How to Teach Your Child to Deal with Disappointment

Teach your child healthy ways to deal with disappointment.
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Perhaps you can’t go out to dinner like you’d planned because you didn’t get home from work in time. Or maybe that item you planned to buy was sold out. Those types of instances can be very disappointing - especially to kids.

While disappointment is never pleasant, some kids really struggle to deal with mishaps. Their emotions can lead to colossal meltdowns and giant temper tantrums. Some kids even become aggressive.

It’s essential to teach your child the skills he needs to regulate his emotions and manage his behavior, when he experiences uncomfortable emotions like disappointment. Here are five strategies for teaching your child to deal with disappointment in a socially appropriate manner:

1. Teach Your Child About Feelings

Start teaching your child about feelings at a young age. Preschoolers benefit from learning basic feeling words like sad, happy, and mad. Older kids can learn to label more complicated emotions, like nervous or disappointed.

Use feeling words in your everyday vocabulary. And when you notice your child is likely experiencing a specific emotion, name it for him by saying, “Looks like you feel really disappointed that we aren’t eating pizza tonight.” When kids can verbalize their emotions, they are less likely to communicate their feelings through their behavior.

2. Create a Plan for Dealing with Disappointment

Teach your child that feeling disappointed is OK - it’s what he does with those feelings that makes all the difference.

Talk about healthy strategies to deal with uncomfortable emotions.

Going for a walk, taking deep breaths, coloring a picture, or listening to music are just a few of the coping strategies that can help your child deal with his emotions. Talk to your child about what specific strategies are most likely to help him and assist him in creating a plan to help him stay calm the next time he feels disappointed.

3. Let Your Child Experience Disappointment

Sometimes, well-meaning parents go to great lengths to prevent their children from experiencing disappointment. And while there may be times you don’t want to get your child’s hopes up for something that isn’t likely to happen, shielding your child from disappointment all the time won’t be helpful either.

Disappointment is a part of life. And your child needs opportunities to practice dealing with disappointment in a socially appropriate manner. So while you shouldn’t set your child up for disappointment on purpose, it’s OK to tell him, “There’s a chance we may go to the park tonight, but only if it doesn’t rain.”

4. Provide Praise and Positive Feedback for Good Behavior

When your child handles disappointment well, provide plenty of positive feedback. Offer praise and encouragement by saying something like, “I know you’re disappointed you didn’t get to play in the baseball game, but you did a great job being a good sport about it.” Positive reinforcement will encourage your child to keep up the good work.

5. Follow Through with Consequences When Necessary

When your child breaks the rules, follow through with negative consequences. If he breaks a toy, hits the wall, or exhibits an extreme temper tantrum, correct his behavior, not the emotion. Reinforce that it’s OK to feel upset, but it’s not OK to break the rules.

Effective consequences may range from a short time-out to the loss of certain privileges for 24 hours. If he breaks someone else’s belongings or disrupts someone else’s day, restitution may be an effective learning tool.

When he’s calm, make sure to talk about the situation and inquire about strategies he can use next time to avoid breaking the rules. Keep the conversation short and simple - as lecturing or shaming him could backfire. Instead, ask him for ideas about different choices he could make the next time he feels disappointed.

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