ADHD and coping with rejection

By Kate Kelly

At a glance

  • Rejection can impact kids with ADHD more intensely than their peers.

  • Kids with ADHD can feel rejected even when it was nothing personal.

  • There are ways to help your child get better at coping with rejection.

Few kids get through childhood without being rejected at some point. And no one likes it when they’re cut from a team, not invited to a party, or turned down for a date. But rejection can be especially hard for kids with ADHD (also known as ADD). They often experience its effects more intensely and take longer to recover from it.

There’s a term some people use to describe intense reactions to rejection that don’t soon go away. That term is rejection sensitive dysphoria, or RSD. But it’s not a formal condition or diagnosis.

Learn more about ADHD and difficulty handling rejection.

Why ADHD makes it hard to cope with rejection

Many kids with ADHD struggle with managing emotions. Being rejected can bring up very strong and long-lasting feelings. These might include feelings of disappointment, sadness, shame, and regret.

Most kids have ways of making themselves feel better if they’re rejected. If they’re cut from the team, for example, they might think, “The coach said I can try out again in the spring. Maybe if I train every day, I’ll be able to make the team then.”

Read a mom’s description of what rejection sensitive dysphoria feels like.

But executive functioning issues can make this kind of self-talk hard for kids with ADHD. Handling rejection requires executive skills that most kids with ADHD lack. These include cognitive flexibility and self-control.

Executive skills allow kids to come up with explanations for what happened and develop a plan to move on. This kind of thinking helps kids put things in perspective. But kids with ADHD can get stuck. They find it hard to shift their thinking and move on. So, they may become hyperfocused on the rejection, talking about it constantly.

The impact of low self-esteem

Kids with ADHD often already feel like they’re on the outside. They’re more likely to struggle in school and have social issues — which can lead to poor self-esteem.

Kids with ADHD also tend to be very sensitive and aware that they’re different from other kids. If they don’t get invited to a party, they’re less likely to think, “What a jerk that kid is” and more likely to think, “What’s wrong with me?”

In extreme cases, rejection triggers such painful feelings that kids go to great lengths to avoid it. They might spend a lot of energy pleasing other people, so they won’t be rejected. Or they may withdraw from situations that might lead to rejection, like joining games at recess.

This only makes them feel more isolated. And it can contribute to mental health issues like anxiety and depression, which are common in kids with ADHD.

How you can help your child cope with rejection

There are ways you can help your child learn to put rejection into perspective and move past it. Here are some things you can do:

Help your child see different explanations. If your child’s friend is playing with someone else and can’t come over, your child may see it as rejection. Help your child understand that sometimes things just happen. Maybe another kid called first. It doesn’t mean your child has lost a friend.

Share stories about rejection and getting over it. Michael Jordan was cut from the high school basketball team. J.K. Rowling was rejected by 12 publishers for her first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. You can also share your own experiences of being rejected and what you did to get over it.

Teach resilience. Help your child come up with a plan to move forward. For example, If your child isn’t chosen for baseball, find another activity to focus on. If your child still wants to pursue baseball, develop a practice schedule.

If your child’s friend cancels plans, brainstorm who else could come over. These kinds of coping strategies will make your child stronger and more resilient when faced with setbacks in the future.

Seek help. If your child is feeling down for longer than what you think is a reasonable amount of time, or if your child just seems off, talk to your doctor. Keep in mind that kids with ADHD are more prone to mental health issues. If you see signs of anxiety or depression in your child, there are treatment options.

If your child with ADHD has trouble managing emotions, learn more about some of the common difficulties kids may have. Find out about ADHD and anger. Read why kids with ADHD often dwell on their emotions and experiences. And learn how behavior therapy might help.

Key takeaways

  • Trouble with managing emotions and self-esteem can make coping with rejection especially hard for kids with ADHD.

  • Kids with ADHD may withdraw as a way to avoid rejection.

  • Sharing stories about people getting over rejection can help your child learn to put rejection into perspective.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Kate Kelly has been writing and editing for more than 20 years, with a focus on parenting.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Stephanie Moulton Sarkis, PhD is an ADHD/ASD expert and a best-selling author.