How to Help Children Cope with Disappointment

Children, in particular, can have a particularly difficult time adjusting to changes in the agenda when they are anticipating something. Learning how to help children cope with disappointment can be beneficial, especially if you show them how to pick themselves up after a setback.

Existence is laden with letdowns, from a park excursion thwarted by rainfall to the unavailability of chocolate sprinkles at the ice cream parlor. Life is brimming with setbacks. We may wish to shield our kids from disillusionment, but it’s impossible—and that’s ultimately a good thing.

According to Robert Brooks, Ph.D., co-author of the book Raising Resilient Children, “When children learn at an early age that they have the tools to get over a disappointing situation, they will be able to rely on that throughout childhood and even as adults.” This statement was made by Dr. Robert Brooks. “By shielding them from all potential heartbreak, you’ll be denying them the opportunity to learn important life lessons,” says psychologist Carol Dweck.

That is not to say that you shouldn’t try to help out in any way. According to Dr. Brooks, “if you help a child learn to ask for realistic support, lean on others, communicate well, and stay optimistic, you are helping that child to handle what life throws at him.”

Here are some strategies for helping your child deal with disappointment that specialists have approved.

What Kind of a Response Does Your Child Have When They Are Disappointed?

The most effective method for dealing with disappointment is to adjust your strategies by how your child currently responds when something unexpected happens to them.

Minor Problems Cause Big Tantrums

If you run out of your child’s preferred brand of apple juice, do you think he or she would break down in tears? Or throw themselves on the ground in protest if another child is using the toy that they consider to be their most prized possession? If your child has the tendency to brood over disappointments for long periods of time or if even the smallest disturbances can cause major problems, you will need to start with the fundamentals.

The following are three methods to keep temper tantrums at bay:

1. What can be altered, and what cannot be altered.

Instill an understanding of what can and cannot be altered in your child. It’s possible that they need to realize the problem is beyond their control or that throwing a fit won’t get them what they want to achieve their goal. Convey that you understand their anguish by saying something along the lines of “I know you’re upset,” and then proceed to talk about more practical solutions.

2. Determine the areas in which your child excels the most.

You should engage your preschooler in various activities until they identify one they really enjoy doing; then, you’ll see them quickly become proficient in that activity. According to Dr. Brooks, it is like an instant ego boost for a child if they can turn to something they know they are good at when they are in a difficult situation. It can immediately alter his thought pattern from “Poor me, nothing ever goes my way” to “Oh well, it’ll work out the next time.”

3. Don’t use punishment.

Your child should not be disciplined for having a negative reaction to disappointment, especially if they tend to cry easily. Although this may be challenging, think back to times when you needed to let off steam or have a good cry to get through a difficult situation.

Your Child Is Being a Downer Because of Their Disappointment

Your child is still prone to become upset easily, but this emotion no longer escalates into a full-blown tantrum. In other words, your child has completed the first half of the task. Take the following steps to continue developing your resilience.

Give people a choice.

When something unexpected occurs, offer your child a choice to make. According to Dr. Brooks, when something doesn’t go their way, kids of this age feel as though they have even less control over their life than they usually do. Giving a child the freedom to make his or her own decision, on the other hand, can be extremely empowering and can drastically alter the course of events. You could ask them, “Since we can’t go to the toy store right now, what kind of toy would you like to play with?” as an illustration. Alternatively, “Would you prefer to go tomorrow morning or afternoon?”

Instill the value of helping others in your child.

Discover ways that your child can be of service to others. You and your child might find it rewarding to help out at the local nursing home together, or you could let your child lend a hand in the kitchen even though it might result in a messier meal for you. Even at such a young age, children can begin to put their own problems into perspective through acts of selflessness. These acts also help children feel as though they have made a positive difference, an important mentality related to resilience.

Instill in your child the ability to solve problems.

Help your child find a solution to a problem on their own rather than jumping in to “fix” it for them, whether it be a broken toy or a fight over which child gets the larger shovel. They will eventually discover, even though it may take some time, that they have the ability to improve a negative circumstance on their own.

How You Can Help Your Child Become More Tolerant

Maybe you’ve noticed that your child is able to shrug off most failures and seems to understand that it’s not necessarily someone else’s fault when they experience disappointment. If your child is not tall enough to ride the roller coaster that looks cool, they will ask to go on a different ride as soon as they realize this. Experts are in agreement that your child may have been born with a greater ability to function well in the face of adversity; however, they also say that it is likely that you have had some part to play in developing that ability in your child. You should be proud of yourself and assist him in developing his bouncing-back skills even further.

Feel what your child is feeling and empathize with them.

For instance, if a playdate is canceled, you should explain to your child how disappointed you were when a friend failed to keep a commitment to you. They will learn that it is normal to feel upset when confronted with unforeseen circumstances.

Discuss it.

Timothy L. Verduin, Ph.D., clinical assistant professor at NYU Langone Health, suggests having a conversation with your child about what they were most excited about and what they imagined it would be like. “It may seem dangerous to lean into the pain, but as long as you are supportive and caring, giving sad moods enough space to run themselves out is generally effective.”

Build your child a support system by including various other people in their life.

It is critical to establish a support system for your child that includes other people in their life, in addition to you and your partner, to whom they can turn for assistance when things get difficult. The most resilient children are able to enlist the assistance of their peers, according to various studies.

Make the most of your negative experiences by turning them into learning opportunities.

Remind him that you and your family have dealt with uncertain situations, and give him some specific examples. Then tell him that you are confident that you will not only find a way to get through this experience but that you will also find ways to have moments of fun, joy, growth, and meaning together.

What Not to Console Your Child With When They Are Feeling Down

You certainly have good intentions. But it’s easy to say the wrong thing when your child is crying, acting out, or talking back to you when they’re upset. You may have put your foot in your mouth, but Richard Lerner, Ph.D., director of Tufts University’s Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development, offers some advice on how to fix the situation.

Here are three things to avoid saying, along with the reasons why.

1. “You’re behaving like a spoiled brat.”

Avoid making comments such as “you’re acting like a baby.” Instead, relating to your child teaches him that it is normal to feel upset, which makes disappointments less frightening in the long run. Say, “It is natural to feel let down, and that is fine. If I were in this situation, I’d be extremely upset as well.”

2. “Instead, let’s do this.”

Do not suggest that we engage in this activity instead. The question, “Do you have any ideas for what we can do instead?” is a much better response. Not only does it make a child feel better in the here and now when you ask them the appropriate questions to help them come up with their own solution, but it also demonstrates to the child that they are capable of finding ways—on their own—to improve a bad situation.

3. “It really isn’t that big of a deal.”

Don’t say, “it’s not a big deal.” Your child is likely to attach a great deal of significance to being let down, and treating this emotion as though it is unimportant demonstrates that you are unaware of the things that are truly important to them. Try saying, “I am aware of how difficult this is for you to say, or “Yeah, I can see that. Even though I was never confronted with a situation like this when I was in school, it seems like it has been a trying experience for you.”

The Heart of the Matter

The only way to build the kind of resiliency that will see us through the challenging times that lie ahead is to examine how we respond to the inevitable setbacks that are a part of life. Your child can learn how to “roll with the punches” if they are exposed to positive role models, a lot of practice, and a lot of supportive adults who can help show them the way. Kids have a natural capacity for resilience.

Meaningful articles you might like: Helping Kids Adjust To Major Life Changes, How Should Parents Impact Their Children’s Career Decisions, How to Raise Critical Thinkers