Helping a Child Cope with Disappointment

Good Morning,

A good friend of mine recently told me about a situation she experienced with her twin boys.  They both received gift cards to a sporting goods store for their birthday.  After an hour of shopping, they went to the register to pay.  At this point, one of her sons noticed that he did not have his gift card.  In his excitement trying on clothes and looking at sports equipment, he must have dropped it without noticing.  They rushed around the store looking for the gift card but could not find it.  Her son was devastated.

I saw my friend a few days after this had happened.  I remember how bad she felt for him and how she still had questions about her reactions to his disappointment.  I know some variant of this situation has happened to all parents.  Today I will discuss how you can best help your child in this situation, as well as how powerfully educating it can and should be.

Don’t rush in to save them
As hard as it is to let your children learn from their mistakes, it is necessary for them to grow and mature from their experiences.  Unless they are putting themselves or others in danger, let them be.  My girlfriend could have replaced the gift card or demanded that her other son share his gift card, but she (rightfully!) did not.

Empathize and sympathize with them
We have all been in this position and can empathize with feelings of anger and embarrassment.  Sympathize with your child and let them know that you are sorry that the situation happened.  Ask them if there is something you can do to help, within reason, and talk with them about what they will do differently next time.  My friend told her son how badly she felt and told him that she, too, had experienced a similar situation in the past.

Do not punish them verbally or physically
In a situation where you want them to feel the effects and consequences of their own decisions, there is nothing gained by adding to the punishment.  Saying hurtful things or “I told you so” only makes the situation worse.  Allow them to learn from their experience, not feel disregarded or shamed by you.  Make sure that siblings follow your lead, and do not taunt their less fortunate brother or sister.

Next time, give them a reminder
Inevitably, a similar setup will occur in the future.  When it does, remind them what happened the last time.  Remind them of the strategies you discussed.  Ultimately, it is important to let them decide for themselves how they want to proceed.  Sometimes it takes a few disappointments before the lesson sinks in.

Be prepared
Think about staying calm and sincere during a time like this.  It is likely they will blame you for not telling them or helping them.  As previously mentioned, they are feeling angry and embarrassed.  It is natural to place the blame elsewhere.  Remember that lessons they teach themselves have a far greater impact than any lesson taught by someone else.

Making mistakes and learning from them are essential parts of growing up.  Everyone has been in a similar situation, and it always makes you angry for a little while.  Help your child see that life goes on and that they will get an opportunity to make a better decision or be more careful in the future.

As for my friend’s son, his teacher called the following Monday to relate to her that her son told everyone about what had happened.  He also told all his friends that while he was really sad about losing his gift card, he learned he should let mom hold on to his important things.  My girlfriend was happily surprised at this outcome and that she was able to provide a life lesson.

Great sites from around the web:

Some questions to help your child cope with disappointment at About.com
Using your senses to deal with disappointment at Heligirl
Helping cope with frustration and disappointment from Youth Development @ suite 101

If you found these suggestions helpful subscribe/like/tweet/pass this blog along.

Good Luck,

Katherine

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