Helping kids overcome disappointment is not always easy. Young children have strong emotions that they are just learning how to handle. Actually I do not believe we can expect young children not to react strongly to situations – it’s simply part of growing up and figuring out how life works. However dealing with failure, frustration, and sadness over everyday occurrences is an inevitable requirement of life, and therefore I also think responding positively to disappointment is an important skill that we can help our little ones work on.
I wont go into specifics about how my individual children sometimes handle disappointment (all kids and situations are different… and I’m sure you know the possibilities) but it can become really overwhelming for everyone. I try not to think, “Why is that such a big deal?” by putting myself in my son’s shoes and seeing things from his perspective. “Little” things can simply seem very, very “big” to children. And each child also seems to have a different tolerance threshold for various kinds of disappointment.
I decided to create some playful situations where the boys could practice handling fleeting disappointments, to see if it would give us an opportunity to deal with these in a positive way. This was mainly for two reasons: (1) Creating these simple situations where everything else was going “right” gave us an opportunity to discuss disappointment and our response to it in a constructive, calm atmosphere. (2) It also gave us a few minutes to practice how we can respond when things don’t go our way.
I simply gave my boys a set of dice and had them take turns rolling them and adding up the numbers. Whoever got the highest number would “win.” Now if you’ve been a reader of my blog for a while, you may know I’m very into cooperative games that do not have kids compete against each other. However I noticed my four year old was increasingly exposed to competition at the playground and with other children, and he needed some practice dealing with *not* winning.
While playing this simple game, losing *was* disappointing. But because it was a short, easy activity, we got to practice saying things like, “Hey, you got it this time!” to the winner or “Let’s play again, I would love to have another go”… instead of more negative responses. Here were some other responses we came up with:
- “I would have liked to win, but maybe I’ll win next time.”
- “It was actually more fun playing than winning, even though I would have liked to win – it was okay.”
- “At least we can try again!”
- “Do you think we could split the dice and roll together, so we both win?”
They had fun throwing the dice in different ways – high in the air or spinning – and also on different surfaces to try to get the highest number.
It was a very simple exercise but it gave us an opportunity to create phrases that could be used in times of disappointment… which has been helpful to refer to in times of more serious frustration. And it also gave us a bit of counting practice (double win).
A while back I asked on my Facebook page what other parents did to help their children overcome disappointment, and here were two of my favorite responses:
“I encourage writing in a diary. It seems once he puts it down on paper it’s not as overwhelming. Also we try to follow that up with talking or writing about happy things.” (Note: younger children could draw pictures.)
“Me and my eldest (8) have been having a lot of conversations about this lately and we have come up with a Mr Disappointment and a Mr Understanding. We talk about listening to Mr Understanding more because when we do Mr Disappointment is not as loud. It has been working really well. So now in every situation we ask what would Mr Understanding be saying right now?”
I think learning to deal with disappointment will also help children develop resilience. Read 25 more ideas about encouraging resilience in this article.
How do you help your children overcome disappointment? Do you have any tips or tricks that help them through?
Great suggestions, Chelsea. Your page is a rich resource for parents! I think the big thing is how we handle disappointment and also getting them used to an idea of “Plan B” and that it can be just as desirable as Plan A, and helps build flexibility and creativity.
Chelsea Lee Smith
That’s a great way to put it Emily, I love that. Thanks so much for adding that example, I can see how it would be very effective. Actually using cars on a road map to get from Place A to Place B —- using several different routes (having to change based on various obstacles coming up) —- may work well with my 5 year old to understand “Plan A and Plan B” quite well. We may try that today 🙂
Love this idea! Thank you!