Last weekend our daughter was in a dance competition. When she performed her solo she did many, many things well but she had a three-second freeze in the middle of the performance… on stage … in front of 500 people. Bless her heart she recovered her composure and carried on gallantly. However, she was devastated. She was mad at herself. She was deeply disappointed.
Once offstage, we met up and I gave her a hug and asked how she was doing? I know that her 19-year-old instructor wanted me to say that she had been great and that everything was OK, a typical parent response.
I made a conscious effort not to do that, though.
I wanted to see how she felt, first. I didn’t want to rush to make it OK, lavish praise on her, and squash her ability to express her own feelings. It was her performance. I wanted to learn her reaction and I wanted to allow her the time and space to process what happened.
Sure enough, throughout the day, she shared her thoughts and feelings with me and it was then that I wove in comments about the strengths of her performance, her courage, and her poise in finishing the dance. We looked at reasons the “freeze” may have occurred and then, we brainstormed how to avoid that problem in the future. My daughter felt supported in an authentic way and she was much more receptive to ways to move forward from the disappointment when her feelings were less intense.
Our kids will have many disappointments in their life: not being invited to a friends’ birthday party, not making a team they try out for; failing a test; not getting a present they hoped for.
So, let’s review some of the best ways to help your child handle disappointment and bounce back from adversity.
DON’T: Rush to fix it. When we rush to fix a problem we deny the child the opportunity to express their feelings and fix it on their own. They miss the opportunity to become strong, creative, independent thinkers and instead believe that it’s our job to make it right.
DO: Let the child vent. If you let the child get those pent up feelings out of their system, they’ll be better able to rationally talk about the situation when they’ve blown off some steam.
DON’T: Provide false praise. When we rush to rescue our child emotionally with lavish words of praise and reassurance, kids don’t believe us. Your comments feel empty and untrue. Kids as young as three can sniff out insincerity.
DO: Provide extra hugs. Sometimes your physical presence, hugs, kisses, holding their hand and extra snuggle time can speak volumes when they’re not ready to talk yet.
DON’T: Minimize the child’s feelings. If your child has a strong reaction, provide words to help them express their feelings. i.e. “You seem really upset…” Criticizing and judging their feelings will only make them feel more alone. Empathize, don’t criticize.
DO: Create a mantra. Developing a family mantra like “Oops I made a mistake, that’s all” or “Mistakes happen every day. We’re going to learn from our mistakes.” or “Failures are just challenges to overcome.” So then it’s no big deal to make mistakes.
DO: Praise your child for effort and hard work rather than the outcome. Studies have shown that this can be a critical factor in your child’s future success.
DO: Teach her about positive and negative self-talk (the chatter inside their head that they can tune in to but no one else can hear) using stick people and thought bubbles. Teach her to change her negative thoughts to positive ones. i.e. is this a helpful or a harmful thought?
DO: Talk about mistakes every night at dinner and invite family members to help each other problem-solve how to do better next time.
DO: Be on the look-out for absolutes like “never” or “always” and dispute her black-and-white thinking by pointing out exceptions with details and proof.
DO: Laugh at your own mistakes. You are modeling every day how to handle mistakes and disappointments. Try laughing and set a good example.
DON’T: Use the word “perfect.” Use phrases like “Did you do your best? That’s all we can ask.”
DO: Teach her to be her own best friend. Ask your child, “If this was happening to your best friend, what would you say to her?” Then have her say those encouraging words to herself.
DO: Divorce yourself from your child’s success. Sometimes you may get too vested in your child’s activity and measure your own self-worth from your child. Your child will feel enormous pressure and feel doubly-disappointed.
What tips can you share about helping kids with disappointment? Where are you still stuck? Join the discussion!
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