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. Parents.com 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.