Help you child deal with life’s disappointments

By admin
26 June 2014

It’s the last day of the term and your son or daughter is waiting for you at the school gates, looking dejected. Their report isn’t as good as they’d hoped for and now their holiday is ruined. Teach your children that disappointments are part of life and help them to gain skills to deal positively with setbacks.

Life if full of big and small disappointments and as much as we’d like to protect our children from them, it’s not always possible. It’s just as well, says Claire O’Mahony, an educational psychologist of Sandton. Disappointment is part of growing up. If we can teach our children to cope with disappointment they gain a skill that will stand them in good stead for the rest of their lives. They discover that a disappointment isn’t the end of the world and they learn to understand their emotions, to remain positive and to plan in order to avoid a repetition of the disappointment. Here’s O’Mahony’s advice.

For children in primary school

  • Acknowledge their disappointment. Help them to express their feelings by saying, for example, “You look sad. Are you upset about your exam results?”
  • Create a situation in which children feel safe enough to share their feelings. It’s important to create good communication bonds with your children from an early age as this makes it easier for them to express their emotions.
  • Help your children to see a disappointment in perspective: no one’s perfect and everyone makes mistakes. Teach your kids that if they have done their best that’s good enough for you.
  • Teach your children that a disappointment is a good opportunity to grow and improve. Get them to ask questions that can teach them to think differently about things, for example, “What can I do differently next time?” or “What can I learn from this?”
  • Remain positive. Set an example by staying positive and stating that you believe in their ability to try again.
  • Jointly set goals for the next test or exams. You can even use rewards to motivate your children. But don’t promise them a PlayStation for doing well in a test. Encourage them always to work hard towards any goal they want to achieve.

For children in high school

Don’t be dismissive. Recognise your child’s disappointment and encourage them to talk about it.

Ask them how they view the disappointment. Do they think they’ve let themselves, their teachers and parents down? Working through their disappointment will give you insight into how to help your kids.

Try to find the cause of their poor marks. Is it an academic problem that can be addressed with extra lessons or are they anxious under pressure and unable to perform? Don’t hesitate to get professional help if necessary.

Explain that failures help us to find out what we’re good at. Your children may have done poorly in science but their English marks may be very good. Support your kids by being positive.

Teenagers tend to be self-critical and say things such as, “I’m stupid; I can’t do anything right.” Remind them there’s a difference between failing a test and failing in life.

Failure isn’t the end of the world. Discuss your child’s expectations and help them to set short-term goals that are achievable by the end of the year.

Be prepared to continually monitor your children’s progress. If you regularly discuss their progress and test results with them they’ll know whether they’re on the right track or should be working harder. In this way you’ll know what to expect even before they bring home their next report.

- Shané Barnard

Sources: C O’Mahony from Sandton Psychology Centre,,

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