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Learning to Manage Life’s Little Disappointments

Help your kids when things don't go their way

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Our kids’ lives are filled with big and little disappointments. Friends move on to other friends, someone else is chosen to be line leader, or a playdate is too short, too long, or canceled for a better offer. Here, how to help your kids when things don’t go as planned.

One of the best gifts you can give your child is a lesson or two (or three!) in how to handle day-to-day setbacks. Disappointments are a fact of life, and a child who learns how to face—and overcome—them is one who will get stronger and more resilient. Try these tips to help your little one cope with the everyday ups and downs he is likely to encounter, with a minimum of tears and the confidence to move forward.

1. Provide your child with the skills to name hurts and identify emotions. You may be tempted to soothe your child or distract him from the sting of the moment with a new app, a tasty fro-yo, or some other diversion. But in doing so, you may lose the opportunity to help your kid learn to articulate his feelings and put the ache into perspective. Don’t minimize the distressing event, however, with comments like, “Let’s not make a big deal of this” or “Give it some time; you will forget about it.” Instead, help your child develop a list of useful words and fill-in-the-blank expressions. Try phrases such as “I felt sad when…” or “It was frustrating because…” to help him manage strong emotions and raise his self-awareness.

2. Avoid rewarding “the victim.” With your encouragement, your child will learn to handle life’s disappointments—as long as she doesn’t see a bigger payoff acting like a drama queen. Feeling sad when your BFF deserts you or says no to a playdate is understandable. Having a hissy fit on the playground or at home later isn’t.

Help her focus on problem-solving skills—for example, thinking about other classmates to play with or finding joy in another playground activity. Also, model motivation and a positive attitude when facing your own disappointments. Go ahead and express sadness but put a cap on counterproductive weeping, whining, and lashing-out extravaganzas.

3. And don’t fight your child's battles. Suiting up to rescue your child after a setback can easily backfire. Resist calling a classmate’s mom to insist she invites your child to her little one’s party. This will only engender ill will and make it that much harder for your child to deal with disappointment and overcome obstacles later. A wiser move: Discuss the hurt with your youngster, but invest more time brainstorming solutions and teaching him ways to tap his own creative resources to surmount setbacks and to develop a sensible course of action.

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