Kids don’t know how to handle disappointment. Is it because you never let them experience it? Stop saving your kids! Here’s what to do instead.
Not long ago I got a phone call from another parent. You see, the fifth grade classes at school had been in a stiff competition to get first choice of t-shirt color for the big end of the school year bash.
You might think that my child lost the competition, but that wasn’t the issue. Actually, his class won. And that was the problem.
Every single kid in our 11 year old’s class chose pink as their t-shirt color. Every single kid except for our child, that is. He does not enjoy wearing pink, so when the class mom asked if anyone was unhappy with the choice of pink, he raised his hand.
The class mother was kind enough to call me to offer our child his own personal t-shirt of a different color so that he wouldn’t be uncomfortable wearing pink. And that’s when I told her that our family policy is that we don’t save our kids from disappointment.
A t-shirt color is such a small thing. It might seem harsh to let your kids feel disappointed when it would be so simple to just make it right.
But this is actually the perfect time to step back and let them figure out how to handle the situation themselves.
How Do I Let Them Handle Disappointment?
As a Mom, it is hard to watch our children feel those tough emotions. Sadness, fear, and yes, disappointment. But when we swoop in and save our kids from emotions, we rob their chance to learn in a safe environment.
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You see, your kid is going to face a lot of disappointment in his life. It’s your job to make sure that he knows how to recognize the emotion. And also that he has some tools to help him manage it.
Someday a girl will break his heart.
A good friend might betray his trust.
And no, dealing with wearing a pink t-shirt isn’t going to make that pain hurt any less. It isn’t going to stop him from feeling emotions.
But after he gets past the initial pain of the experience, he will slowly recognize the feeling of disappointment. And, hopefully, he will recall some of the ways he managed his disappointment when he had to wear that t-shirt.
It seems like a small thing, but it matters.
Lessons in Disappointment and Grace
If you cringe at the thought of watching your child be disappointed over and over, don’t worry. No one expects you to step back and watch them be hurt all the time.
In fact, it’s also important to teach them grace.
Sometimes she’ll drop her ice cream cone, and you’ll buy another one. Sometimes it rains out the biggest ball game of the year and you’ll have a sleepover instead. Show them how to extend grace to others by being that resource for them.
Sometimes that ice cream cone is a chance to learn that you should have been more careful (since Mom told you three times to stop trying to climb the fence while you were holding it!).
And sometimes weather pops up and messes up your plans that you were so excited about. We can’t control the weather, and it can be upsetting when things don’t go your way.
This is a chance to learn how to feel that disappointment, and how to handle it.
If you’ve been a parent for longer than 10 minutes, you know how demanding the job is. It’s a constant balancing act. So while you want to step back and let them learn how to handle disappointment, you also want to guide them through the process. And you should.
Some kids handle disappointment by withdrawing from the family for a short time. This is fine! After they’ve had some quiet time, pop your head in and ask if they want to talk about it. (If they withdraw for longer periods of time, you might want to discuss that with a family doctor.)
Some kids deal with disappointment in anger. They can’t handle when things don’t go their way. If they react by screaming or throwing fits, a time out is in order. It’s less about sitting in a chair and more about giving them time to work things out without involving others in a negative way. After some time they are usually ready to talk or hug it out.
Some kids need extra cuddling time while they deal with their disappointment. Give lots of hugs! But move them into an activity before it becomes a complete pity party. (Bake cookies, go play together, tickle them like crazy!)
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That’s how to handle disappointment.
It isn’t pretty, but we hope it will serve them well throughout their lives.
P.S. We were super proud of our son for standing up and admitting that he disagreed with the rest of the class. The fact that he stands up for himself and doesn’t go along with the popular ideas in the crowd is another important life lesson. We hope he will apply that same attitude to the tougher situations to come.
Next up, are you fighting the sense of entitlement?
How do you handle disappointment in your family?