Whether it’s losing the top-reader award to another kid, mixing up lines in the school play, or being that goalie who allows a rival team the winning shot, setbacks are a fact of childhood.
Naturally, blows like these are disappointing. But it’s important to help your child handle the off moments—so he can bounce back with confidence and muster up the motivation to work toward better results the next time.
Here’s how to help your kid turn a setback into a step forward.
- Acknowledge her feelings and offer support. No parent likes to see a child upset, but resist the urge to gloss over uncomfortable emotions such as disappointment, frustration, regret, or anger. Instead, encourage her to put her thoughts into words. Listen and validate her feelings with responses like, “I can see you are really disappointed” or “That must be very frustrating.”
- Help him put the situation into perspective. It’s easy for kids to think that one poor showing means they’re doomed to failure. But remind your child that it’s normal to do better on some occasions than others. Even professionals aren’t at their best all the time. One down day on the baseball field or a few missed notes in a concert doesn’t make a kid a terrible player or bad musician. Instead of focusing on the slip, talk about times he has been successful. For example, say, “I know you are upset that you forgot a line in the play, but remember the last show when you sang beautifully and got so many compliments on your performance?”
- Encourage kids to see setbacks as a learning opportunity. Explain that in order to be successful at something—whether it’s a skill in school, a sport, or a hobby—you need to stick with it even when it’s a challenge. Better yet, remind your child that a setback can be a chance to assess what could be changed or improved and to strategize about how to make a particular goal closer within reach the next time around.Say, for example, your child is upset about a test grade. Have her brainstorm ways to improve the outcome. Would a different studying method be better? Could getting a good night’s sleep and making time for a healthy breakfast before the next exam improve her chances of a higher score?
- Teach your child not to fear mistakes and missteps. While it’s true that no one likes experiencing a setback, it’s important to impress on your child that off moments do happen. Back up your words by not beating yourself up for mistakes you make and also by sharing stories of times you struggled with a setback but persevered. In addition, encourage your child to see that humor can take some of the sting out of a letdown. (“You have to admit the look on your coach’s face when you ran the wrong way was pretty funny!”)
- Let your child take the lead. Yes, it’s tempting to jump in, problem solve, or intervene with a teacher, but your best move is to hold off. Giving your child the opportunity to come up with a plan (for example, how can he ace soccer tryouts next season?) and put it into action is a huge vote of confidence in his ability—and just the boost he needs when he’s feeling down.