One of the most difficult moments I’ve experienced as a parent is watching my child go through the feeling of disappointment. Witnessing the long sad face, red eyes, and tear-stained cheeks are almost as challenging to go through as the pain of giving birth! My first reaction was always to be overwhelmingly protective (the mama lion is on the prowl!) and wanting to find the person responsible and make them pay.
I recall the time my son came home from school and collapsed in my arms, crying, when he hadn’t been chosen as his elementary school president. I felt so heavy at first that I thought the earth would crack open from the weight and we’d be swallowed up forever. Instead, what began to unfold was a beautiful opportunity to learn how to love and nurture my child by allowing him to experience his feelings. By doing so, it also gave him a stronger sense of self-reliance and the belief that he can make it through difficult situations.
Here are some ways to support your child through disappointment and help them grow stronger as a result:
Give your child the freedom to truly express sad feelings. Listen to them share about what happened and how they’re feeling – without any judgments. Acknowledge them, reflecting back what you observe by saying something like, “I can see you’re very sad about losing the game,” or, “I hear how disappointed you are.” This let’s them know their feelings are okay and that you understand.
Even though the mama or papa lion (yeah, that’s you) may want to pounce, it’s best to stay centered and not overreact. Your calm presence will help your child keep their challenges in perspective and relax. Take a deep breath and encourage your child to do the same.
Focus on the Positive
Along with acknowledging their hurt feelings, remind your child that they did their best or tell them how proud you are of them – that will help them begin to see a brighter view. If appropriate, remind them of another time they overcame a difficult situation and feelings of disappointment.
Offer Love and Affection
Continue to offer your love and affection with an endless supply of hugs. Give your child your full attention by being present with them without distractions.
Believe in a Positive Outcome
Knowing that challenging situations can strengthen us as individuals, your belief in a positive outcome is a helpful attitude to display. Even if you don’t state your belief out loud, your child can feel your confidence in their ability to learn from the experience and rise above their disappointment. If you believe your child is capable, they will begin to believe it too.
Even if your child feels like there’s someone to blame for their disappointment, it’s best to stay neutral. Continue to acknowledge their feelings, but avoid pointing blame or making others wrong. Pointing blame takes away your child’s power to be responsible for themselves and can even encourage them to feel like a victim. Instead, teach them that even though they can’t control what others do, they can choose their own reaction.
Be willing to share a time in your life when you were disappointed and what you learned from the experience. This gives your child a reference, letting them know they’re not the only one who feels this way and that a challenging experience can be overcome and can often turn out for the best.
When you realize you don’t have to fix your child’s problem, you give them the important experience of learning self-reliance. By providing your child the space to express true feelings, they often move naturally into exploring ways they can find a solution or choose a more supportive attitude. This doesn’t take their pain away, but offers them the gift of learning and growing from the challenging experience.
The next time you get the urge to quickly fix your child’s problems or take their pain away, remember what an enormous learning opportunity you now have. The trials of childhood (skinned knees, hurtful friends, mean teachers, difficult tasks, etc.) can actually be blessings for our children because they teach them how to deal with life and cope better in the world. By allowing them to make their own mistakes and decisions, and even sometimes to fail, you give them important tools for becoming self-reliant and confident adults in the future – something all mama and papa lions want for their cubs.
About the Author:
Margalit Ward, an ICF-Certified Life and Executive Coach, co-founded Get Up Girl Coaching, which specializes in women’s empowerment programs. She had four years of formal training in Counseling Psychology from the University of Santa Monica. Margalit is a contributor to HuffingtonPost.com, FindBliss.com, and a coach for life by me.