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Handling disappointment and back-to-schoolers
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By Source: Abbie Miller, PsyD., is a Kaiser Permanente Colorado behavioral medicine specialist

It’s back-to-school time for Colorado kids (and their parents—woo-hoo!). For most, it’s an exciting time—potential for new friends, catching up with old friends who were away for the summer, new teachers and classes. But with all that excitement can come a little disappointment. Especially for kids today who have social media built into their interactions with their peers—when likes, comments, shares, and snaps add up to popularity.

Most parents who I talk to are worried their child might not know how to handle disappointment. Disappointment is a natural part of life. Whether it’s caused by an unexpected rain storm, a cancelled play date, a poor test grade, not getting all the likes on a photo you thought you would, or simply a last-minute change in plans, disappointment happens to all of us from time to time.

And children begin encountering varying degrees of disappointment at young ages. We’ve all been at the checkout at the grocery store and had to tell our kids “No,” to buying something they want, right?

As parents or caregivers, it is often our instinct to try and shield our children from these experiences. We don’t want to see them upset. This knee-jerk reaction is actually a big mistake.

While we don’t want to overwhelm our children with upsetting experiences, we do want them to have the chance to learn and practice ways to cope with disappointment with our guidance and support.

This allows them to learn the skills to cope with it in a healthy and productive way. If children never learn how to deal with these types of challenges early on, they can enter adulthood ill prepared to deal with what life throws at them in the future.

While some of you might be shocked by this information, there are a lot of positive things to be learned from dealing with disappointing experiences. Not only does it help them to learn necessary life skills, it also helps develop a lot of important personal characteristics.

For example, it helps kids learn how to be determined and never give up. It can also help build resiliency and confidence in children. It is so empowering for them to encounter a disappointment and find ways to push through, find solutions, and persevere in the midst of a defeat.

For those of you who are looking for a road map to follow, a set of general guidelines, here are some tips, by age, that might help you teach your child how to cope with disappointment:

1-5 years old:

Empathize with your child’s feelings. They need to feel as though you understand that they are feeling bad about what happened in order to be able to listen to ideas about how to cope.

While it may be hard for children at this age to come up with solutions when they are disappointed, you can give them choices on how to move forward. For example, “We can’t go to the playground today because it’s raining, but we can bake some cookies or we can play a game. Which one sounds best to you?”


Help them to learn ways to calm themselves down. This is something that you want to start working on at a young age. When they feel disappointed, they need to do something to help themselves to feel better. This could be making a craft, listening to music, taking a walk, or talking with a friend or family member.

Help your child to try and find something good that can come from the disappointment. Ask them what they can do different the next time. Stay positive and express your confidence in them that they can persevere and learn something from their disappointing experience.


Don’t rush to fix the problem. At this age you definitely want them to be the leader in figuring out next steps whenever possible. So, listen to them more and help them to think the problem through more independently.

While you need to be careful to not invalidate your teen’s concerns, it can be very helpful to provide some perspective. Help them to look at the situation with a clear mind so that they don’t make their situation out to be worse than it actually is.

Help your teenager to recognize what is and what is not in his/her control. Encourage creative problem solving. There often are many different solutions to the same problem. Help your teen to look at all possibilities and then to choose the best path moving forward.

These examples are only a few ways that you can engage and encourage your child. You can also try talking with your spouse, significant other, or family members about a game plan to help your child. It really does take a village. And, if you need more help, talk with your behavioral health provider about some more ways you can help your child cope with disappointment.





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