College Rejection? What to Say (& Not to Say!) to Your Child - The Miami Moms

If you have a high school senior in your life, you know that springtime is synonymous with college decisions.  It’s a time of both epic celebration…and also extreme disappointment via a college rejection.  A “no” from a dream school can trigger anger, tears, and a huge blow to a teen’s self esteem. The heartbreak is real and can be incredibly painful, but you’re not powerless.  Parents can make a difference in what comes next.

Rejection letters are so prevalent because an astonishing number of students are applying to college: a 41% increase over 2019-2020 (just 4 years ago!) and a 12% increase over just last year, according to Forbes. “Receiving a rejection letter from a college can be hard on both the child and the parents or guardians,” says our mental health contributor psychologist Dr. Reon Baird-Feldman.

While, ostensibly, adults have better perspective and coping skills, your child likely needs more help to process their new reality.  Dr. Baird-Feldman urges parents to “provide patience, empathy, support and encouragement, and avoid statements that may be dismissive or harsh.” To navigate this delicate balance, we asked Dr. Baird-Feldman to offer some advice and scripts of exactly what parents should-and should not-say to children after they’ve gotten negative news from a school.

What To Say

  1. “Your Feelings Are Normal”

Whether they are angry, sad, disappointed or frustrated let them know that their feelings are appropriate for the news they’ve just received.

2. “This Doesn’t Define You” 

We often feel that a single item in life identifies our worth; as parents, we know that’s not true. Let your child know that their value, identity, and potential are not determined by a college decision. Identify and focus on their strengths and achievements both in the past and the present.

3. “It’s Their Loss”

For example: “It’s too bad that (insert college) is going to miss out on how much fun you are. Let’s see which college gets to have such a smart, fun human.” Help them to set new goals.

What Not to Say 

  1. “It’s ok!”

While we adults understand that rejection is a common part of life, children may not be able to appreciate that. Instead, “it will be ok” may be more tolerable to a heartbroken child. Help them to see that rejection can often mean that a better opportunity is ahead for them. In time, your child may even be open to and find comfort in your own example(s) of rejection that eventually led to success.

  1. “It’s not a big deal!” 

Dismissing or minimizing their feelings can make them question their emotions. Instead, allow them to feel heard.

  1. “I’m disappointed too!” 

This may lead your child to feel that you’re disappointed in them. Instead, provide support, validate their feelings, and assure them of your love for them. 

As with any form of rejection a “mourning” period is expected.  Dr. Baird-Feldman warns parents to look out for signs that your child is going too far, so “if it feels that your child is holding into the rejection longer than is healthy (i.e., appetite is severely reduced, they are isolating themselves from friends and family, crying excessively), reach out to the school guidance counselor or therapist for assistance.” 

You can learn more about Dr. Reon Baird-Feldman on her website and find her latest offering of mental health tools at  Follow her on Instagram @reonbairdfeldman.


More from The Local Moms Network:

5 Phrases to Help You Instantly Connect With Your Kids

6 Steps to Ease Symptoms of Brain Fog

Taking the “Toxic” Out of Achievement Culture for Our Kids

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