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Helping Kids Cope with Disappointment

Helping kids cope with disappointment

Helping kids cope with disappointment

Life isn’t fair. This is a lesson that comes fairly early in our house. My children can daily see examples of life not being fair. Some of my children are bright and learn easily. Others struggle. Avi and Mordecai feel the pain of not being in their birth families. Apollo has to work hard to keep healthy, he’s had half  a dozen surgeries and struggles with fatigue on a  regular basis. No, life isn’t fair.

Not only that, but life if full of disappointments. Monday all five of my elementary age children auditioned for the Missoula Children’s Theater play at their school. And four of them got parts. All got parts except for Tucker, who loves to act and be on stage. I knew the moment I went to pick them up he wasn’t chosen; his face betrayed him.

As his mom, I immediately wanted to swoop in and make it right. I wanted to “fix” it for him. I wanted to offer him something different; something better. But I stopped myself. Helping kids cope with disappointment is such an important skill. I wanted to think about what I was doing and my motivation for those actions. So here are my thoughts after helping my child face his disappointment.

Helping Kids Cope with Disappointment

1. Step back a moment and look at the situation.

Tucker was sad and disappointed. He wasn’t injured or unsafe. We need to keep things in perspective. The reality of life is this: as our children grow, so with their struggles, their successes and their failures. When they are small we are given a wonderful opportunity to teach them how to react to life’s disappointments. Let’s not miss out on that! So in that initial moment with Tucker I gave him big hug and told him I loved him.

2. Let them know it is okay to be sad.

I looked Tucker in the eyes and told him it was okay to be sad and I knew he was disappointed. I told him it was okay to cry. I didn’t want him to feel like he needed to hide his feelings. It is totally okay to cry when we are disappointed. What isn’t okay is to let it drag us down continually and hang over us. To let it prevent us from taking risks in the future.

3. Be sensitive.

I knew Tucker was sad, so I gave him a bit of space. He doesn’t like people to see him upset or hurt and I know this. Other kids may want extra cuddles and for a parent to keep close. Make sure you know your child and what helps them.

4. Don’t try to fix it.

As I said, my first inclination was to “fix” it or make it up to him. To offer him something special since he missed out. Then I stopped considered what lesson I wanted him to learn from this. Did I want him to learn I could “fix” everything? Something which at age nine sometimes seems possible but certainly won’t be as he grows…or did I want him to learn to deal with his disappointment with grace and integrity?

I chose the latter. I didn’t offer him a trip to the doughnut shop or a movie…I just hugged him and told him I knew he was disappointed. I told him I was proud of him for auditioning. I told him about times when I tried out for plays and didn’t get parts.

And I left it at that.

I’m not only one to feel this way. Many parenting experts believe that letting kids experience disappointment is good and healthy. has a great article entitled: Failure is an Option and Psychology Today has one called: Disappointment is  Good. Both are worth your time to read.

Now is my chance to teach Tucker appropriate and inappropriate reactions to disappointment. I want to seize these moments now, when he is young and the issues are relatively small and not life changing.


How about you? How do you help your kids cope? Do you have a tendency to rush in and “fix” things? I would love to hear your perspective.



  1. Anne

    I don’t try to fix things, and I allow my kids to have their feelings. All the way. But when some family members are doing something and one isn’t, I do tend to find other ways that child can participate. I am not fixing, but I do know that there are more opportunities than my child might realize. In the case of performing arts, my kids have all experienced different roles. The more memorable ones have been in stage tech, costuming, or being a stage hand. These are all important facets of putting on a performance of any kind and my kids got more out of ‘stage craft’ than they did actually being on stage. I justified it as a ‘not fixing’ thing as it being more efficient for me to have most of my kids involved in the same thing… who needs to drive so many places to keep the kids all covered?

  2. Melpub

    This sounds like very good advice. And I can think of a title for a book you could write: Mom-to-Mom from A to Z: Advice from a Mother of Fourteen. This is what women want: forget the experts, forget the pediatrician and the psychologist–it’s always the other mom who gives you an idea with which you can work.

  3. bettanygirl

    Really loved this post. I think I do have the tendency to sweep in and fix things a bit too much but this post made me really consider that behaviour and I’m going to try and pause before fixing! At the moment my littles are 4, 2 & 8 weeks and I’m just getting to grips with the realisation that I can’t keep them all happy at the same time. They’re going to have to learn to share my time and attention and with each other and while that’s tiring to teach its no bad thing in the long run. I am in awe at his many small children you had at some points!!

