“The principles of living greatly include the capacity to face trouble with courage, disappointment with cheerfulness, and trial with humility.” Thomas Monsoon.
I don’t know about you, but I want my children to live greatly. Mr. Monsoon makes a key point — to live greatly, our children must learn to handle disappointment. So, how can we as parents teach this skill?
It’s not easy. When kiddos are disappointed they publicly throw tantrums — which lead to stares and judgment from all the other people in the store. Or, they angrily stomp to their room. Or, they wear us down through begging. More, every Disney movie ever produced has one message, “In life, you will never be disappointed. In the end, you will get everything you want — so keep pushing.” Is it any wonder our kids keep pushing? They are convinced it will work. And, when we give in, we reinforce this strategy.
Normalize disappointment. Have any of you ever lost a job? Been passed over for a promotion? Had a friend betray? Let’s face it — disappointment is an integral part of life.
Yet, all too often, parents pretend it isn’t—at least to our children. We shield them from the disappointment of not winning the championship by giving everyone a trophy. We bully teachers into giving them a better grade. We buy toys whenever they ask to avoid a scene in the store. We think we are protecting our children — but this “protection” leaves them weak and defenseless in the real world. Instead of keeping disappointment at bay, parents who let it in and teach children how to cope provide authentic protection. The best parents acknowledge disappointment as part of life and offer the skills to work through it.
Let children grieve. When our child loses a big game or fails a test, the wise parent first allows his child to grieve. Which is really hard. We want to step in and fix situations — especially when grief runs deep.
When my daughter competed in gymnastics, she spent over 30 hours each week in the gym. She nursed sore muscles and ripped hands to give her all. And, she was incredibly good. But, at a national meet, she fell off the balance beam seven times. Seven!! The first fall wrecked her confidence which had her doubting each move which led to more falls. Nothing could touch her grief. A year of grueling work — over in less than three minutes.
At first, all I could do at first was hold her as she cried. We spent a few weeks just feeling the loss.
Teach children how to use disappointment to move forward. As my daughter’s grief ebbed, we had the chance to process together. After she fell, what happened in her head? What happened in her heart? What could she have done differently?
“What can you do differently?” — this question has power. It opens our children to see their capacity to face disappointment and make something come from it. If our child doesn’t get the candy he wants at the store, what can he do differently? Save his allowance to buy it himself? Enjoy the outing with Dad? Be grateful for the ice cream already in the cart? Helping our children see options teaches them tools for turning disappointment into opportunity.
“What can you do differently?” caused my daughter to scrutinize her thought patterns. She discovered a pattern of self-criticism — especially under pressure. That pattern was a much bigger obstacle than the balance beam. She began teaching herself to talk differently to herself, which helped her to succeed in many meets to come. And, helped her transition to life after gymnastics — when the huge disappointment of realizing she wouldn’t be Olympic-great also came. She moved on to coaching, which she loved even more than competing. When we coach our children through disappointment, we help them tap into their own power to cope and to turn inevitable disappointments into something better.
Contrary to Disney’s propaganda, life brings disappointment. Living greatly means learning to face disappointment and move through it. Each disappointment, big or little, becomes an opportunity to practice these skills — preparing our children to make the best of life, disappointments and all.