From finding out there’s no more ice cream to breaking a beloved toy, children face daily disappointments, just as adults do. And that can be a good thing.
Learning how to handle letdowns – no matter how big or small – is critical to a child’s emotional, intellectual and social development. The following will help you give them the tools they need to find strength in setbacks:
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- Let them feel the pain. You can’t rescue your child every time something goes wrong, as much as you’d like to. Instead, allow them to identify and label their feelings, then talk to them about the experience. Kids need to understand the difference between “big” problems, where help is warranted, and “little” problems, which they can handle on their own.
- Offer a sympathetic ear. Explain that disappointment is natural and that everyone has been through similar setbacks. Tell them about your own obstacles and how you’ve handled them. Relating to your child lets them know it’s normal to feel upset, which will make letdowns feel less intense over time.
- Explain what can and can’t be changed. Children may not understand that a problem is out of your control or that a tantrum won’t get them what they want. Go ahead and validate their distress, but discuss better solutions they can utilize going forward. You can’t always “spin” the situation to make your child feel better – life is what it is – but your reaction to those letdowns can help them move forward and see that it’s not the end of the world.
- Boost bounce-back skills. Teach your child to see stumbling blocks as opportunities to improve and grow by offering a different perspective. Wordage like “I know it feels bad right now, but think about what you can learn from it to do better next time,” gives them the means to reframe or minimize future disappointments. A lot of times it simply means taking things in stride – and using that old “get back on the horse after you’ve fallen off” analogy. Staying positive goes a long way in making kids more tolerant and it helps build resilience, motivation and confidence.
- Give them choices. Young children in particular often feel they have little control over their lives, so when something doesn’t go their way they may get upset. Which is why asking your child for ideas on what they’d like to do to feel better can help turn the situation around. The right questions can help them come up with their own solutions, showing them they can find ways – all on their own – to make a bad thing better.
- Create a VIP network. Kids need someone to turn to in rough times and may not always want to talk to you or your spouse. Build a circle of other trusted adults in your life who your child is comfortable confiding in, especially when the chips are down.
- Avoid overcomplimenting. Constant praise for things that are not true achievements can reduce the power of positive feedback. It may even lead to children becoming too dependent on that positive feedback to feel valued. In our trophy-for-everyone-world, kids must be encouraged to value the experience, rather than the prize. Use specific praise for truly meaningful efforts of your child and behaviors you would like to see repeated.
- Model good behavior. If you handle your own disappointments with grace, so, too, will your child. After all, your little “mini me” mimics your actions. Demonstrate healthy coping skills and so will your kids.
- Find the lesson. Ask questions like “Why do you think this happened?” or “What other options do we have?” Get kids brainstorming by discussing how they might change the situation next time and remind them how good it felt when they sailed through a past letdown.
- Manage expectations. Playdates get canceled, stores run out of popular toys and kids fail tests; that’s life. Reduce your child’s distress by keeping anticipation within reason. So, rather than talking about plans as guarantees, treat them as possibilities. Then, if things don’t work out, you’ve cushioned the blow – and reinforced the lesson that disappointments are a part of life.