In a culture where everyone is a winner, the opportunities to help children learn to deal with disappointments are becoming fewer and further in between. The next time your playdate gets cancelled last minute or the restaurant runs out of chocolate milk, help your child work through those feelings instead of trying a quick fix in hopes of shielding him from disappointment. When you do, you’ll be helping him develop important life skills that will last a lifetime.
Why Learning to Deal with Disappointment is Important
Life is full of disappointments. Whether a friend doesn’t want to share her toys at a playdate, she gets snubbed on the playground or she doesn’t earn a spot on the cheer team, children do and will experience disappointment. A child who learns to deal with disappointment from a younger age is better able to deal with disappointment as an adult.
Acknowledge Your Child’s Feelings
While it can be tempting to simply tell your child everything will be okay or let him know that in the grand scheme of life what happened isn’t a big deal, don’t. Instead, acknowledge your child’s feelings. A simple “I know that you’re disappointed that you can’t play at Charlie’s house. You were really looking forward to it” lets your child know that it’s okay to feel sad, bummed out and upset about the last minute change of plans. Learning to identify and communicate feelings is an important lesson you can help your child learn.
Empathize with Your Child
Put yourself in your child’s shoes. If you found the perfect pair of shoes but learned the store didn’t have them in your size, you’d be pretty bummed out. That’s how your child feels when he’s been anticipating something, only to learn things won’t be going his way. Imagine how your child feels when he’s disappointed and offer emotional support and comfort.
Find the Positive
Every cloud has a silver lining. While you certainly don’t want to minimize your child’s feelings, it is okay to help him brainstorm what good can come out of the experience. Perhaps your child didn’t make the team his friend was on. Helping him to discover the possibility that there could be new friendships to be made can help give the situation a positive spin.
Talk About What You Can and Can’t Change
Some things we can change and some things we can’t. While your child can’t change that she didn’t get selected for a key part in the play, she can change her response to the outcome. Empowering your children to change what they can helps them feel more in control of their feelings and the situation at hand.
Encourage Problem Solving
Something didn’t go your child’s way. Now what? His favorite restaurant was closed. Now what? While your child may not be able to come up with the solution, you can certainly guide him to one. Would you like to go for pizza or for Mexican? Helping your child find solutions to disappointments can help him to refocus on what he can control.
Be a Role Model
Children learn what they live. One of the best things parents can do to help their children learn to deal with disappointments is to handle disappointments in the way they would like their children to. When you encounter a disappointment, say when you’re supposed to have a mom’s night out but it gets cancelled last minute, let your child see and hear you working your feelings of disappointment out. Talk through your feelings, brainstorm your solutions out loud and let your child see you come out okay on the other end of it.
How you help your child handle small disappointments now will set him up for how he handles big disappointments down the road. The next time you’re tempted to shield your child from feeling disappointed, take a step back and consider the learning opportunity at hand. Walk him through his feelings and help him learn that with the right attitude, tools and support, he can handle anything.