Disappointment is a difficult emotion to handle. All parents ultimately want children to be good sportsmen, take responsibility for their actions (rather than blaming others), and be able to stand tall after their falls in life (both literal and metaphoric). Here are some essential guidelines to help children handle disappointment:
First, your goal must be to help them deal with the emotion, not “happy them up.” “Happying them up...” comes in many forms. It could be a distraction, a promise to buy a toy or taking them out for ice cream. This attempt to take away the pain can lead (in many years) to adults who unconsciously graze through the refrigerator or use shopping sprees to deal with disappointment.
Instead, we can provide empathy to help ease their pain and teach them that they can handle all that life brings to them.
“You seem _____________.” (Put your best guess of the feeling in the blank… disappointed, frustrated, sad, etc.) If you guess their emotion correctly, their body will relax. If you guess incorrectly, they will tense up, pull away or correct you. If this happens, simply try to describe the feeling again.
“You were hoping ______________” or “You wanted____________.” (Describe the disappointment or hurt)
“It’s hard when ___________________.” (Validate their feeling)
“You can handle it.” (Offer assurance)
“Breathe with me.” Take a deep breath together, and then physically connect in some way.
Example: A child, who worked hard at math, does not get the math achievement award at the end of the year assembly.
“You seem disappointed. You were hoping to get the math achievement award. It's hard when the award you were hoping for goes to someone else. You can handle this. Breathe with me.” Then hug or hold your child.
Example: A child does not make a sports team.
“You seem disappointed. You were hoping to make the team with your friends. You wanted this more than anything. It’s hard when things turn out differently than you wanted. You can handle this. Let’s take some deep breaths together.” Then hug or hold your child.
Empathy helps children take responsibility for their upset in a compassionate, healthy way!
As always, we wish you well!