Helping Your Child Deal with Disappointment
February 6, 2024
Life is full of ups and downs, and children are particularly affected when plans change unexpectedly. However, experiencing disappointment can be beneficial for them, as long as we teach them how to overcome it. As much as we would like to protect our children from letdowns, it is not always possible, and that is okay. Little and big disappointments are a part of life, and learning how to bounce back from them is an important life skill.
- Validate the feeling, Wait and Listen
When your child experiences something that upsets them, it is important to take your time and not rush through the situation. Even though it might be uncomfortable, acknowledge that it feels terrible and unfair. Don’t try to sugarcoat the situation because sometimes disappointment is just a part of life. Allow your child to express their emotions, whether that means talking or crying. Just be there for them for as long as it takes and don’t attempt to solve anything. Instead, listen and wait until they are ready to move on. It is essential that children experience the full range of emotions, and if we don’t allow them to, emotions can become very intimidating.
Be careful not to dismiss their feelings as “silly” or unimportant. This can make them feel like their emotions are not valued, and that you don’t understand how they feel. This can lead to feelings of isolation and a downward spiral of negative emotions.
2. Share a similar experience
It is important to be mindful of how you share your experiences with your child. The purpose should be to help them understand that you’ve been through similar situations and can empathize with them, not to one-up them or diminish their feelings. Avoid making their disappointment seem insignificant in comparison to your own because it is not about you. However, if you’ve gone through a similar experience, sharing it can help them realize that they’re not alone. By relating to them on an emotional level, you can strengthen your connection with them. If you have never been through anything like what your child is going through, then let them know that you can imagine how it must feel.
3. Praise the effort
It is so important that your child knows that even if they “fail” at something, your love will never change. If they are disappointed because they didn’t make it through a test that they tried hard to do well in, then make sure you shift the focus to the effort. They need to know that you see more than the end result and it is their character that matters.
If they are disappointed by something that is out of their control, then let them see that you are impressed with them.
4. Come up with a plan
Take your time before moving to the next step. Pay attention to your child’s cues to determine when they are ready to work through the problem. Once they have processed their emotions, they can identify the cause of the issue, determine if there is anything they can do to resolve it, and develop a plan to prevent it from happening again. Disappointment can serve as an excellent motivator if we allow it to.
Work out with your child what the problem is. Was there anything they could have done differently? If so, can they try again? Or maybe they can make a plan to get through it next time. How have they overcome disappointments in the past? What are the skills you have noticed that they could use again?
If it is something out of their control, is there anything else they could do? You can offer suggestions but as much as possible try and let them work out what to do. You want them to develop this skill, not feel that they have to ask someone else to solve their problems. Just support them and think through the plans with them. If you don’t think the plan will work, then go through “What would happen if we did that”?
If their disappointment is not something that they want to improve then find their strengths. We aren’t good at everything, but everyone is good or passionate about something. It can be helpful for them to realise that it is okay to not be good at some things. We can’t all be good runners or great singers. Help them find what they are good at and follow the goals they have set of it.
5. Role Model Disappointment
Children are always watching, and we can use this to our advantage. When we are disappointed or plans don’t work out as we had hoped, let them see. Say how you feel when an appointment gets changed or a meeting with your friends is cancelled. But also let them hear you problem-solve what you can do and how you try and cope. Don’t do this with big worries, kids don’t need to take on adult concerns. But you may as well let them hear you working things out in a positive way, they are watching anyway.
Children need to see that disappointments are a part of life, and we all go through them. What matters is how we move through the disappointment to what sometimes turns out to be the best learning experience.
6. Don’t use punishment
It is important not to punish your child if they react negatively to disappointment, especially if they tend to cry. Although this can be difficult, it’s important to remember that there may have been times when you yourself needed to let out your emotions and cry to cope with a difficult situation.
7. Teach them coping skills
Learning to cope with disappointment is a valuable life skill, especially for children who may struggle with it. It’s important to teach them how to handle disappointment before they experience it. One way to do this is by preparing them before playing a game where they may not win. You can help them practice what to do if they feel disappointed. Encourage them to take a deep breath and tell themselves positive affirmations, such as “It is okay, I can’t always get my way” or “It’s okay, I will just do something else.” By teaching these skills, you can empower your child to handle disappointment in a healthy way.
What Not to Say When Your Child is Disappointed
You may mean well as a parent, but when your child cries, throws a tantrum, or talks back, it is easy to say the wrong thing. Here are three things not to say and why:
- You are acting like a baby
Don’t say, “You are acting like a baby.” Instead, relating to your child lets them know it’s normal to feel upset, making letdowns less scary over time.
Say, “It is okay to feel disappointed. I’d be really upset in this situation too.”
2. Let us do this instead
Don’t say, “Let us do this instead.” A better response: “Do you have any ideas for what we can do instead?” Asking the right questions to help a child come up with their own solution not only helps them feel better at the moment but also shows your child that they can find ways on their own to improve a bad situation.
3. It is not a big deal
Don’t say, “It is not a big deal.” The odds are that disappointment is a big deal to your child and dismissing it as unimportant conveys that you do not know what really matters to them. Try saying, “I know this is hard for you,” or “Yes, I can see that. I never went through something like this when I was young, but it seems like it’s been a bummer.”
Life often presents situations that can be disappointing or difficult to handle. However, the way we react to those situations can help us build resilience and prepare ourselves to face tough times in the future. Children have a natural ability to adapt, but with the right guidance and support from adults, they can learn to handle challenging circumstances and bounce back from setbacks. By providing positive role models and plenty of encouragement, you can help your child develop the necessary skills to overcome obstacles and navigate life’s challenges with confidence. So, instead of rushing to fix a problem, help your child solve it themselves, whether it’s a broken toy or a fight with another child or sibling over a bigger toy. Although it might take time, they will learn that they can make a bad situation better on their own.