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      When kids are that young it is easy to “fix” everything. It gets more difficult as they get older. Yes, we had 5 under 5 and 10 under 10. Thankfully I was a lot younger then!

  4. Jessica

    This is such an important lesson for small children. Life isn’t fair. Things aren’t equal. Sometimes things are disappointing and you feel left out. I find myself using these moments to try and encourage my kids to be inclusive when they see others feeling the same way. I hope that trying to help them understand that other people feel the same way will make them feel less alone and make them more empathetic.

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      I think it is totally appropriate at times. And I do believe there is a distinction between a “distraction” and say, a gift or something bigger. For instance, extra cuddles and books? Yes! A trip for ice cream? Maybe…but probably not.

  5. Michelle

    How funny I read this today, as I am dealing with the disappointment of not getting a theatre role myself, as an adult! Chin up, Tucker! There are lots of plays and shows in your future! Sometimes cheering on and supporting your family and friends in the show is just as fun. Great post- it helped me today!

    I’ve been in this performing arts field my entire life, and as a child if I didn’t get a part or chair I wanted, my parents rarely had something else as a distraction. The one time I remember was my senior year of high school, in my last chance at making the All State Band, I was two away and my little brother, a 10th grader, made it. My dad had flowers waiting for me at home. Like Tucker, I also just want to introvert when disappointed and come up with all the perks of what just happened myself. I think you handled it great!!

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      Aw, thanks for sharing that! And I think the flowers were such a sweet gesture. I don’t see that as “fixing” it, but offering compassion and support.

  6. modeejae

    MCT is such an amazing experience for our kids. Kia was chosen every single time she auditioned but Kaylee was pretty shy and didn’t get picked a few times. She got to help with programs and artwork for the hallways so she still felt like she was a part of it but the disappointment was real when they didn’t call her name. For us it still worked out because there are 6 years between my girls and Kaylee was just as excited to be helping me tape up the hallway decorations and getting to peek in the gym to see the practices. I think the thing I agree with most in this post is that you need to know your child to determine the best way to help them deal with disappointment. Good job, mom!

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      Yes, MCT is great! He missed out this summer as well due to his extreme anxiety related to Apollo’s surgery 🙁

  7. Anna

    My sons learned SO MUCH about losing from Cub Scout Pinewood Derbies. Think about it: 30-some losers and one winner. I told my boys if they rooted for themselves, their friends, their brother’s friends, and their den members, chances were someone they cared about would win. But they would probably lose and the whole point of a Pinewood Derby is to teach the boys to lose gracefully. Too bad that isn’t printed in the car kit!

    But is sure was nice when they did win 🙂

  8. blackheartbetty

    This is a great post. My son struggles with handling disappointment. We are working on it. He internalizes any mistake and then makes comments like, “I’m a bad, bad boy”. Makes me sad and I want to make him feel better, but he has to learn that perfectionism is not the way.

  9. childlanguagedevelopment

    Wow. I needed this today. Really.

    I agree in theory, and think it often with friends’ kids. (I don’t have my own.) But reading this, I realise I don’t give my students the same opportunities to cope with disappointment. I teach a small class (4-7 kids each year) for 2-3 yrs in a row (depending on school makeup. We have just 26 kids in our school so sometimes the class is K-1 and sometimes K-2) I love my students and hate when one of them is disappointed. They are vulnerable kids because of various issues we work with, and several are quite emotionally fragile.

    But thinking over an event today, I realise that in trying to “protect” a fragile ego, I didn’t give that child a chance to experience disappointment in a safe environment with a caretaker around who could talk them through it. (The vast majority of my students don’t have a language in common with their parents so most communication is with teachers. Sad, but true.)

    Time to do a serious attitude adjustment to disappointing times, even if my heart breaks for a kid…

  10. Nysha

    My kids are all adults, but I adopted through foster care and they have a variety of issues. I always rushed in to fix things for them because I felt like it was doubly unfair, when so many things were so hard for them on a daily basis. Unfortunately, there came a time in all of their lives when I just couldn’t fix their problems anymore and they had to learn at a much older age how to cope. If I could do it all over again, I’d give them empathy and support, but let them learn early how to cope graciously.

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