It’s tempting when kids experience rejection, to want to protect them and be a buffer to keep their feelings from being hurt. Our blood boils, our God-given Mama or Papa Bear instincts kick in, and we may well go after the offending teacher or student. Sometimes this is a wise course of action, especially if a child is experiencing abuse or extreme rejection. But many times the best strategy is to be thoughtful about strengthening the child instead of protecting them. This prepares them for other inevitable situations in life when rejection threatens to redefine their sense of identity.
Cara’s kids had different classes with the same teacher. Mr. Benson may have been a well-intentioned guy, but the methods he used in his class were laden with shaming, critical messages.
In Jaden’s class, Mr. Benson decided to prepare the kids for the teasing they were sure to get next year in middle school. He projected each student’s picture from school photo day, one at a time, for the class to laugh at. Jaden’s anxious, deer-in-the-headlights mugshot brought a chorus of laughter and comments from his classmates. He ran off the bus sobbing that day, traumatized by the humiliation.
Jaden’s brother Matt, struggled with sitting still and paying attention. One day Matt reported with his lip quivering, “Mr. Benson put my name on the board in a list of kids he expected to get in trouble.” This teacher may have had good intentions to warn those kids to stay out of trouble, but this was extremely discouraging to those kids on the list.
Cara’s efforts to confront these issues with the school had little to no effect, and she feared her boys would begin to form identities around rejection and misbehavior.
My initial reaction was to be as livid as Cara when she told me, but my mind shifted to the question, “Lord, what’s the opportunity in this awful situation?” Cara and I discussed a plan, and she enlisted the help of an acquaintance with some art ability to draw a picture for each of her boys that would counteract the shaming messages.
To counteract Jaden’s teasing about his school photo, Cara’s friend made a sketch of Jesus holding up a picture of him with a cartoon bubble that said, “Jaden, that’s my boy. I made him just the way I wanted him!” (Psalm 139:13,14) Matt’s picture had Jesus smiling while holding up a list of names. Matt’s name was at the top, and the cartoon bubble said, “Matt, he’s on MY list!!” (Revelation 3:5)
Cara hung the pictures in each of the boys’ rooms, and reported, “We had a great conversation about how we should view ourselves the way God does…beautiful, worthy, loved and valued. We talked about how God loves the people who hurt or pick on others just as much as he loves those they pick on. We prayed for those that had been unkind to the boys, and tried to understand what might be going on in Mr. Benson ’s life to cause him to behave that way. The boys responded very, very well – they got it! We refer to the pictures occasionally and review that important message of remembering who we are in God’s eyes.”
This mom equipped her kids for far more than getting through a tough time at school. Believing God’s truth over the opinion of others is one of the most essential skills in life. Proverbs 29:25 says “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.”
You can turn difficult rejection at school into an amazing opportunity for growth. The gospel opportunity when your kids feel hurt or rejected is to guide them to value what God says about them. This builds both faith and resilience for all the ups and downs and hurts that life will inevitably throw at them.
Start by embracing the truth that your children are beautiful, worthy, loved and valued by God.
It’s the bottom line – the thing that defines them. Then you can help your kids grow strong in their understanding of that truth about them no matter what messages they might get from the world around them.
- What is my child believing about himself/herself as a result of the unkindness of a teacher or a student?
- How could I help my child value the opinion of God and those who know and love him/her instead of untrue or hurtful opinions of others?
- What is the truth about my child that would build true identity, resilience and faith?
- How could I best help my child hold on to that truth at school?
(Please pass this post on to the parents of any kids you know that are struggling at school.)
If you are stuck for creative ideas for your child – read on…
Choose any combination of these ideas to help younger and older kids:
- Younger kids: Creativity and humor keep a child’s brain out of that anxious, “People don’t like me” state.
- For visual kids: Draw a simple fun picture of Jesus and your child – artistic talent is not required – or print a downloaded picture of Jesus and glue on a wallet photo of your child. Create a speech bubble filled with the truth about your child. You could hang it in their room and make a copy to tuck in a backpack or notebook for school.
- For auditory kids: Make up a silly song they can sing silently to themselves at school that states the truth about them – i.e. to the tune of Mary Had a Little Lamb –
- I know the real truth ‘bout me, truth ‘bout me (repeat) I know the real truth ‘bout me and it’s not what _______ says. (Insert the word teacher/people, or someone’s name)
- Second verse: Jesus say he loves me so (repeat); Mom and Dad sure love me too and that’s what’s really true!
- For relational kids: Share your own stories from childhood about rejection and what you learned, and how God helps you now to hang on to the truth about you.
- For imaginative kids:
- Proverbs 26:2 says “Like a fluttering sparrow or a darting swallow, an undeserved curse does not come to rest.” Help your child imagine themselves shooing away an unkind comment when it tries to land on their shoulder saying, “No birds on my shoulder!”
- Older kids: Thoughtful conversations can help kids discover what’s true about them and figure out how to hang on to it. Discuss the following questions in a relaxed, light-hearted way.
- Where do people get true value? Is it wiser to get it from the love of those who know them the best or the least? God is the only one who truly knows us completely, and he loves and values us infinitely – Jesus’ death for us is the basis for our value. Those in your family know you the best of everyone on earth, and they love you the most.
- What happens when people give their value away to those who don’t know them well and don’t really care about them? (For example: No one would ever walk up to a stranger in a mall and say, “What do you think of me? That’s what I’ll believe about myself.”)
- What might be going on in a person’s life who says unkind things?
- In tough situations, how can you hang on to the truth about you and your value by those who love you? What scripture (see examples above), or simple “truth phrases” could you write down to remind you of what’s true?
To learn more:
- Read Uncommon Thoughts About Bullying
- Read How to Develop Empathy in Kids (Part 2)
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