The Benefit of Disappointment & 7 Ways to Respond to It

dis·ap·point·ment
disəˈpointmənt/
noun
1. the feeling of sadness or displeasure caused by the nonfulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations.

  1. to her disappointment, she was given a yellow spoon instead of a pink one”
    synonyms: sadness, regret, dismay, sorrow
     
    • a person, event, or thing that causes disappointment.
      plural noun: disappointments
      “the job proved a disappointment”
      synonyms: letdown, nonevent, anticlimax, washout

This morning my five year old had an epic meltdown. You would have thought that I had taken away her entire collection of Pinkalicious books or that I told her that Santa was fictional. But the trigger was actually the color of the spoon she was given for her oatmeal. Prior to giving her the yellow spoon — she said these words to her four year old sister, “all that matters is your family and it doesn’t matter what color spoon you have, food still tastes the same.” Ironic, right? 

As a mother, I do everything in my power to make my kids happy. All the time. And seeing them upset or disappointed feels like an epic failure! But lately I’m discovering that perhaps disappointment isn’t the worst thing in the world. Disappointment is actually a healthy and positive emotion that plays an essential role in children’s emotional, intellectual and social development. 

This morning it would have been infinitely easier to go to the drawer and hand over the other pink spoon to my daughter. I would have avoided the tantrum and the tears and heartache of seeing my child feeling extreme disdain. The spoon example is petty and truly just a drip in the bucket of life’s disappointments – BUT point being, to my five year old IT MATTERED and it DISAPPOINTED her. Instead of placating her and immediately solving her problem, I want her to experience solving life’s little setbacks and to learn how to identify what caused the disappointment and figure out how to not feel disappointed in the future.

Children need to be able to just sit with their disappointment and ask, “Why do I feel so bad?” and, “What can I do to get over feeling this way?” If I had immediately rushed to the rescue, she would have been conditioned to assume that if this happens again – that mom will just fix the problem for her. And while I do intend to always do my absolute best to protect my children from major heartbreaks – I want them to learn how to cope with life’s minor setbacks. Because the truth is that I can’t be with my daughter every second of every day, and I want her to be able to navigate disappointment and failure without me — and I also want her to know that it’s okay, it’s normal and that I will always be here to give her a hug and to cheer her on and that I am her biggest fan! 

Without disappointment, how do we learn to appreciate the good things in life? Without failure, how do we improve? Without mistakes, how do we learn? Disappointment, failure & mistakes are all part of life — and as much as my mama heart wants to shield my children from all of that, I would rather have them learn how to cope with the inevitable emotions. And I yearn for them to view life as a journey where you don’t have to be perfect – but where you should always strive be your best self!

After all, there is a saying that the bad times make the good times better.  

I have been a parent for 5 1/2 years and have only recently accepted that disappointment is in fact something I should let my children feel and learn from – admittedly, I am guilty of coddling and solving problems and far too often giving in. But I vow to do better!

How to respond to your children’s disappointments:

  • Support your children, but don’t rush to solve their problems.
  • Don’t disguise the situation – let them understand the disappointment. 
  • Offer a healthy perspective on disappointment
  • Allow your children to feel disappointment about the setback.
  • Help your child find ways to resolve their disappointment.
  • Explain the value in learning from disappointment and mistakes. 
  • Shower them with love, hugs and high fives – praise their successes and let them know that you love them regardless of their successes or failures!
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