Helping Children Handle Disappointment

As parents we hope that our children will grow up to be well-adjusted and productive citizens. I wish I had a dime for every time I said (or heard another parent say!) “I just want my child to be happy.” Don’t we all! But ironically, helping children become happy people depends on teaching them how to handle disappointment. Let me explain.

While we wish we could wrap our children in a magic film that repels any misfortune or disappointment, it is just not possible. We live in a complex world and parents cannot orchestrate every aspect of their children’s lives. Somewhere, sometime, and most likely with some regularity, children will be disappointed. They will not always get what they want, they may be disappointed by friends, and they may even disappoint themselves by not behaving appropriately or failing to accomplish a particular task. Unfortunately, the possibilities for being upset and disappointed are many!

What happens when children are sheltered from feeling disappointed?

Some parents (hopefully a small percent of the population) do whatever it takes to keep their child happy. As a former preschool and kindergarten teacher, I saw this happen on occasion. These parents were like puppets with their child pulling the strings. Anything the child demanded was granted. Sometimes the child had protest to get the parent to give in, but give in the parents did. For a brief time the initial upset was averted and their child was happy. Even if parents can always make children happy, this is far from ideal, as the parents generally become quite uneasy with needing to constantly cater to their child’s whims.

The result of this scenario is often a child who falls apart when he does not get his desires met. He believes that he can only be content when he is getting just what he wants. When this child comes to school, it is quite a rude awakening when he realizes that everyone is not bending over backwards to delight him. And I have seen these children feel confused, uneasy, and miserable. There’s the irony! As parents have tried to make their child happy they have unwittingly set him up to feel unhappy.

How can parents help their child become resilient so that he can deal with disappointment?

The answer is simple. Allow your child to experience disappointment so that he has opportunities to learn how to handle those situations and feelings.

A child needs to feel disappointment to learn that his world will not come to an end. I am not suggesting that parents purposely let their child down or create frustrating situations for them – those will come naturally. It’s part of life! If parents can step in simply to add a word of comfort or support as their child manages his frustration or disappointment, they will help him learn important lessons.

What can a child learn when he experiences disappointment?

He will learn that he is capable of dealing with a little sadness and that he is still okay. He will develop strategies for dealing with unpleasant feelings, such as getting a hug from a parent or talking to a caring adult about how he is feeling. He will learn that disappointment is part of life and happens to everyone. He will learn that his parents will be there to comfort him with loving words and even some advice (if asked for!), but they cannot eliminate frustration or disappointment.

In the end, this child will be happier for several reasons. He will feel confident that he can manage disappointment and move on! He will have smoother relationships with adults and friends because he will be able to compromise instead of expecting to get his own way. And he will know that disappointment passes and that he will be okay.

For information on helping your child develop important school-readiness skills, please visit for a kindergarten readiness test and hundreds of free kindergarten worksheets you can do at home with your child to help develop critical school readiness skills.

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Renee Abramovitz is a a former preschool and kindergarten teacher who retired in 2008 to become a “full-time grandma” to her four beautiful grandsons. She is passionate about the idea that all parents are their child’s first and most important teacher and strives to give parents the tools and confidence they need to successfully work with their children at home. Renee shares tips for working with young children at where she offers a free kindergarten readiness test parents can take to assess their child’s readiness to start school plus hundreds upon hundreds of free kindergarten worksheets for parents to use at home with their children.

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  • Athelda Ensley , October 5, 2011

    I always had a more difficult time when they were disappointed than they did. The key here is really talking things out on their level. We can't expect our kids to rationalize like adults. Making sure that there is open communication is important for young kids and older ones, too.

  • Karen Dawkins , October 6, 2011

    When I speak to parents (MOPS, etc), I share that our role as parents is to train and equip our kids to become the adults God always meant them to be. If we teach them the tools they need to work through a situation or emotion, they will improve at using them over time.

    I would rather battle hard with a three year old who has a small arsenal of tools to fight than battle hard with a teenager who has YEARS of bad habits and dysfunctional skills to fight with. We pay now — working hard when they're young — or we pay later — working much much much harder when they're older.

  • Leslie , October 6, 2011

    It is a lot better for kids to experience this young. They can learn how to best handle disappointment as it happens all of the time out in the “real world.” Since parents are essentially helping their kids to get there and be best prepared, they need to be able to say the word “no.”

  • Cascia Talbert , October 7, 2011

    Great points, Renee. My mom is a retired school teacher too and I recall her telling me about the same kind of parents as you mentioned. As a mom of young children I try my best to keep them happy without giving in to their every wishes. Sometimes it is hard to do, but I can see how important it is to teach our kids how to deal with disappointment.

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