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Walking With Children Through Disappointment

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by Jamie Roach & Lea Ann Roach

I still feel the pit in my stomach as I recall one of our daughters telling us through her tears that she did not make the cheerleading team, or when our son felt left out after not being invited to a friend’s house. One of the hardest things about being a parent is watching our children when they are overcome with sadness.
Going through a global pandemic for the past year has reminded us how often we must face disappointment. We have experienced school closings, the cancellation of birthday parties, sporting events, vacations, and many other anticipated events. For many of us, it has almost been more than we can handle. Walking with our children through disappointments enables them to develop resilience, enabling them to bounce back up when they get knocked down. 
Here are a few things you can do to walk with your children through disappointment. 

Check in with yourself. 

Because emotional states are caught and not taught, the most important thing we can do as parents when our child is facing disappointment is to stay calm and regulated ourselves. Our children are naturally going to become dysregulated (sad, angry, upset) in the face of disappointment. When we, as parents, stay calm we provide a safe space where our children can process what they are feeling and calm down. However, if we match their dysregulation with our own feelings of frustration, anxiety, shame or fear, we pour gasoline on the fire of their emotions and cause an explosion. As parents, we must constantly be working to expand our “window of tolerance” so as to increase our ability to remain calm when our kids are upset. 
When checking in with ourselves, we also must ask if this is more about our own disappointment than our child’s. I remember times when I wanted something for my child more than they did. My own identity was tied up in theirs. Becoming aware of such motivations takes a lot of hard work and the ability to really be honest and curious with ourselves. We have to be careful about projecting what we may have missed out on when we were growing up onto our children. It is difficult to be calm if we aren’t aware of these unresolved issues.

Be a LUVER (lover).

Listen with your eyes. Look your children in the eyes. When facing disappointment, our kids are often feeling sadness or anger and are perhaps on the verge of panic. If they can look in our eyes and see acceptance, calm and confidence, they will begin to feel better. Their bodies will soak up the energy you are putting off. 
Understand their hurt. Don’t get fixated on their actions. See beneath what they are saying and doing and be curious about the feelings driving their reaction. Do they feel sadness? Are they afraid? Do they feel shame or are they feeling rejected? 
Validate their feelings. Let them know you see them and what they are feeling is valid. Name the emotion and let them know it is OK to feel it. 
Empathize. Let your child know you feel what they are feeling and that they are not alone.  Avoid criticizing or judging their reactions. Being able to empathize with your child’s emotions rather than being overwhelmed by them requires you to be in touch with your own feelings.

Teach self-soothing skills.

Teaching our children how to process uncomfortable emotions like sadness, anger and disappointment is a critical aspect of parenting. If we don’t, our children will learn to suppress their feelings. That will lead to them feeling numb inside and disconnected from others. They will become slaves to their emotions living in constant reactivity. Parents who model and teach naming these emotions and demonstrate self-soothing skills raise children who tend to be happy and healthy. After welcoming the disappointment and the feelings associated with it, try at least one of the following: 
  1. Breathe. Becoming aware of our breath and transitioning from shallow breathing to breathing deeply calms us down. 
  2. Color, draw or use molding clay to relax. 
  3. Listen to soft music.
  4. Go for a walk and notice what you hear, see, smell, taste and feel.
  5. Go outside to play.
  6. Snuggle up with a stuffed animal and a few favorite toys.
One of the hardest things as a parent is seeing your child sad and disappointed. You not only witness it in them, but feel it in your body. That feeling in your chest that makes you want to do something to make it go away… for your child and you… is so real. It is tempting to blame something or to distract our child with something good that we can control… buying them something, or using any power you might have to insulate your child. This is not helpful, especially in the long term.
Rather, we need to be that safe place for our children to process the emotions around their disappointment, to know that ALL their feelings are valid. You are there to share this sacred time with them as they learn to process and grow (as you continue to do the same) with you there to catch them when they are stumbling and learning.  By walking with our children through disappointment today, we facilitate their development of resiliency that will serve them well tomorrow. 
For more instruction and help, join us on April 5 for Dealing with Disappointment, a free virtual parenting event. We will have a panel of counselors in training from Mid-America Nazarene University who will join YF Family in presenting the latest research and methods around helping ourselves and our children face disappointment.




Roach family

The Roach Family

Lea Ann and Jamie Roach

Lea Ann and Jamie Roach






Jamie and Lea Ann Roach have each served on the staff of Youthfront for more than 30 years. They met at Youthfront Camps in 1986 and have loved being married for the past 33 years.

Lea Ann, part of Youthfront’s Marketing and Development Team, is in her final year of training to become a certified Spiritual Director.

Jamie, who directs Youthfront’s Family Ministries, holds a Master of Divinity and will complete his training as a licensed counselor this summer.

Together, Jamie and Lea Ann love working with couples and families. They raised four amazing children, now all adults living in the Kansas City area, who continue bringing a lot of joy into their lives.

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