March 23: Coping with Disappointment
Updated: Aug 18
Everyone, everywhere is experiencing disappointment of one sort or another right now. How can we talk about these feelings with children?
First, think about feelings of disappointment in your own life. What are the plans or activities you were counting on that have been upended by social distancing? Is there another adult in your life with whom you can discuss your feelings of disappointment?
Now think about the disappointment your child is experiencing. Your child’s feelings might resonate with you (“Of course he’s disappointed that his school play has been cancelled”), or your child’s disappointment may evoke impatience or frustration. Try to see the situation from your child’s point of view, and do your best to honor the feelings your child is expressing.
You can model putting feelings into words by either asking a question (“I wonder if you’re feeling frustrated?”), sharing what you are noticing about your child’s physical response (“You’re squeezing your fists so tight, I wonder if you’re angry?”), or making a general comment about feelings (“Looks like you have so many big feelings right now.”).
Allow your child some time to sit with the disappointed feelings in a safe way, perhaps by letting your child cry, find a safe space to be alone, or just rant to you for a while. It may be painful to hear your child expressing feelings of disappointment about events you were looking forward to, as well. Keep in mind that learning to cope with disappointment is a life skill that your child is developing – one that can be carried forward to deal with any future disappointments, and that these difficult experiences are also helping children develop empathy and build resilience.
While it may be useful for adults to think about our disappointments in a relative way and to consider how lucky we are in relation to many others, this reasoning may not be useful for children, so I’d suggest you resist the urge to talk about people with bigger problems and focus instead on what your child is feeling right now.
After allowing some time for the negative feelings, make a plan about an activity that will help your child (and you) feel better – perhaps cuddling with a favorite toy, listening to an audiobook or podcast, video chatting with a friend, writing in a journal, or doing an art project.
Another strategy for coping with disappointment is to think about what we can do to support other people in the world who are struggling. Can your child reach out to a loved one who is alone and homebound? Send a thank you card or drawing to local first responders?
Now - a couple of ideas for your time at home:
Pineapple Street Studios is encouraging children to make their own podcasts. Their website has clear instructions and lots of great ideas.
This might be a nice time to begin a Gratitude Journal – either a family journal where everyone is invited to contribute, perhaps talking about this at lunch or dinner, or a personal gratitude journal to help you focus on the positive things in your life. Keep in mind that you don’t need a fancy journal or template to do this – you can use a notebook…or many teens that I work with like to keep their gratitude journals as a note in their phones. And don’t feel pressure to write every day – research suggests that writing in a gratitude journal once or twice a week might be most effective at increasing happiness.
Many of us have now lived through a week or more of social distancing, and I want to give you a gentle reminder to be kind to yourself and practice self-compassion. Last week a parent asked me for a link to reading material about self-compassion for parents – you can access an article here, or there is a link on my website.
This week I read a good, brief article from Riverside Trauma Center about ideas for increasing one’s sense of safety, predictability, and control during these turbulent times.