Helping kids handle disappointments

Jun 9, 2008 at 10:27 a.m. ET

If I could shield my kids from disappointments, I would. Even though I know that is not the best thing for them, even though I know they need to learn about disappointments, it's so hard to watch them go forth with their best efforts only have hopes dashed. From sports teams to theater productions to, well, just about anything, sometimes things just don't turn out as planned in spite of best efforts otherwise.

Dissapointded Little Boy
I have to admit, I'm not the best at handling disappointments in my own life; I tend toward the dramatic. As a parent, I recognized early that if I wanted my kids to learn how to manage disappointments in a more constructive fashion, I needed to model that behavior. It's been hard. Really hard.

Some things are out of our control

There are some things in life we cannot control, and some things we cannot. When the kids experience a disappointing event, first of all I console. I let them feel that disappointment for a bit. They have to. Not to let them would deny their feelings, and the hard feelings are very real. But I also try to pull them through the feelings fairly quickly.

I try to help the kids identify the elements that they can or could control, recognize those they can't control, and identify what could happen differently in the future. For example, the sons of the coaches of the traveling team are going to make the team, regardless of skill. That's something we can't control. What we can control is the amount of practice and skill development and eating right and rest before the tryout so the tryout is even better next time.

Realistic expectations

Sometimes, after the initial disappointment has passed, it's necessary to talk about realistic expectations. Just like some jobs for which I have applied would be stretches for me, expecting to get the lead in a theater production the first time one tries out for a production can be unrealistic. It happens, but it's the exception rather than the rule.

We talk about journeys instead of instant gratification, and the learning process. We brainstorm different ways to achieve a goal and/or avoid disappointment in the future.

Always, always do your best

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, when disappointments happen, I try to emphasize how proud I am of my kids that they tried. They put themselves out there, they risked, and they did their best. They may be disappointed, but they can hold their heads up high.

Disappointments, for better or for worse, are part of life. Helping my kids learn to deal with them has helped me learn to deal with them better, too. I may think I am teaching my kids, but really, as with so many things, they are teaching me.

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