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Today's Family Magazine

Dealing with disappointment

By Deanna Adams

As all parents know, disappointment is simply a part of life.  But when their children experience it, it can be hard on both parent and child.  No parent wants to see their child sad, frustrated or distressed because something didn’t go the way they desired.  And yet, it is a perfect time to teach them how to deal with life’s adversities so they can grow to be well-adjusted adults.

Concerning this topic, Today’s Family spoke with a local expert on the topic.  Bonnie Shinhearl is a licensed professional clinical counselor who specializes in children, teens, individual, couples and family therapy.  Her special interest is helping families map out strategic ways to change a child's negative behaviors to achieve a more peaceful family life.  In addition to her clinical work, she is a college counselor and part-time faculty member at Lakeland Community College.

Q. Why do you feel it’s important for children to learn early on how to handle disappointments that come their way?
A. When children do not know how to react when things don't go their way, they often become hypersensitive to disappointment and react in sometimes extreme negative ways, such as screaming, crying, and temper tantrums.  And so, learning how to respond, and not just react, is a great tool to teach in the overall family learning laboratory.

Q. What’s the role of the parent in dealing with their child’s disappointment?
A.  There are several effective tools that parents can do to nurture and teach great coping skills.  What parents do not want to do is shield their child from disappointment because this robs the child from learning how to manage these feelings.  Don't try to make it okay, or pacify the child.  Because you then take away a learning opportunity that robs the child of the chance to learn how to overcome adversity.  Say instead, “It’s okay to be disappointed.”  That sometimes things don’t always go our way.

This can be talked about in positive ways.  It is the child's chance to solve the problem, or deal with the disappointment.  As a result, you empower your child.

Parents should also take notice when the child can manage difficult/disappointing events, and give them credit on how they’ve learned to manage.  It’s important that parents display and model responsive behaviors themselves, as well.  Home is the learning laboratory. 

Q. At what age should you begin to teach children how to handle disappointment?
A. Teaching your children how to handle disappointment as young as 2 years old sets the stage for crucial learning tools to manage frustration tolerance in the developing child, even in the most difficult of situations.

Q. Name a few methods a parent can use to help their child accept/deal with a disappointing situation?
A. The role of the parent is to be the emotional coach, not to react with the child.  And so, they should model “cool and calm” in the chaos, and point out the positives of being able to figure out other things to do that includes a positive attitude. Parent and child should always talk about it.  Talk it out.

Bonnie Shinhearl, LLC is located in Mentor.  Contact her at 440-368-6006.   

Other Tips:
(From staff research)
Engage the child in an activity that will distract them from the initial disappointment. Such as:
  • Read them a humorous, or favorite book, or perhaps one that coincides with their present disappointment, to help them calm down, feel relaxed, and better about the situation.
  • Have them listen to fun, upbeat music to lighten up the mood. Encourage them to dance their troubles away!
  • Have them draw a picture about how they feel and follow it up by discussing their feelings.
  • Take them to a park, or someplace they particularly enjoy, and soon, they will forget all about it, and without them even realizing it, will have learned an important life lesson––how to cope with life’s disappointments.

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