But That’s Not Fair! Teaching Kids how to Deal With Rejection

Words on Wednesday

How many times have these words been uttered?

“She got more than me!”

“I was sitting there first!”

“His slice is bigger than mine!”

“That’s not fair!”

We’ve all said it, and if you’re a parent like me, you’ve heard it – in all its forms – numerous times a day. The standard response to these statements tends to be “life’s not fair!” (In my house, with a “suck it up, Buttercup” added at the end for good measure!)

For the most part, whatever they are complaining about is trivial and the fact that Johnny got a slightly larger piece of pie than Tommy really doesn’t matter a whole lot. It’s only pie after all!

But every now and then the “pie” is a little bit bigger. The stakes higher. The fallout greater.

What do you do then? How do you deliver the “life’s not fair” speech without completely demoralizing your child? What if you didn’t have to deliver that speech because you had properly prepared your child for the outcome – both good and bad?

We haven’t had to deal with anything life altering … yet. Soccer try outs that went awry have been the biggest issue to date. And even then, she knew her effort on the day wasn’t equal to those of the girls who were picked. Tough lesson perhaps, but a valuable one. Hard work and consistent effort beats natural born skill more than you’d think!

Recently we faced a try out of a different variety. One that required more preparation than we’d dealt with before.

Our middle daughter applied for an art enrichment program here in Delta called Art Stretch. She’s shown an aptitude for, and love of, art since she was very young. Don’t get me wrong, she’s no Picasso or Michelangelo, but compared to other children her age she seems to be more artistically blessed. Of course, I’m her mother so am completely biased!

She expressed an interest in applying for this program a couple years ago but this was the first year she was old enough to actually do it. As a dedicated, supportive parent I have been encouraging her interest, talking to all her teachers about it, and telling her to start hanging onto her favourite pieces for her portfolio. And in true Middle Child fashion, she’s done nothing.


When the time came to apply I downloaded the application and we read through it. It was quite involved! More involved than my older daughters application to the Write Stretch program for sure. She had to create a brand new piece of art to their specific criteria, submit three other pieces that reflected her style and ability, and write a couple paragraphs about her creative process and why she wanted to be in the Art Stretch program. I am fairly certain, given her reaction, that she assumed all she had to do was ask and she’d get in. When faced with the realities of how much work was involved, and how little guarantee of acceptance there was, she freaked out!

Life lesson time!

While her reaction is completely typical for her – my sensitive child – it did lead to a long talk about hard work, comparative excellence, and the incredibly tough industry that she was expressing an interest in entering. And here’s where that extra preparation came into play. We talked about why the adjudicators needed to see so many different pieces of art from her and also why they needed to hear her thoughts about making it. We talked about how this was normal for competitions of this sort, about how all artists have to submit portfolios to be considered for shows, programs, and galleries, and about how important it is to the viewer that the artist be able to explain why and how they did what they did. That through that explanation, the viewer could gain a greater appreciation for the piece. I think it was the writing that set her off initially as she has learning difficulties with the written word. But we came up with a way she could explain it in her own words and spell everything correctly – just call me Secretary Mom!

I was touched by what she wrote about how making art helps calm her and that’s why she wanted to be in their program. We have received a recent diagnosis of auditory processing and memory recall issues with her so we know the next few years are going to be particularly tough for her as she starts therapy. I truly wanted her to get in so she could have one area of her academic life where she could feel special and gifted. But we talked about what would happen if she didn’t get in as we believe our kids need to be prepared for the bad as much as the good. And we do not believe in lying to them or overestimating their chances or abilities. Too much has happened in my life for me to paint a picture of rainbows and unicorns for them! In the end she was happy with her portfolio and satisfied that she’d done her best. Whatever the outcome, she could be proud of her efforts. And so were we!

We crossed our fingers and waited.

On Monday we received a letter confirming what I’d already heard through the grapevine … she hadn’t made the cut. Not many had!

Now what? How was she going to take it?

