Teaching your child to handle disappointments sure can be tough! As parents, we go to great lengths trying to protect our children from pitfalls.
But the truth of matter is that these day-to-day mini-disappointments are actually great for them and we’ll tell you how. We also have a really interesting video below on how parents can help children cope with disappointments. It’s by a child specialist, so don’t miss it!
“Unless the child is not severely humiliated, ridiculed, bullied, or is in a dangerous situation, parents should not act like martyrs trying to save them,” says Minal, an entrepreneur in a Mumbai-based publishing house and mother to a twenty one-year-old.
In my five years of being a mother, I’ve learnt that trying to steer and manipulate disappointments away from my child is more painful than actually letting him deal with it. The latter always leaves him happier, calmer, and more resolved.
“I want to go home!” My five-year-old came crying to me, midway into a birthday party, because he could not manage to get a seat while playing ‘musical chairs.’ I did not answer at once. Trust me; he wasn’t all that disappointed for me to get into saviour mode.
I gave him some water and then let him cry it out. Forward 10 minutes and my boy is having the time of his life playing with balloons in a corner while the rest of the lot complete the game.
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The best thing to do is to teach children how to handle their disappointment. We’ve put together 2 simple steps for you to make this happen — and we’ll tell you exactly HOW:
Step One: READ Method to help understand and empower children to handle disappointments
Step Two: 5 ways to help your child handle disappointments
Vidya Ragu, psychologist, learning and development specialist from Chennai has an interesting methodology for parents to follow! It’s called the ‘R E A D‘ concept! Want to know what that is? Read on!
The Secret Formula To Handle Disappointment
Vidya explains, “Learning to handle disappointment is one of the essentials of a growing up child. If you notice I’m talking about learning to handle disappointment — not teaching disappointment because it cannot be taught.”
As parents, we can only facilitate and it’s their own process. Children need to come up with their coping mechanism and skills to handle disappointment.
This is where Vidya’s READ method comes in.
R – Roles and Responsibility
Understanding the roles and responsibility that we as the adult in the house have is the priority here.
When a child is going through disappointment – it is not our role or responsibility to take them out of it. It is our responsibility to support them and help them overcome it.
E – Empathy and Engagement
The line between sympathy and empathy is very thin!
Sympathy is when we feel exactly how they feel and we don’t want them to feel it and we immediately take them off it. But empathy is to understand and be with them and discuss with them.
Vidya explains, “To give you a small example, if a child is saying, “I am very bad”, “I feel hurt”… most of us will say, “No, no, no, you’re not bad”.
Well, that’s not the right thing to say. In fact, we should be going along with them and saying, “Oh, so you’re feeling bad! What are you feeling bad about? What is it that you think you’re bad in?”
That will encourage the child to dwell deeper, rather than labeling themselves. Because whenever children go through disappointment, they tend to label themselves and, stick on to it as their identity.”
Communication is essential to help children understand and go deeper into the things that happen around them and thereby learn to tackle them.
“When I say engagement, first and the foremost thing is to listen”, says Dr. Vidya.
When the child is disappointed, upset or hurt, they’re really feeling it and if they are opening up to talk, they are not here to listen to suggestions and advises.
The minute a child says, “He did that to me”, “She did that to me”, we tend to react, “Don’t do that” and start telling them what is right and wrong.
“Please refrain from it. When they are talking, really listen (without interrupting). And the moment they realise that you are there to listen, half the problem is solved” explains Vidya.
A – Accept and Act with Affection
When you know there’s a disappointed child, it is the right time to pour in all your affection. It could be
- through a simple touch
- your tone
- could be a hug
- could be just sitting with the child
- putting them on the lap or things which make them feel comfortable physically.
Next, act on it, accept what it is, and enable the child to get into a dialogue and help them understand what happened.
And more importantly, let them know that you’re there around to be with them.
D – Discuss Later
“The last one, D is again, Discuss Later.
The point is to discuss later, when they’ve calmed down, when they’re in a good mood to listen and understand.
At that point of time when they’re really dealing with it, the D is to De-focus”, explains Dr. Vidya.
If they’re upset or crying, de-focus them from the emotional space and change their mindset into things which can help them cope up and understand there are better things.
Ask them if they would want to listen to a story, or go for a walk, or watch the stars. It could be anything!
“Role-modelling and talking about how we dealt with it is one of the best solutions that the child can pick up on their own. So when you’re talking about say, “See I also had this thing when I was a child”, the child kind of listens saying “What can I also do?”
