Dealing With Disappointments – How To Help Your Kids Get Through

Disappointment is a complex emotion, especially for little people. In fact, a lot of children struggle to even identify disappointment and will often skip it for more intense feelings including anger, blame, and even deep sadness.

To add to the complexities, adults can inadvertently minimise the feeling of being disappointed – responding with comments like, “It’s no big deal!” or “Stop being so silly!” or “You’re making a big deal out of nothing!”

The truth is that disappointment can be a truly heavy feeling, and one that can, if not handled well, result in more worrisome behaviours such as lack of motivation, low self-belief, social withdrawal or poor school performance.

Yet disappointments are inevitable. They come in all shapes and sizes. So how can we, as parents, actively teach our kids how to deal with them?

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The first step is to allow your kids to have the feelings that come with disappointment. While it may seem ridiculous as an adult, it is imperative that we let our kids experience and identify their emotions.

By using active and reflective listening techniques, we can acknowledge and validate their feelings. “I can see you are really disappointed,” is heaps more impactful than, “Stop overreacting.” It can be the difference between a meltdown and a conversation.

Alternatively, we sometimes work much too hard to “fix” the disappointment. We run around to ten different stores to find that specific thing they want. We overpraise – we tell them they are the best soccer player and how crazy the coach was to not have picked them for the all-star team. We intervene too early in social situations – we may even “get” them invited to that birthday party.

While we do this with the best intentions, this is actually a way to help your kids avoid the disappointments, rather than teaching them how to handle them. While we may mean to empower them, to boost them, we are actually doing the opposite.

As a parent, we have to be okay with our kids not always getting the result they want. We need to leave our own emotions out of the equation and instead give our kids the tools they need to deal with theirs.



We know that there are simply some things that are out of our control. A storm that ruins our trip to the beach. A flat tire that results in a change of plans. A sold out theatre that means no movie.

Kids thrive and seek out certainty in their lives. So when the unexpected results in disappointment, this can become doubly upsetting. Not only does the child feel let down, they also feel the uncertainty that comes with not having control.

Recently, I had made plans to take my kids for a day in the city. We were going to hop on the train, treat ourselves to lunch and spend some time exploring. All of us were really looking forward to it.

And then I got sick. Nothing major, but a pretty decent cold with a side order of the flu.

Outing cancelled.

Of course the kids were disappointed. I have to admit that I even got an ample amount of whining. Yet the fact was that it simply wasn’t possible. The germs were out of my control. And that was exactly, explicitly what I told my kids – after I acknowledged their feelings. And while the disappointment remained, the kids were able to, at some level, see and accept the logic.

Being able to teach your kids to understand that some things are not within their control is an exceptionally powerful tool to help them regulate and manage their emotional responses and to ultimately cope with these kinds of disappointments.


 My daughter came home last week very disappointed. She had been telling me about an opportunity that would be given to the students who got the top 4 test scores on a science test. These kids would be allowed to attend a special science event with their teacher (who she totally respects and admires!).

The test came and went, and she didn’t make the top 4. She was gutted.

After allowing her feel her disappointment, and after acknowledging her sense of failure, and after giving her enough time to wallow, I gently asked her the important question.

Did she study?

Answer? No.


With absolutely no judgement, accusations, or guilt, we were able to talk about how the outcome might have been different if she had actually committed to preparing for this test. We discussed the consequences of “wanting” something without dong the hard yards. We agreed that while she is lucky that she manages to accomplish reasonable results with little effort, she is capable of getting to that upper level – if she so chose to. We decided that while it was only natural to be disappointed, it was also an opportunity for her to decide to take greater responsibility for her goals.

And what is really cool about this is the direct opposite of my last point. Some disappointments ARE within our control. When we demonstrate this to our kids, again, in a respectful, non-judgemental manner, they actually can turn that disappointment into commitment, empowerment, and motivation. If they want to, if they choose to.



 Monkey see, monkey do. Children see, children do.

How do you respond to disappointment? Do you blame, get angry, or have an adult tantrum? Do you accept responsibility for your part in the outcome and learn from it? Do you recognise what is out of your control and choose to manage your disappointment? Do you share these experiences with your kids?

I have to confess that I haven’t always modelled resource responses to disappointment. While I didn’t scream and shout, I did do a lot of sighing, I played the martyr card, and generally wore the “poor me” tiara.

And my kids did the same.

Not anymore. Now I will talk about my feelings of being disappointed, and I will very clearly, very vocally demonstrate that I am choosing to deal with it in an empowering way. That may be accepting what I can’t change, and finding an alternative. That may be accepting my role in the disappointment and talking about what I learned, and most importantly, what I will do differently in the future.

Because of this, when facing disappointment, my kids have a model to follow – they have seen and heard me share my own disappointments, and are therefore more willing to share theirs. And while it is a process, they are also learning to let go of what they can’t control and to take responsibility for what they can.



So next time your child faces disappointment, use these strategies. In fact, plan for this next time now. Think about how you will respond and how you won’t. Decide what you could say and what you won’t. Most importantly, be ready for the fact that your child will face innumerable disappointments throughout life – your role is to help them get through them, grow from them, learn from them.


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