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The devastation of disappointment – Helping children cope with tough situations

If you still cringe when thinking back to not making the dance troupe in high school, it’s no wonder you fear your child’s first disappointment. When upset strikes – here’s how to help your kid cope.

They teeter on the verge of tears and cope with feelings of sorrow, remorse, anger and despair. Although it can be a tough lesson, we all know that disappointment is a part of everyone’s life. Experiencing it and moving past it teaches children how to rise above adversity. It also teaches them how to recognize their inner resources for facing tough challenges despite the outcome. 

“A child who understands that he’s not always going to be the smartest one in school, or the fastest runner in track will learn humility, grace and how to temper his feelings.” says Rosemont, IL. high school teacher and part-time cheerleading coach, Liz Morinski. “I encourage my students to work to their potential, to celebrate their personal successes, to learn from their failures and to moderate the result of competition to focus on their personal bests,” she says. 

One resource Morinski incorporates is guiding her students to understand how disappointment can be motivating. “A child who receives a disappointing grade is often challenged to try harder and succeed next time.” She sees many children rebound stronger and wiser from disappointing instances.

How to best help your child

“Sensitive children require different tactics than children whose emotional constitution is tougher,” says Amy Klein RN, MSW of New Bethlehem, Penn. Gauging how your child feels about a disappointing adventure gives the necessary direction to ensure he’s able to cope.

Experts agree initiating a heart-to-heart discussion that incorporates examples of disappointments you’ve faced, solutions you both have tested and honest feelings about the outcome your child was hoping for versus the outcome he must face as a result of the disappointing situation is a terrific option.
“Realizing they have choices and options can be pivotal for children,” says Klein. Help him realize that though he may not have earned a spot in the starting line-up, he still has the opportunity to play on the baseball team. Taking a class or working with a tutor to improve grades, attending a camp to learn cheerleading skills or framing a third-placed ribbon when hopes for first place are dashed are all alternatives that kids caught in the midst of disappointment do not easily recognize.

How to parent through disappointment

Don’t dwell. “If the next day, or even a few hours later, he seems to have recovered, accept that. Don’t bring up the incident again “just to make sure he’s OK,” says Klein.

Celebrate his efforts. Klein says it’s a good idea to acknowledge his efforts, even though the outcome might be disappointing. “If he tried out for the team, celebrate that attempt,” says Klein, “look for the positives to teach him there are many facets to one situation.” And, even though she didn’t earn an “A+” on a test, boost her spirits by acknowledging her effort and work ethic.

Unfortunately, there will be situations that end in disappointment. Your children can use these situations to provide a springboard to a painful lesson. Finding the message that he will encounter difficult situations, and may not always emerge the apparent victor will reduce a pessimistic attitude and lack of self-confidence. Your child will also gain valuable experience and skills to count on for the rest of his life. 
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