Committee for Children Blog

Emotions and Rejection: How to Transform Negative Self-Talk into Social Success

Second Step Middle School Program teaches preteens and early teens social-emotional learning (SEL) skills

Author Jasmine D. Williams, PhD, is a research scientist at Committee for Children who contributes to the Second Step Middle School Program.

Negative self-talk is a common, yet harmful, coping strategy. Have you ever said things to yourself like, “I can’t do anything right. I’m such an idiot!”? In Second Step, we call this kind of negative self-talk “unhelpful thoughts.” Intrusive thoughts like these hinder us from effectively managing our emotions and making healthy and responsible decisions. Unhelpful thoughts can negatively affect people’s self-esteem, mental health, and interpersonal relationships.

Because adolescents’ social world begins to expand during the middle school years, learning the practice of recognizing unhelpful thoughts and transforming them into helpful thoughts becomes increasingly important. Doing something new or stretching beyond their comfort zone can create stressful social experiences. When such experiences yield rejection or disappointment, they can evoke strong negative emotions and unhelpful, self-blaming thoughts.

Middle School Activities Ripe for Social Stress—and Social Success

  • Trying out for a sports team
  • Running for a school election
  • Auditioning for a school play
  • Changing friend groups
  • Budding romantic relationships

Unit 3 of the Second Step Middle School Program helps students strengthen their emotion management skills by teaching them to acknowledge strong feelings and use proactive coping strategies. Slow breathing, counting, and positive self-talk are all examples of coping strategies.

Emotion-Management Research

Research shows that having stronger emotion-management skills in adolescence increases people’s ability to cope and decreases internalizing and externalizing symptoms, such as anxiety and aggression. If you find your students are having difficulty handling disappointment (a friendship gone awry), rejection (no valentine from a crush), or other negative emotions (sorrow from not getting the lead part in a musical), consider helping them reframe unhelpful thoughts into positive self-talk.

Resources for Helping Students Deal with Unhelpful Thoughts

Teachers: how can you help middle school students reframe thoughts that aren’t helpful into positive self-talk? Use these middle school lessons, available from Second Step Middle School Program’s Dashboard (go to My Dashboard→Middle School Program→Teach→My Classes):

  • Grade 6, Lesson 15: Spot the Thought—Students learn to become more consciously aware of their thoughts and disengage from unhelpful thoughts.
  • Grade 7, Lesson 15: Unhelpful Thoughts—Students identify the relationship between thoughts and decision making in response to scenarios.
  • Grade 8, Lesson 15: Handling Rejection—Students practice dealing with unhelpful thoughts that stem from feelings of rejection.

More Resources for Middle School Teachers and Educators

  • Help students create an If–Then Plan to implement one of the Second Step emotion-management strategies.
  • Check out the Class Meeting Responding to Rejection in Extend→Advisory Activities→Class Meetings. Class Meetings provide opportunities for you and your students to reflect and discuss personal experiences related to Second Step topics.
  • Read Huffington Post’s “How to Stop Automatic Negative Thoughts.”

Adolescence isn’t easy, but these tools can help. When students have strategies for dealing with emotions, they’ll be better equipped to redirect negative thoughts and improve their outlook and emotional well-being.