Helping teens navigate rejection can be difficult. We want our children to be and feel accepted. So what can we do to help? A recent article in Psychology Today tackled this very question.
On Wednesday afternoons I shuttle my son and two friends to their afternoon swim practice. It is a great opportunity to listen to what’s on their minds. During one particular ride, my son mentioned his concern that two kids they all know were sending the message that they didn’t want him around. My heart sunk. My immediate instinct was to say, “Of course they want you around.” I remained silent, but his friend clearly had the same instinct.
My son continued to explain. These other two kids have always gone to the same place to hang out at school. A few weeks ago, he started to join them. He has since observed that they are starting to go a different route each day. “Are they trying to lose me?” he wondered out loud.
His friend quickly reassured him that she often goes different routes and it probably had nothing to do with him. I wanted to hug her! She offered him what cognitive therapists would call a “benign interpretation” of the facts. Instead of assuming the worst possible meaning of their somewhat vague actions, she suggested a more ambiguous, far less hurtful, explanation.
My son seemed satisfied with this answer and moved on. I, on the other hand, continued to think about how we, as parents, can be helpful in situations when our teens and tweens are worried about social rejection. It is a topic I discuss regularly with clients, but a lot of what I say generalizes to parenting situations as well.
Our desire to make our children feel better and protect them from hurt feelings can lead us to invalidate their fears. Well-meaning comments such as “of course they like you,” or “you don’t need them anyway” suggest that we are dismissing our kids’ feelings as wrong or irrelevant. Even if our comments are accurate, it is far more helpful to validate the fear. Most of us know how awful it feels to fear people don’t like you. Reflecting that to our kids is validating. Let them know we understand how uncomfortable it is to feel rejected. Even more important than solving their problem is letting our kids feel heard and know that their feelings aren’t being ignored.
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