Information for the parents of college students
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When Disappointment Comes for Your Student

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 (he 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 he is doing so, to model how he should handle his 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 he reacts to the situation.  Remember when he was little and fell down?  Often, the first thing he did was look to you. If you smiled and laughed, he often got up and was fine.  If you were alarmed and fearful, tears came.

It is difficult to deal with our own disappointment, but watching your 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 his most important lesson.

This is your student’s disappointment, (you may have to handle your own separately) and he 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 his feelings are real.  As uncomfortable as it is to see him unhappy, allow him his feelings on his own timetable.  He may be ready to move on quickly, or it may take some time.
  • Encourage your student to share his feelings with you.
  • Listen carefully, and non- judgmentally to whatever your student has to say. Serve as a sounding board, reflecting back what you are hearing.
  • Model optimism for your student. Try to find any positive aspect that you can and share that with your student – but not until he is 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 with him and may be able to share some coping methods with him.
  • Talk to your student about other disappointments that he has experienced (and survived) in the past. Help him remember how he 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 he can do at this point to change the outcome?  If not, help him try to accept the situation for what it is.
  • Help your student reflect on what he has learned from this situation. Are his expectations realistic?  Does he need to take a different direction, work harder, work smarter?
  • If appropriate, help your student look for support. Who can help him process this situation and move forward?
  • Help your student think about options and create a plan to move forward. What are his next steps?  Help him realize that whatever the situation may be, there are always options if he finds them and pursues them.  Help him 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 his disappointment will arm him for the future.  Seize the opportunity to help him learn to use the tools that he has.

Related Posts:

What to Do If Your Child Receives a Deferral Admission Letter

College Acceptance – or Rejection – Letters: 10 Ways Parents Can Help Students Cope

What to Do If Your Student Is Academically Dismissed from College

College Waitlist: Should Your Child Just Wait?

4 comments

1 Vicki { 02.21.15 at 4:15 pm }

Lisa –
I certainly understand your frustration. It is difficult to see our children so unhappy. Although there may be many good reasons for your son to stay at his current university, it really will need to be his decision ultimately. While you may realize that his current school has all that he needs, if he has “checked out,” it will not matter. If he can finish the year with some good grades that will transfer, and then if he sees a new school next year as a fresh start, he will approach next year with renewed energy and a positive attitude. Ultimately, his college success will be what he makes it – and if he is not truly vested in his current school it will not work – no matter how good the school is or how perfect the match appears to be.

Encourage your son to give the rest of this semester everything he has. Perhaps he’ll change his mind, but if not, support him in his excitement about a new beginning next year.

2 Lisa { 02.11.15 at 9:57 pm }

Our son applied to another college (his second choice) after being on campus for only 2 months. We feel he has not given his current school a fair chance and want him to commit to one more year but I believe he has already “checked out” emotionally.He has had a very difficult time socially but he has chosen to stay in his room & play video games rather than socialize. We are heartbroken to see him unhappy but at the same time feel that he he should try to make his current university work.Please help!

3 Vicki { 01.08.15 at 6:11 pm }

Mona – This is a difficult situation and must be devastating for you and your daughter. Because every student and every family dynamic is different, it’s difficult to know what to suggest and what might work best for you. Do try to do everything that you can to help your daughter understand that you want to help her with her goal of finishing college – no matter what the reason that this happened. Ask her what you can do to help. Ask her what her plan is going forward – who can she work with at school to plan next steps? Should she appeal to try to return?

If she is going to need to spend some time away from school, that may give her time to think about what she’ll need to do differently when she returns. She may need to get a job or take some classes at a local community college while she is away from school. Insist that she have a plan for how she will spend her time away (which could be a good thing in the long run) and that she communicate with you about what she will need to do to return to finish her degree.

I’m sure this is a difficult time for your daughter. Knowing that she has your support may help her be more honest about the reasons that she didn’t do well at school. Check out the box in our sidebar for parents of students who are in difficulty. There may be suggestions there that will help.

4 Mona { 01.08.15 at 1:50 pm }

My daughter got suspended from last year of college due to poor grades . She is not telling telling us what she did wrong . How to find out she never studied and got F or she is not able to understand that class. How to handle this situation.

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