Your student will experience disappointment. It is inevitable. There are the little disappointments that occur all through childhood, of course, but then there are bigger disappointments. It may be failure to make the team or get the part in the play, a grade that is less than desired, loss of a scholarship, college rejection or deferral, or low GPA. It might happen in high school or it might happen during college.
However, the important question is not whether your student will experience disappointment (they will) or even when, but what will you and your student do when the inevitable happens?
Your student may look to you, even without realizing that they are doing so, to model how they should handle this disappointment. Whether it is an admission rejection or academic probation, it is important to see this as an opportunity to model your attitude and behavior for your student. How you respond may affect how they react to the situation. Remember when your student was little and fell down? Often, the first thing they did was look to you. If you smiled and laughed, they often got up and were fine. If you were alarmed and fearful, tears came.
It is difficult to deal with our own disappointment, but watching our student’s disappointment may be even more difficult. The hurt or anger or sadness is real and that makes us more than uncomfortable. Trying to see this as an opportunity seems almost impossible. As parents, we want to fix things and make them better for our children. However, not only is it impossible to do that all of the time, it may not be the best thing for your student.
If we want our children to grow up with resilience, or grit, to be able to get through the difficult times, we need to help them learn how to get through difficult times. Coping with disappointment is a skill and your student will need the tools to do it. This may be their most important lesson.
This is your student’s disappointment, (you may have to handle your own separately) and they will need to deal with it, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t help. Of course, every family is different, every situation is different, and every child is different, but here are a few things to keep in mind if you need to help your student cope with disappointment.
- Don’t minimize your student’s feelings. Whatever the disappointment is, it is a big deal for your student and their feelings are real. As uncomfortable as it is to see your student unhappy, allow them their feelings on their own timetable. Your student may be ready to move on quickly, or it may take some time.
- Encourage your student to share their feelings with you.
- Listen carefully, and non- judgmentally to whatever your student has to say. Serve as a sounding board, reflecting back what you hear.
- Model optimism for your student. Try to find any positive aspect that you can and share that with your student — but not until they are ready to hear you.
- Talk about disappointments you have experienced and how you have handled them. Help your student realize that you can truly empathize and may be able to share some coping methods.
- Talk to your student about other disappointments that they have experienced (and survived) in the past. Help them remember how they handled them and bounced back.
- Help your student try to separate what can be changed from what cannot be changed. Is there anything else that they can do at this point to change the outcome? If not, help them try to accept the situation for what it is.
- Help your student reflect on what they have learned from this situation. Are their expectations realistic? Do they need to take a different direction, work harder, work smarter?
- If appropriate, help your student look for support. Who can help them process this situation and move forward?
- Help your student think about options and create a plan to move forward. What are their next steps? Help them realize that whatever the situation may be, there are always options if they find and pursue them. Help your student practice resilience.
We have protected our children throughout their childhood and it is natural to want to continue to do that. However, as they learned to walk, we also let them fall down a few times and get back up. Helping your student work through their disappointment will arm them for the future. Seize the opportunity to help your student learn to use the tools that they have.