4 Steps to Help Your Child Cope with Disappointment 

Written By: Rev. Tonda Terrell

Posted: May 16, 2022

While disappointments are a part of life that children cannot avoid, parents, and caregivers, play a significant role in helping them handle life when things don’t go as planned. Below is a 4-step process to help children navigate disappointment.

1. STRATEGIZE: Create A Plan To Help Them Handle Setbacks

Involve children in brainstorming emotional coping strategies and document the plan together. You might consider creating a coping chart that lists specific scenarios your child may encounter, then role-play them with your child. This brainstorming process should also include a discussion on “feeling words” so your child understands what they are feeling. Keep the final plan where the child can reference it when needed. This resource will help your child be prepared to handle difficult emotions. Preparing your child to deal with disappointment before they experience it can also help them manage their expectations and develop emotional intelligence.

2. ACKNOWLEDGE: Don’t Dismiss or Discount Their Feelings

It’s best not to be dismissive or judgmental when your child shares their feelings with you. Refrain from saying, “It’s not that bad.” instead, you can say, “I can see that something has upset you.” Don’t discount your child’s feelings by comparing them to what you or other children might do in the same situation. Acknowledge your child’s personal feelings. Listening to your child express their feelings is sometimes all it takes to help them cope with an emotional event. Use phrases like “oh, I see” or “tell me more about that.” You could also repeat portions of what the child is sharing back to them. This response can help your child feel heard and communicate that you are invested in what they are saying. Affirm your child after they have confided in you about what they are feeling. You might say, “Thank you for sharing your feelings about XYZ with me.” The way you affirm your child will vary by age. Touch may affirm younger children better than words. With toddlers and children under five, you may try speaking to them at eye level while touching or holding their hand as they work through an emotional event. Some children may not want to be alone, but they may just want to be silent in your presence to process what they are feeling. In this case, ask them, “do you need anything from me right now?” or “do you want some time alone, and we can talk in about 10 min (or some appropriate event like mealtime or before bedtime)?” Having this discussion with your child is also an opportunity to explain why the situation that led to their feeling of disappointment has occurred. Perhaps a play date or family trip was canceled. For example, for a canceled trip, you might say, “I know you were really excited about going on our family vacation, but it isn’t safe for us to travel right now.” Offer an explanation about the event, if possible, so the child has some context to make the emotional event less impactful long-term.

3. EMPOWER: Give Them Tools For Constructive Communication 

Teach children to express what they feel productively without disrespect or harming others. Convey to them that everyone experiences disappointment, but we must never harm others when expressing our feelings. Disappointment can surface as anger. Some children may act out in anger due to an inability to communicate what they feel. A child might simply say they are mad or sad. As adults, we can help them trace their anger or sadness back to the upsetting event. Try asking, “When did you start feeling this way?” or “Is it possible that XYZ has something to do with how you feel?” Then you and the child can work backward through the specifics of the event and the resulting feeling of disappointment. Don’t offer your own definitions for your child’s feelings. Don’t try to fix it for them. Instead, help them work through solutions. Let them know that they have what it takes to work through the disappointment. Try saying, “I understand how this can be disappointing for you. I believe that you have what it takes to overcome this.“ Empowering children to be problem-solvers helps them develop a healthy sense of self.  

4. SUPPORT: Show Up For Them

It’s essential to maintain your composure whenever your child confides in you about what they are feeling. Children may interpret your response as “the rule” for handling emotional situations. Ensure that you do not project your own feelings into their experience. If your children encounter disappointment in their interaction with another adult, you may be required to assert your authority as a parent or caregiver. Whenever possible, it is best to do this without your child present. After speaking with the other adult involved, you can later inform your child that you contacted the adult regarding the matter. You can say, “I spoke to XYZ, and I let them know that their behavior was inappropriate/disappointing and that we wanted to make them aware of the impact of their behavior.” You don’t have to go into the details of the conversation, but it’s a good idea to let your child know that they have your support and that you will intervene when another adult is involved. Consider creating a circle of support made up of mentors, friends, and family, so your child has others in their life to go to for support when dealing with difficult emotions. This circle may also include a therapist, teacher, or spiritual leader. Teach your child to self-soothe but also teach them to ask for help when needed. Remember, not all difficult feelings can be resolved immediately. Give space for a resolution to happen over time.



3 thoughts on “4 Steps to Help Your Child Cope with Disappointment ”

  1. Thank you for sharing this valuable information. It is useful for parents, teachers, counselors, celebrity figures, and all who impact children’s lives through their leadership and influence.

  2. I t’s so important to acknowledge “disappointment” as a real emotion and not just a by-product of anger!

  3. Thanks for this information. Although my children are adults they still want to be seen and heard and I wish I would’ve implemented these strategies when they were younger. My granddaughter often calls me to vent and I do listen but have the tendency to compare her situation to my childhood or other children. I will definitely implement these tools with my grandchildren and share them with my daughters who are now busy parents themselves:

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