Helping a child handle disappointment

Published 7:49 am Saturday, March 17, 2018

Disappointment comes to everyone. As adults we, hopefully, have learned that when people or activities may sometimes let us down, we can keep such things in perspective and find ways to overcome our dashed hopes.

But for children, disappointment can come in numerous forms. Even a seemingly minor hurt can often seem like such a complete disaster that the child truly has a difficult time accepting and dealing with it. And, in many cases, such as when a beloved pet dies or a close friend moves away, the hurt can be very real and deep and won’t disappear easily.

While responding to childhood disappointments can seem difficult, there are solid reasons to do it in a good way. We can make our child feel less sad, avoid more serious emotional issues, and, when we respond well, we help open communication that can strengthen the child – parent relationship.

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How do you begin to respond to a child’s disappointment? Listening is step one. Don’t minimize or discount the story your child has to tell, even if it seems trivial to you. It’s very real to your child, and a response such as, “That’s no big deal,” or, “You’ll forget about it by tomorrow,” only serves to convince your child that you don’t really understand or even care.

You also don’t want to hurry in with a pleasant experience or reward to make the hurt go away. This can establish flawed patterns that carry over into adulthood and can present very real future problems.

Instead, talk “with” your child, rather than “to” him or her. Don’t begin an interrogation when something seems wrong but instead tell him or her in a gentle way that you’ve noticed they’re unhappy and encourage them to tell you what has happened.

Don’t be judgmental about what is being reported but instead offer sympathy and understanding. Let your child know you empathize because you’ve suffered your own disappointments. Don’t try to top your child’s story, but instead listen and sympathize. Just being able to share can do much to minimize the hurt.

In some cases, being a good listener may not be enough. If you notice a persistent change in behavior over time, and if your child is refusing to talk about what’s wrong, it may be appropriate to seek help from a trained professional counselor. Your child’s school counselor is always a good place to start.

Counseling Corner is provided by the American Counseling Association. Comments and questions to or visit the ACA website at