We all want our kids to succeed, to be happy, and for things to go smoothly. It’s hard to see our kids let down, or disappointed, but as we just saw in the Olympics, disappointment and let down happen to even the most talented of humans. Instead of protecting our kids from feeling frustrated, or failing, or being disappointed, we should be encouraging it! Learning how to navigate tough feelings, especially feelings we know will occur throughout their lives, is important for kids. And parents can help!
Let Things Go Wrong
As hard as it may be, the first step to helping kids learn what to do when things go wrong is — let things go wrong. These can be simple things like:
- not forcing them to practice a sport more when they have a game the next day
- not bringing the homework they forgot to school even if it means a lower grade
- not intervening immediately when they get left out from a social interaction
One of the best gifts parents can give to their children is to step back at times and let natural consequences occur. It is okay if your child misses one assignment, doesn’t score the winning goal in one game, or gets left out occasionally. If we allow our children to fail, we also allow them how to learn to cope with and recover from defeat.
Express Your Emotions
Parents and other adults can model how to handle difficult times. Instead of hiding our own emotions from children, or not expressing when we are disappointed, we can share these things with them, and then talk about how we deal with it. Does failure mean we are terrible at something? Probably not! Does it mean we quit our job because we had a bad day? Very unlikely. Its important children see that we can recover from a bad day or a small failure.
We might share that we take a break from something that’s tough, express emotions such as crying, talk to supportive people, or work on focusing on the things that are going well. As adults, we know life is not perfect and expect disappointment at times; our kids need to do the same.
How To Support Kids Experiencing Disappointment
Once you’ve let your child experience disappointment or failure, there are many ways you can help support them.
- Let your child experience their emotions and validate them. It’s okay to feel upset if they don’t make a team or angry if they are left out. Practice reflecting what they feel and reminding them it’s okay. For example, “I hear how sad you are right now and I am so sorry you feel that way; it’s normal after such disappointment.”
- Offer to be there for your child. Whether it’s immediate, or when they decide they’d like to talk. Just the simple offer can help — even if they turn you down at the time.
- Don’t give your child a hard time for crying or tell them to “toughen up” when they go through something difficult. It can be a learning experience you want them to recover from but being upset is natural.
- Help your child think about other difficult times they’ve been through. You can have them think about how they handled it or how your family got through it together. Remind them you’re a team and you’ll keep working to make them successful.
- Encourage them to try again or correct mistakes and disappointments. Go back and play that sport again, write themselves a note to remember their homework, focus on learning how to play an instrument a little at a time.
- Use in the moment coping skills when upset. This can be things like deep breathing, guided imagery, or progressive muscle relaxation.
While letting your child fail or feel disappointed can be hard, remember you are teaching them an incredibly important lesson and coping tool. Stick with them, support them, and show them that feeling down after something doesn’t go our way is a part of life — but they will get through it!
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