The child will never say, “I’m handling a disappointment and somebody needs to come and fix it for me”. The moment they realise they are capable of handling their disappointment, we are creating empowered children.” explains Vidya.
Based on Dr. Vidya’s new method and discussions with fellow parents, here’s a collection of interesting pointers to help children handle their disappointment!
5 Ways To Help Your Child Handle Disappointments:
1) Express the feeling through art!
“How to draw people on the field, mamma?” Seven-year-old Aahan has lost his third football match in a row and has returned home quite disappointed with himself.
Mom Nita’s natural instincts tell her to cajole him. However, her past experience in such situations says that she should empathise after explaining.
She wants him to know that negative feelings are not always incorrect but their reasons should be justified. “I need to tell him that reacting to disappointing situations is totally all right as long as the problems are being solved. Disappointment that has no end to it is useless,” she adds.
- The rough sketch
To help him gain perspective in such situations, she makes him draw the event on a piece of paper. As the child draws, Nita asks questions and tries to probe into what is actually causing the disappointment.
In this case, it wasn’t losing the matches as much as it was the fact that his best friends’ team won.
Based on this understanding, she spoke to her child about jealousy and competitiveness. She described situations where she has been jealous before.
“Knowing that a parent has felt the same way makes children feel less lost. Also, that makes them stronger,” says Minal. The ability to cope, be resilient, and think straight in a situation comes from making them narrate the events that disappoint them.
“He should be able to overcome those feelings. For that, I should explain and then give him time,” says Nita.
- Disappointment = opportunity
“I told him that losing is an opportunity for him to practice harder and try and find out ways to better his skill set,” says Nita. Failing can be a good thing sometimes. It helps children look for alternatives to succeed instead of relying on their same old techniques. In short, it makes them think out-of-the-box.
“In cases where jealousy is mingled with disappointment, parents must separate the person from the act,” says Minal. What she means is that losing against a best friend shows the skills of the friend, but that does not define the entire relationship. “You should teach children to see beyond that one situation,” concludes Minal.
It’s like a Lego tower that has fallen. An erect tower would have been great but a fallen tower is just as much fun. It gives you another chance to make it. “Who knows, your second tower might be better than the first?” A good perspective, isn’t it?
2) A mountain or a mole – everything matters!
Handle disappointments with care! “Parents sometimes forget that what seems like a small thing to them may be an emotionally wrecking thing to a child,” says Minal.
She insists that as parents we should understand that feelings of disappointment spring from those events that are not under your child’s control.
These events might be tiny and insignificant in the larger view of life but in their limited world, these moles take the shape of Herculean mountains.
“Show you care and understanding! Being interested in your child’s concerns shows they’re important to you too, and helps the kid feel supported”, says Deepak Patel, a parent.
“She was perfectly happy within a group of three girls when her teacher made them include a fourth,” says Pooja. An erstwhile pre-primary school teacher and mother to a five-year-old, Pooja believes that empathy is the key.
“Addition of a new member in her group made my daughter insecure. Insecurity is not an insignificant feeling which is why I had a heart to heart conversation with her,” she adds.
She believes that just because something that has happened with them seems trivial to us, does not mean that they see it the same way, and their vision needs to be understood.
“During our conversation I told her that more girls meant more fun within the group. Plus more friends!” “It is not my job to make her choose friends or enjoy their company. But it’s my job to tell her that enjoyment is self-dependent and disappointments can be dealt with positively,” says Pooja, while quickly adding that every tiny disappointment of her daughter’s matters to her.
- Ask why?
Minal lists situations where children feel left-out: not being invited to play, excluded from a birthday invitations, not being the best friend of someone they like, getting low grades, and so on.
To combat these disappointments, parents should ask questions like “What do you think of this situation,” or “do you think we can find a way out of this?”
Asking questions makes them feel important. It also makes them understand the situation better. “Understanding a situation usually dissipates disappointments,” concludes Minal. I agree, do you?
3) Managing Expectations
“A lot of disappointment springs from the habit of instant gratification,” says Minal.
Instant gratification is when we fulfil the “I wants” of our children immediately—when we lead them to believe that every time they want something, it makes it to our priority list.
“I’m not saying that you should disappoint them at home; but making every want available let them believe that there are no disappointments in the world outside,” explains Minal.
