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Help kids deal with disappointment

Abbi Perets lives in Houston, TX, with her husband and five children.

success vs failure

Your child comes in the door in tears. He didn't make the spelling bee. Her best friend is moving away. The cool kids wouldn't sit with her at lunch. "It's okay, sweetheart," you say -- and even though you have the best intentions, you've just made a mistake.

It's hard to see our kids shouldering disappointment -- so hard, in fact that we frequently try to shield them from it. But doing so "can set the stage for other, more hurtful and dramatic outcomes. Children need to experience disappointment in order to understand the joy of feeling happiness and success," says Jodi Stoner, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and co-author of Good Manners are Contagious (Spinner Press 2009).

So what can concerned parents do?

When your child is disappointed, "connect with him right there -- what he's feeling right now. Acknowledge those feelings and validate them as real. Then you can move on to find a positive spin," says Alan Greene, M.D., pediatrician and author a half-dozen books, most recently, Raising Baby Green: The Earth-Friendly Guide to Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Baby Care (Jossey-Bass 2007). Empathize with your child, and let her know that you understand what she's feeling. But be careful that your reaction doesn't leave your child feeling that she's disappointed you, too.

It's also important to let your kids see how you handle your own disappointments. When they see you dealing with something frustrating, you're giving them the tools they need to handle their own mishaps, says Dr. Greene.

Next, ask your child to talk about what he can do next -- how did he handle his last disappointment? What does he think he should do now? "Remind him how good it felt when he bounced back from a past letdown," says Dr. Stoner. Let him know that he will feel good again -- soon.

If your child is having trouble articulating his feelings, provide him with a starter sentence: "It looks like you're feeling [sad] because [you didn't make the team.]" "Kids are great editors," says Dr. Greene. "They may not be able to create that sentence on their own, but they can take your statement and edit it: 'No, I'm angry because…'"

Keep in mind that the middle school years are full of huge ups and downs. Kids are physically and socially awkward as they transition from children to teens. So one way to help them ward off disappointments is to help them find what Dr. Greene calls a "zone of moderate challenge" -- a place where they're enjoying themselves but always looking to reach just a little bit higher.

By arming kids with the experience of success, you're providing the cushion they need to fall back on when disappointment strikes.

For more parenting advices from

4 Preschool skills needed for kindergarten success

7 Tips to stop temper tantrums in public

Top 15 books for preschoolers, kids and teens

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