My middle daughter is the type of kid who’s hard to read sometimes. She struggles to express her emotions and often sadness, disappointments, or anger come across as indifference and apathy. A blank face, a shrug, and a minimal response was right in character for her. So how do I know she’s truly okay with the panel’s decision and not harbouring deep seated resentment? I suppose I don’t know for 100% sure, but my “mommy gut” says our preparation was such that she is okay. She’s not about to give up making art just because of one rejection at least. I consider that a win!

Another reason I am confident that she is fine with the decision is that the letter they sent was amazing! Yes, it was most likely a form letter which means that dozens of kids got the exact same letter, but it was one of the most well written rejection letters I’ve ever read! While laying out how overwhelming the interest in the program was this year, and complimenting the calibre of applicants, they also encouraged the kids to keep being creative, keep making art, and most of all, keep trying for programs such as theirs. They included practical suggestions on how to keep art front and centre in their lives and applauded their bravery for applying in the first place. Well done Art Stretch!

So where do we go from here?

As we do all our girls in whatever activity they are interested in, we will continue to encourage her to practice her art. She’s got art supplies aplenty and, given what I do every day, access to much more! Since she is not really a self-starter, it will fall to us as parents (and really, me as the artistically bent parent) to remind, nag, and encourage her to make art. Next year we will start the Art Stretch application process earlier … if that’s what she wants. For now though, we will just enjoy the summer and let our girl be. She’s only ten after all. Plenty of time to become a starving artist!!

Our job as parents is to expose our children to as many experiences as our location, finances, and interests allow and let them tell us what they want to pursue further. It is not our job to fight (all) their battles for them. They need to learn to stand up for themselves so when they leave the protection of our arms, they can stand strong knowing we have their backs no matter what.

Some final words of advice:

Dealing with rejection is hard. For anyone! Currently there is a “everybody’s a winner” philosophy in children’s activities. This type of behaviour doesn’t build the coping skills our kids will need “in the real world”. University professors are not going to give them a participation ribbon just for showing up to class every week (although, maybe if they had I would have done that more myself!) Start preparing your child for potentially unfair situations before they arise. Talk to them! Make sure they have all the tools they need – physically and mentally – to compete in the arena. Go over the expectations – theirs, the coaches/teachers, and yours. Once you’re there you may find out the playing field isn’t level, but if you and your children know that they have done everything in their power to win the race, get into the program, or be a part of the elite team, then they are winners! The next time out they will be even better prepared and may win that coveted spot. In the meantime they will learn a valuable lesson about hard work and about how much courage it takes just to step into the arena!

Share your parenting wins and losses with us in the comments or over on my Facebook Page. And since the holidays are rapidly approaching, here are eight ways to keep your children creative over the summer (or any time of the year):

  • Have them keep an art journal. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just something they can scribble in when inspiration strikes.
  • Set up a dedicated spot in the house for them to be creative. If they like solitude make sure they have a desk in their bedroom where they can go to be alone and create. If they are energized by having people around them, a corner of the kitchen or family room may be better.
  • Keep them supplied with sidewalk chalk. One summer our girls made an art gallery on the sidewalk outside our house and so many of the neighbours stopped to say how much they appreciated it too! Bonus: they are playing outside and not spending all day in front of a screen!
  • Let go of “messy house” phobias! Just for a few weeks, it will all be okay! Promise! (If you didn’t know, I’m really talking to myself here – I hate all the paint, glue and glitter that goes along with their creative processes!)
  • Enroll them in a summer art program through your local rec centre or a place like 4Cats.
  • Pack a simple art kit for summer trips. A sketch book, colouring book, pencil, pencil crayons, markers, pencil sharpener and eraser are all you need for your little artist to while away rainy days away from home.
  • Scroll through Pinterest with your child and pick a few simple craft projects to work on. I’ve linked to my board full of summer projects so go ahead and start there for inspiration.
  • Invite their friends over for a crafty play date. This is ideal on good weather days when you can set up some tables outside and let them get as messy as they want! Here is a post FULL of ideas for such a play date.


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