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Helping Kids Deal with Disappointment

By Sinead Hamill

Disappointment is a part of life, like it or not!  Of course our natural reactions to disappointment are to feel bad, perhaps experiencing a sense of loss or even lowered self-esteem.  What we need to realise however, is that disappointment at some stages in our lives, is pretty much inevitable.  What matters is how we respond to it.  Basically we can either sink or swim! Meaning you can sink into despair and feelings of being dragged down, hard done by, uselessness, not being good enough or you can swim against that current and look for ways to learn, grow and become stronger as a result of the experience.  The power is in your own hands.   It is the latter attitude I’m sure we would all want for our children, helping them to become balanced, resilient and realistic.  With this in mind, it is necessary to become aware of how we respond to their disappointments and indeed our own.


So your child doesn’t get invited to a party, doesn’t do as well as s/he hoped to in a school project or does not win the game s/he is playing.  How do you respond?  Do you run over with hugs, kisses, treats and other distractions?  Of course you want to shield your child from getting hurt but ask yourself, what life skills is your child learning if you’re constantly there to bail him out? That it’s okay to run away and never face up to negative emotions?  Sadly, the immediate satisfaction that this may bring won’t last for very long and your child has learned nothing valuable.

Disappointments have an essential role to play in emotional resilience, social and intellectual development, creative thinking and the ability to develop coping methods.  As children grow towards adulthood, they will be faced with numerous disappointments.  Our role, as the adults in their lives is to support their development either by giving them the time and space they need to register the disappointment and come up with a working solution or in some cases be there to guide them, providing them with tools they can use for themselves in the future.

So how can you guide your child without necessarily taking over?

•    Encourage your child to take a few deep breaths and calmly put into words what the upsetting situation is – This may help to slow down racing thoughts and emotions and give the situation some perspective.

•    Empathise - We all want to feel understood and have our feelings acknowledged.  Perhaps you can recall to your child a similar situation you went through and how you dealt with it.  Even if you feel your child is being unreasonable, try to put yourself in his/her shoes for a moment.  Let them know that it’s okay and quite normal to have these feelings sometimes but that it is important to work through them in a positive manner.

•    Brainstorm and discuss possible solutions – Encourage your child to come up with the majority of ideas. Together talk them through.  Do let your child know if any of his ideas are inappropriate and why.  Encourage, using suggestion if needed, more appropriate responses.  Do make your child aware that things don’t always go our way and that at times we may need to be flexible but if we try to do our best and come from a place of good intentions, that what counts.

•    Reward the effort rather than the result – It is important to reward your child’s good efforts.  Let them know you are proud of the work and effort they put into things and that you will always love them, regardless of what they achieve or don’t achieve.  It is important for children to know that things won’t always work out the way we want them to but it’s how we react to those times that can either keep us stagnant, sinking or swimming forward.

•    Offer Mindfulness Activities– Developing a positive mind-set in your child can help them to stay aware of all the good things in their lives, even when some other things are not going their way.  This can help them to gain balance and perspective.  Keeping a gratitude notebook, a happiness jar, which you fill with all the happy occurrences from the day, simple meditations and even just chatting together as a family about each other’s days, can help us to remember and be thankful for the many blessings we each have.

•    Help them to realisethat sometimes disappointments can be blessings in disguise – Encourage your child to think about the disappointing situation and what they can learn from it.  Sometimes one door closing can mean another one is opening.  Try not to let them get too bogged down in a problem by reminding them of all the things they are great at and engaging in an activity they enjoy.  This may help them to realise that there is more to focus on in life than our problems and that time and space can have wonderful healing effects.

•    You the model adult– Oh yes, as I say in many of my articles, your children are watching and learning from you all the time.  Be aware of how you react to your own problems and disappointments.  Do you, in the words of and Britney, “scream and shout and let it all out”?  Or do you calmly look for the best way to respond?  Please also be mindful of your reaction to your children’s situations.  Be careful not to project your own hopes and disappointments onto them.  That kind of pressure just isn’t fair.  You do need to be able to separate yourself from the issue to some degree and allow your child to form his own opinions and learning experiences.

So there you have it!  It’s all about perspective really.  ‘One man’s trash is another man’s treasure’ and it’s up to each of us to look for the treasures that are hidden everywhere.  Life can be a bit of a rollercoaster, full of ups and downs but isn’t that what makes it exciting?  Isn’t that what gives us goals, challenges to overcome and a sense of achievement whenever we do overcome them?  Let children into this little gem of knowledge and watch as your very own little treasure sparkles and shines through the good times and the bad.

Dealing with Disappointment

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