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Disappointment: My Favorite Feeling to Teach Kids

There is so much value in teaching your child about the feeling of disappointment. Disappointment is a guarantee in life and a very common feeling for a child to experience so the sooner they can appropriately identify and label it, the easier they can cope.

1. Talk to Your Child About Disappointment

It’s easiest to talk about feelings when everyone is calm. Introduce disappointment by sharing a story or reflecting on a situation that happened in the past.

“When you don’t get what you want, you can feel disappointed. Strong disappointment can lead to feeling sad or angry. It’s important when we are disappointed to still be safe and respectful. It’s ok to be disappointed, but it’s not ok to be mean.”

2. Teach Your Child What to do if They are Feeling Disappointed

It’s important to calm down when we are disappointed so we can make good choices.

Practice calming down skills such as taking belly breaths, using positive self talk, or talking to an adult.

Model for your children by showing them how you deal with disappointment. Make sure to talk out loud so they can see your thought process. “I’m so disappointed. I was really hoping to get to the store before it closed but I lost track of time and now it’s closed. I’ll have to go tomorrow to get the groceries.”

Role play with your children how to deal with disappointment using these scenarios:

  • You want to sit next to your friend at lunch, but there weren’t any chairs left

  • You wanted to help a teacher with a task but you weren’t chosen

  • Your mom wouldn’t let you bring a cookie to school for snack

  • You wanted the ball but someone got it first

3. Validate Your Child’s Disappointment

You may be tempted to relieve distress by meeting your child’s demands, but it is important for them to understand they can’t always have what they want. The key is to validate their feeling and allow them to feel the feeling and use a self-regulating skill to calm down.

“It looks like you’re really disappointed that we have to leave the park. It’s hard to leave when you’re having fun. Take some belly breaths to calm down. It’s time to go.”

4. Front load When You Can

Give as much information as possible before a situation. "We are going to the store to only buy milk. There is not an option of getting anything else today. What can you do if you really want something and the answer is no?"

Use a timer so the timer is the one that tells your child it's time to move on. Make sure to give them a limited choice of minutes that works for you and then have them decide how much time they get. Give them a 10/5/2 minute warning so they can prepare for the moment.

"Do you want 15 or 18 minutes to play at the park?"

Recommended Books to help learn about disappointment

Sometimes You Get What You Want by Lisa Brown and Meredith Gary

A young brother and sister experience the joy of getting what they want and the disappointment of not getting what they want during a typical day. There are many places to discuss with children the disappointment you feel when you don’t get what you want and ways you can manage that disappointment.

Smile! by Leigh Hodgkinson

Sunny is usually a happy girl, but not today. She is disappointed because her mom says she can’t have more cookies before dinner. Sunny has lost her smile. She searches for it everywhere. She finally finds it when she finds a way to overcome her disappointment.

Fancy Nancy: Bonjour Butterfly by Jane O’Connor, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser

Fancy Nancy can’t go to her friend’s “butterfly” birthday party because she has to go to her grandparents’ anniversary party instead. She is more than disappointed. She’s furious! Nancy must deal with her disappointment so she can have a good time at her grandparents’ party.

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