Letting your child experience disappointment




If you have more than one child, you might catch yourself going all out to make sure things are fair for all of them. You try to ensure that they have the same number of toys, clothes and other things and opportunities, so that neither one feels neglected compared the others. Even if you have just one child, you might have noticed the great lengths you are willing to go to in order to protect your child from the pain of a let-down. Even some sports clubs now disallow the keeping of scores, so that the losing team will not feel low about themselves. The point is, we just really hate to see our kids feeling disappointed. Our hearts ache for their pain, and all we want to do is take a magic eraser and erase all those bad feelings away - be their saviour and hero and take away all the pain.


But how far would we go to help ease their pain? What if they get so used to us saving them from these feelings, that they don’t know how to deal with unfairness in the future? Is it really wiser to avoid a child’s disappointment, or should we instead help them deal with it?


Here’s a surprise: Disappointment is actually good for kids! It helps them develop the key characteristics that they will need to succeed, such as emotional resilience and creative thinking.



You cannot always be there for your child


Let’s paint a scenario of a child who has been protected from disappointment, and one day encounters one she couldn’t avoid. She has, till this point, never experienced disappointment, so she hasn’t been taught how to deal with this situation. How would this child go through and manage the situation without the right guidance?


Some children give up after experiencing their first loss at a sports tournament. After repeated failures, they might eventually start to feel incompetent and inadequate. When self-esteem is affected, future failures become even more likely, thus leading to even more disappointment that they still don’t know how to manage. The cycle repeats itself. So when you pacify your kids too much, what you are inadvertently doing is interfering with your child’s ability to tackle future obstacles. Every disappointment that she experiences will simply get more and more painful each time.



How can you help


Acknowledge their feelings. Your first instinct might be to try to dismiss it or tell them that there’s nothing to feel bad about. But it’s important to show them that you understand how they feel.


What to say:

  • “I know you feel bad right now.”
  • “I can understand why you might feel disappointed about this.”


Identify opportunity for growth. Turn the negative feeling into a positive learning experience. It’s tempting to go right to your child and tell her exactly how to solve the problem she’s facing, step by step. But you will help her grow much better if you play the role of a guide instead of a superhero. Ask her some questions to help her get to a solution herself.


What to say:

  • “What do you think you’ve learnt from this?”
  • “What do you think you would do differently next time?”


Encourage. They might feel a little low for a few days, but keep a positive mood around them and encourage them to keep their chin up, and not to give up! This will show them that you believe in them and that you have the confidence that they can achieve whatever they might have initially failed at.


What to say:

  • “You can do this, don’t give up just yet!”
  • “If you try a different method, you might just overcome this next time!”


Lead by example. Handle your own disappointments with grace. For example, resist the urge to panic when you experience a disappointment of your own. If you lose a tennis match with a friend, show them that you feel great because you had fun anyway. Also show them that you don’t give up, and that you have a plan to tackle the situation better next time.


What to say:

  • “I’m going to try harder next time!”
  • “Looks like I’ll need to brush up on my team management skills if I want to get that promotion next year!”


What they get out of it


All this hard work will eventually pay off as you help your child become more capable of handling the negative feelings associated with disappointment. They will learn:


Responsibility. Being held accountable for their actions (natural consequences) if they have made poor choices (eg: not getting dessert if they don’t finish a meal).


Coping skills. Dealing with unpleasant emotions linked to disappointment and managing negative feelings. If they don’t experience this, then they are likely to fall apart at the slightest setback.


Learning to adapt. When things don’t go as planned, these skills will teach them to adjust and improvise to accommodate the situation.


Less fear of failure. When kids fear failure, they will refuse take any risks. This means that they will be less likely to explore great ideas and discover new things.



When to intervene


While disappointments are part of life, remember that sometimes, it may be necessary for you to intervene. After all, you know your child best and what she can handle. For example, there is no point in “teaching her a lesson” in disappointment if it will either humiliate or endanger her (eg: bullying at school). It’s probably better in those cases to simply help them out of the situation.





© Rise & Shine is established to provide our children with a better opportunities for their upcoming future. Our founding vision was to help and educate parents to nurture healthier, happier and brighter children. As part of what we do, we organise parenting workshops, carnivals and the largest play and educational festival in Asia. We also organise a series of children events throughout the year where families can bond, learn and have fun.


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