Life is full of disappointments of different sizes. While caring grown ups may want to protect their kids from all of them, they can't, & that's okay.
Disappointment can be a valuable teaching tool.
Disappointment, as it turns out, can be an opportunity for social emotional growth. Experiencing & working through discomfort or challenging emotions helps children develop resilience & coping skills. This empowers them to overcome setbacks, handle problems on their own, & process big feelings independently.
Keep in mind that all children are different & all responses are valid.
Some children may erupt into a tantrum, others might become sullen or withdrawn, & others might be stubborn or give you attitude. Remember, disappointment is hard to deal with even for many adults, so the primary goal in these moment shouldn’t be discipline. Your kid(s) are expressing themselves & need your support.
Here's what you can do to help:
#1 - Empathize & validate.
In challenging moments, show empathy & understanding with phrases like “I understand you’re feeling disappointed” & “it’s okay to feel that way.” Let your child express feelings & provide comfort.Connection helps them recover from adversity.Respond calmly & model healthy coping skills. You can always discuss positive ways to handle disappointment when emotions settle.
#2 - Don’t fix the problem — guide them through it.
Empower your child to find solutions by asking questions:
How did you feel when that happened?
What did you hope would happen?
What can you do differently next time?
This helps them brainstorm & think through possible solutions while receiving your comfort.
#3 - Manage expectations.
While we can’t prevent every letdown, we can help kids cope with anticipation. For example, if planning a family trip, try making a list of hopes, possibilities, & sure things. You may hope to visit a theme park, it’s possible to go to a waterpark or museum, & you’ll definitely spend time at the beach. This approach allows kids to anticipate the excitement without expecting everything to happen.
#4 - Delay gratification.
In today's fast-paced world, it can be tough for kids to grasp the concept that many things take time & practice. Routines can help with this.For example, setting a routine of thirty minutes of downtime before heading to the park teaches them to slow down & wait. Practicing goal-setting is also beneficial. For jigsaw puzzles, work on one corner at a time & set timers for breaks to help your child manage challenges.
#5 - Teach coping skills.
Modeling & explicitly teaching coping skills can help kids navigate big feelings independently. For example:
Practice deep breathing (click HERE for a link to 35 child-friendly breathing exercises).
Use art to express feelings: Coloring, drawing, or molding clay can be relaxing.
Listen to soft music
Read or listen to a story
Remember, patience is key when children react strongly to minor upsets. Allowing them to express their emotions can help them rationalize disappointments & find ways to recover.
Disclaimer: The internet is not a substitute for therapy, & I'm not a licensed therapist. If your child is experiencing severe or persistent emotional or behavioral challenges, please seek guidance from a qualified mental health professional.
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Brooks, R. (2002). Raising Resilient Children: Fostering Strength, Hope, and Optimism in Your Child. McGraw-Hill.
Gottman, J. M., & DeClaire, J. (1998). Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child. Simon and Schuster.
Seligman, M. E. P. (2007). The Optimistic Child: A Proven Program to Safeguard Children Against Depression and Build Lifelong Resilience. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.