It was the end of three incredibly hectic (if you asked the parents), incredibly fun (if you asked the kids) hours at my daughter's school's Fall festival. The last activity before we all got to escape the jam-packed, deafening space with our cake-walk and ring-toss booty? The reveal of the night's raffle winners. In an instant, a bunch of sugared-up kids who were previously having the night of their lives started howling with sadness as they saw their names weren't listed among the winners.
I was one of the lucky ones; my daughter won a private lunch with her teacher, and seeing her name on the board meant we got to walk out of the school smiling. The year before, when she came up empty-handed, her tears flowed like the drinks every parent planned to pour themselves the minute they got home. (If you've ever attended an event with over 300 hyped-up grade-schoolers, you get the need for a postevent cocktail or 12.)
The next day, at her soccer game, I started chatting with some of the fellow moms about what a kiddie buzzkill that raffle reveal had been and how disappointed so many of their children had felt leaving the event. "I told my kids just to expect they weren't going to win anything to try to prevent the meltdowns," one mom told us. "But then I felt like a bad mom for teaching them to automatically assume they'd be disappointed, and two of the three of them started bawling anyway."
Regardless of the outcome, I thought her tactic had merit. Why not give our kids a dose of reality before they face the best team in the baseball league or spend their whole piggy bank trying to win that cheap plush toy playing the claw game? And isn't realizing that sometimes the ice cream shop will be out of your favorite flavor or your park play date will get rained out just part of life? None of us can completely avoid life's little setbacks, so here's how to deal when your kid is the one who's feeling disappointed.
- Show empathy. Regardless of whether the disappointment is something big (like losing the championship game) or small (like not getting the snack they want), express empathy for your child's feelings. Let them know that it's OK to be bummed out and that you will help them work through the feelings.
- Give them time and space to process their feelings. Don't shame your child for getting upset about a disappointment, and don't try to immediately fix it for them. Learning that things won't always go their way is a valuable life skill and one that they need time to mentally process and accept.
- Teach them coping techniques. Deep breathing, talking through feelings, listening to music, going for a walk, telling jokes, or just cuddling can all help your child deal with feelings of disappointment. Help them find the coping method that works best for them.
- Remind them there will be other chances to win or succeed. There will always be another game, another day to play with a friend, and another chance to get an A on that big test. Tell your child that just because today might have been disappointing does not mean that tomorrow will be, too.
- Use distraction. If your child is really digging in on negative feelings, try shaking things up. Take them out of their environment and head to the movies or a quiet restaurant where you can talk. Plan a family nature hike or soccer game. Try to choose an activity that you know your child enjoys and is naturally talented at to remind them that better experiences and feelings are in the future.