Dealing with Disappointment

It happened. For the first time in his short 12 years of life L learned what is was like to be disappointed by someone other than his family. T and I have been disappointing him his whole life. NO is a common word at our house, which leads to disappointment.

But today I received a text from L. He is now going into 7th grade, which means he auditioned for the Middle School band director and today he found out what band he made.

I was heartbroken for him. I mean he used a sad face emoticon! But after letting him know I was just as bummed as him I reminded him that there is always a positive. There is always next year. I found a wonderful article written by Roni Conen Sandler, PhD. on Coping with Disappointment. The main takeaway I found from the article was with disappointment comes a healing process.

The Healing Process

Since disappointments are inevitable life experiences, it is important for kids to know how to cope well. What does that mean? Well, first to allow themselves to have genuine emotional reactions, which often tell them important information about themselves and their goals. Then they must get up, brush themselves off, and go on to their next endeavor. Throughout this process, young people can develop resiliency and adaptability. Here are some ways parents can contribute:

  • Empathize with kids’ feelings, whatever they are. That way, they will feel heard, validated, and taken seriously. Focusing on our children’s emotions requires, however, that we can recognize and manage our own. Be sure to express that you’re proud of your children’s efforts. After all, if they never fall short of their goals, kids are probably aiming their sights too low.
  • Provide perspective. Communicate that the situation, however distressing, is not tragic. They will recover from their disappointment and find new opportunities. Besides, no school, premier team, or romantic partner is ideal. If they put their minds to it, they can thrive in many different situations. This is one of the most important lessons we get from disappointments and failures. But your kids will believe this message only when they sense that you are not devastated. Teens take their cues from their parents.
  • Be voices of reason. It is true that decisions sometimes are unfair. Summer jobs or internships may go to those with better connections, kids may be sick on the day of an important audition, or the company they want to hire them may institute a job freeze. But rather than dwelling on unfortunate circumstances or blaming other people for their disappointments, guide kids to focus on what is within their control. Parents can convey that it’s time to regroup: “Okay, so now let’s think about other options…” Over time, this helps teens to broaden their thinking and develop creative problem-solving.

As an adult how you deal with disappointment will also be the way your tween or teen deals with disappointment. It is a learned behavior and they are learning by watching you.