and improve their mindset, even though the situation itself has not changed at all. This can also be helpful in highlighting that no situation, however appealing, is perfect and that there are always some drawbacks. For example, they may have missed out on an apprenticeship opportunity that they felt was 100% the sure route to their success. They can take a notepad and jot down all the ways they felt it was right. Then clean the slate and write down any ways it wasn't perfect. Did it mean moving some distance from home? Was it especially competitive and likely to be tiring to keep up? Were there elements of the job/training they were less keen on and will no longer have to accept on another course?
Long term viewpoints
There's a lot to be said for living in the here and now, but sometimes teens need to look ahead to the future. There can be many routes to the same destination, so they should keep an eye on their long term ambitions (and what they'd like to achieve) and remain flexible about the different ways of getting there.
Talking it through
It may not be to you! A sibling, grandparent, family friend or friend at school could offer a sympathetic ear. Expressing worries out loud can sometimes make them feel less significant than when they’re playing on loop in the mind. The act of vocalizing and explaining feelings to another can also help put them in perspective, whereas internalizing and thinking negative thoughts over and over can encourage them to feel bigger. Your teen needs to remember they control their thoughts - not the other way around and talking through their feelings can help crystalize this by restructuring thoughts into coherent sentences.
Highly charged emotions are tiring and elevate stress response hormones in the body. Try to get your teen to counter this by:
doing something physical to burn off excess energy and release natural feel-good hormones;
taking their mind off their disappointment by doing something that makes them laugh (and thereby literally changing the chemical balance in the body) - perhaps watching a comedy together or some You Tube shorts;
doing something relaxing and soothing - perhaps cooking, taking a bath, listening to music;
practising slow and deep breathing techniques.
Bear in mind that letters of decline often happen in the lead up to examinations. Try your best to prevent this from having a negative impact on your child’s study or revision efforts by using some of the relaxation ideas mentioned above.
Do not encourage negative self-talk. Instead, try to get them to talk through what they have learned from the experience and what they might do differently next time.
Be there. Listen carefully to their feelings and reassure them that in the long-run, things will work out.
Find out what more you can do at home to help your teen create lifelong healthy habits and help them study more successfully in: The Parents' Guide to Homelife and study - GCSEs and The Parents' Guide to Homelife and study - sixth form
We always love to hear from you, so do let us know if there are any subjects you’d like us to chat to you about. Stay safe and keep happy, Vanessa and Darius - firstname.lastname@example.org