Helping Your Kids Handle Disappointment

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From the first time your five-year-old misses a long-awaited field trip, to your 12 year-old not making the soccer team, to the postponement of a wedding due to a pandemic. . . disappointment will inevitably be a part of every child’s life. As a parent, it is difficult to watch, and even more difficult to handle. It helps to have some practices in mind to ease the pain and help handle disappointment gracefully.

Here are some tips I have gathered in my own parenting journey that seem to have helped my kids learn from disappointment and handle it reasonably well. Be advised, some of this I learned from experience by doing the absolute wrong thing. You learn from doing, and I don’t know about you, but my parenting manual got lost in the mail and I built the plane as I flew it.

Acknowledge the pain. 

Although you might want to gloss over the disappointment with clichés and empty words of cheer, letting your child feel the uncomfortable feelings they are having is key to helping them work through their frustration. Let them cry and have some time alone. Don’t try to fix it, just let it be what it is. Sometimes we comfort our kids to make OURSELVES feel better. But, we have to let them feel what they feel, no matter how hard it is on us.

Find the positives. 

You know your child, so you’ll know when it is a good time to help them move from feeling their disappointment without letting them wallow. There will be a time to point out whatever positives might be hidden within the disappointment. Perhaps your child’s failing to make a team will give them more time to participate in other activities. Maybe being left out of a birthday party guest list led them to an activity where they made a new friend.  

Model graceful behavior. 

Of COURSE your child is the best and most precious thing to ever walk the planet, and whoever dished out disappointment is an idiot and a fool. Seriously, though we may feel that way when someone disappoints our kids, it is so important to acknowledge the cause  in a “that’s life” kind of way without making it personal or name-calling. Part of handling disappointment in a mature manner is learning to be gracious in the face of the person or situation that let you down.  

Have something to look forward to. 

The year my daughter didn’t make freshman cheerleader, she at least had Spring Break to look forward to. Did it mitigate her disappointment? Not really, but it took her mind off of things for a bit. Keep the focus on going forward and try to find even small things for your child to enjoy, like going out for ice cream or visiting grandparents. This will change with each season of your child’s life. Again, you know your child so you know what they’d enjoy. Better yet, just ask them!

Move on. . . at least outwardly.

My inner mama bear is alive and well, so I am not going to lie. I still harbor some bitter feelings from a couple of disappointments in my children’s lives. I know I will eventually have to move on from that.

Remember it’s their life, not yours.

That is really the point of all of this—of parenting—isn’t it? It’s our child’s life to live, and we feel the pain they feel probably even more intensely than they do. Paradoxically, it’s our job to model for them and teach them how to work through the pain of disappointment gracefully. That way, they are ready to handle the inevitable disappointments of adulthood with maturity and grace, and to realize disappointments don’t define them. They need to see that these things are just bumps in the road of life.  

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Janna is the mom of two “grown-and-flown” adults, ages 20 and 24,and has been married to her husband, Jamie, for 27 years. They have lived in Birmingham since starting college at Birmingham-Southern in the mid-80s, and loved the area so much they decided to stay. Janna graduated in 1990 and taught elementary school for 28 years, most of it at Gwin Elementary in Hoover. Since retirement, she has certified as a yoga teacher, done more volunteer work at her church, and has explored her love of writing. She is passionate about focusing on the blessings and joys in every season of parenting. When she is not trying to be productive, you can find her with her nose in a book (yes, a paper one), exercising, or hanging out with people she loves.

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