- The toy-shop run
“It’s not the same!” Tamanna, 5, and Tanaya, 3, are the two daughters of Garima who feels that tending to each and every one of their needs is her duty.
Tamanna has just returned from a birthday party to which Tanaya was not invited, and has brought back a lot of disappointment for the younger one.
“I drove from one toy shop to another, just to replicate the toy Tamanna had received as the return gift at the party, for Tanaya.
She kept crying all the way back from the market since we could not find the same thing, after which she dozed off,” says Garima.
She explains that in her attempts to minimize disappointment for her younger child, she had ended up with a life’s lesson. “Making them share and manage the situation between themselves would have made Tanaya stronger, but I was late in realising that,” she sighs.
- Instant Gratification = Weakness
“Winning in a situation gives them self-esteem, but losing does not take away from that,” says Minal. She says that in our efforts to make our children feel extra-special, we sometimes make them weak. We cannot help them out in every situation and provide things for every want.
Holding on to prizes, material rewards, and gifts make them more valuable to children and also helps children handle day-day-day mini disappointments at home.
“He wouldn’t eat without me promising him a chocolate after every meal. I stopped doing that and he felt really bad but slowly realised that I will not provide gratification for every successful act of his,” says Minal, reminiscing about her experiences with her son.
“Talk about prizes as possibilities and not as guaranteed expectations,” she explains. When we help children manage their expectations around gifts, toys, and excessive praise at home, in a way we help them manage expectations in their lives as well.
“And managing expectations is the best way to avoid disappointments in life, isn’t it?” You do so I do.
4) Kids Learn Through Observation
My husband stomped his foot and said this when he lost a game of candy crush for the umpteenth time that evening. Greatly amused, my son giggled, making us follow suit.
I would have still been amused by the memories of that giggly evening if later, my son wouldn’t have stomped his foot and pushed his puzzle away when failing to complete it.
“Your child watches you like he’s Sherlock Holmes and you’re a thief,” says Minal, quite amused at my situation. She says that children handle disappointments with grace and strength when parents handle their disappointments like that.
- True to your word
“They follow your every move. So when you say ‘Oh no!’ you show them an expression for disappointments,” adds Minal.
“I lost my cell phone in the car, and we were late for school, and I was so panicky that I did not realise him staring at me,” says Ekta.
Ekta’s six-year-old imitated her panic attack when he had to run a school race and thought he would never make it in time. Obviously, he was very disappointed when he lost.
“Your child watches you like a hawk. So it’s important to handle your own disappointments with grace”, says Arya Sudha, a parent.
“Every time you lose something, get defeated, or are disappointed in life, make sure to turn it into a positive for your child,” says Minal. A great way to teach your little one to handle disappointments!
- Manage emotions
“I had a tough day at work but tomorrow is going to be better,” “I wish I could have watched the match I the stadium but never mind, we’ll watch the next one,” “I’m running very late today so from tomorrow I have to make sure to follow my timetable,” are a few statements that can be used instead of an “Oh no,” or “Shit!” says Minal.
Lastly, teach them that when you feel disappointed at your own mistakes, you can apologise instead of sulking. A much better way to handle disappointments, isn’t it?
5) Buck up!
“When they are disappointed, push them to try something that they like doing,” says Minal. She believes that when children enjoy doing something, the activity works to help them handle disappointments as well.
“Expose your kid to different activities until he/she finds one that he/she really enjoys”, explains Arya Sudha.
“When children have a natural talent for something, that talent helps them in the times of stress and disappointments all their lives,” she adds.
Minal says music, sports, and art are the activities that are effective healers for dealing with disappointments and depression.
- Poor grades, great painting
Minal quotes an instance when a child in her son’s class had secured poor grades in school and was very disappointed with himself. His mother had asked him to paint something that evening and he had made a beautiful creation.
While applauding the child for his work, his mother had told him that poor grades don’t define him. He’s a great child, a superb painter, and if he works hard, he’ll manage great grades too.
A good way to use their strengths to diminish their weaknesses. Agree?
All parents witness their children suffer disappointments—empathising while helping them come to a conclusion on their own is true guidance. Be by their sides as children arrive at solutions on their own. This sets them up to strongly handle disappointments – even bigger ones – in life!
Hope you found this useful! Do share them with your friends and relatives. If you have any other ideas to help children handle disappointment, do share them down in the comments below. We’re sure it will be useful to other parents as well!
Article originally published on – May 25, 2016, updated on – May 15, 2017