One of our biggest challenges recently has been coaching our son through big feelings around disappointment. Missed events. Stolen bike. Things that don’t turn out the way we hoped they would. Choices other people make. All of these things have been tough because handling disappointment is something that we struggle with. These are a couple strategies we have used to try and mitigate the big feelings.

Establishing Reasonable Expectations

“Get a plant. Plants won’t disappoint you.” My son’s teacher gave this piece of insight. At first, I thought it was sad, but on further reflection, I feel like it’s perfect. It’s about being realistic about your expectations. People will fail you. People are human and they make mistakes. We need to accept that that is the case. If you are looking for a relationship free of disappointment, get a plant (and don’t let me look after it when you go on vacation because I am a mass murderer of plants.) We got our kid a plant. I will let you know how that goes. I won’t touch the plant.

Check in About the Size of the Emotional Response

This isn’t about “this isn’t a big deal why are you crying for the love of all that is good just go to sleep.” This is about taking inventory of the circumstances that might make handling big feelings more difficult. This is a script I’ve used:

I know you are really upset about this. Under normal circumstances, you have the tools to work through these big feelings no problem. Let’s talk about what is getting in the way of those tools working. Are you tired? Are you hungry? Is it too loud in here? It’s understandable to have big feelings about this, but we need to check in about why we are having trouble managing them today when you have the tools you need to succeed.

I know it’s clunky but it has been helpful to us. Your mileage may vary!

Perspective Taking

Sometimes disappointment can be mitigated with some perspective taking. We talk about “Will this matter in ten years?” We start by talking about what life will look like in ten years: How old will he be? Will he have a job? Will he have an apartment? Will he have a life partner? Will he be in university? We try to visualize what ten years form now will look like. Then we look at, as a 19 year old who maybe has a job, apartment, person to love, college courses to attend, will this issue be something that will continue to disappoint? Will he care that the “special box” he rescued to turn into crafts ripped? Or will he have other things to focus on. Is this something that is life changing?

The other side of perspective taking is empathy. When we are dealing with disappointment from someone else’s choices, we try to explore why they might have made that choice and how they might be feeling after making that choice. When they can see the other person’s side, it can be easier to exercise compassion.

Span of Control

We can’t control other people or make them make good choices. This is where disappointment comes from. What we can do is explore what is in our span of control: our reaction. When we are disappointed we can:

  • practice mindfulness (tools: calm down jar, bath bomb, meditation app)
  • exercise compassion
  • make our own sunshine by making the best of a less than ideal situation
  • respectfully communicate our feelings
  • set boundaries in a relationship
  • problem solve how to handle this situation in the future

I am an optimist so handling disappointment is something I really struggle with too, so I’m glad I have a little dude who challenges me to learn how to deal with my own big feelings. These are some tips that worked for us. What has worked for your kids?

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