We all experience disappointment in our lives at one point or another. The question is not, “If or when will disappointment strike?” but, “How to bounce back?” when it does.
When it comes to our children, it is important to teach them how to navigate their negative feelings in a healthy way.
Here are nine coping strategies resilient families use to help each other navigate through disappointment. Catherine Sewell, Play Thinker in Residence at Playgroup NSW, encourages families to try these well known strategies for building resilience.
1. Talk about tough situations
Advice: “How do you feel about what happened? Let’s talk about it.” You can use this phrase to invite your child to talk about what happened. Encourage them to share their feelings in regards to the unpleasant event or situation.
Resilient families provide a safe environment for honesty and transparency when it comes to sharing emotions. Empathy can go a long way, especially with children. It makes them feel safe enough to open up.
Depending on the situation and your child’s personality, you can try to lighten up the mood with humour. With little children, it can also be helpful to play a game or draw something while discussing. It will help them relax and express themselves much easier.
2. Lighten up tense situations with humour
Advice: “Come on, laugh it off.” Parents and carers, you can use this phrase to lighten up a tense situation or to help your child get over feelings such as disappointment, failure or loss.
They say “laughter is the best medicine”. Sometimes, a good laugh can help release stress and feelings of helplessness and disappointment.
Humour is a great coping mechanism and an efficient tool in fostering resilience. It offers a sense of control over negative emotions.
3. Take a break from overthinking
Advice: “Let’s take a break and relax. Let’s not worry and see what happens.” This is a great strategy for overthinkers. Use this phrase to introduce a distraction, such as playing a fun game, watching some TV, going out to one of their favourite places or simply spending some quality time together.
Disappointed people have the tendency to ruminate over an unpleasant situation until they become overwhelmed. Sometimes, providing a distraction can be an efficient way to give your child’s brain a break.
There are moments in life when stressing only makes it worse. During those times it is better to just breathe and accept our lack of control. Sometimes, the simple realisation that you can’t control everything in life can be reassuring.
Accepting your circumstances is a great technique that can be helpful for children who worry about their performance and for those children who tend to be pessimists
Try to nurture a resilient mindset yourself. You will find it easier to teach your child what is worth worrying about and what’s not if you first practise it yourself.
4. Encourage children to talk about their disappointments
Advice: “Have you spoken about this with someone?” This is a great phrase to use with children experiencing social problems such as bullying or other types of personal worry. It will help them slowly open up and talk about it.
Resilient people ask for help. Talking things through with someone is an extremely efficient strategy to process and get over negative feelings.
Teach your child to seek social connection rather than isolation whenever they are feeling stressed, sad or overwhelmed. Even when they don’t feel like talking, just spending some time around kind, empathic people can be soothing and beneficial.
5. Reassure your child that everything is going to be OK
Advice: “It looks bad now but it’s going to be OK. This isn’t the end of the world.” This phrase works well when you want to support and encourage a child going through a loss, a big change or extreme disappointment.
Sometimes, the best thing to do for your child is to just be there for them and offer hope. No matter how bad things are for your child right now, they will get better.
Maintain a realistic perspective about that specific situation when your child might blow things out of proportion. It will challenge their perspective and calm their anxiety.
We are inclined to catastrophise situations in life when we feel anxious and out of control. This tendency only adds to a child’s anxiety.
Tip: When you notice your child imagines worst case scenarios, try to challenge their scenario. Discuss the fact that even if things might go wrong, it’s still not the end of the world.
Parents can be role models of resilience for their children. They will learn resilience much faster if they notice the way you put it in practice. Being a supportive parent speaks volumes to your needy child. It will also create a special bond between the two of you.
6. Talk about lesson you can all learn from a disappointing situation
Advice: “What can you learn from this experience?” Positive reframing is a strategy that works well with children who’ve experienced personal disappointment as a result of making mistakes or letting others down.
It’s always good to look for the glass half full in a disappointing situation. It’s what optimists do.
As a parent, you can use this phrase to help your child reframe an unpleasant situation into an opportunity. It can be a challenge, but optimism goes hand-in-hand with resilience.
7. Offer your help and support
Advice: “There must be something we can do about this. What do you think we could do?” Teach your child to keep going one step at a time even in the face of rejection and failure. This is what resilient people do.
When your child feels helpless and inadequate, the best way to help them is by prompting them to act. Action is a great solution for these types of situations. Help them figure out what their next step forward should look like, make a plan together and establish some goals.
8. Brainstorm potential solutions
Advice: “Let’s all think about what can could be done and share our ideas.” You can encourage brainstorm session with the entire family whenever some of your children feels stuck. It will teach your child it is ok to ask for help. Your child will also learn to be more open to sharing their emotions and dilemmas with others.
Brainstorming is a family practice often used by resilient families. It is a great way to find new ideas and solutions for a specific situation or problem. It will also encourage each member to share their own perspective and talk about it.
Collaborative problem solving is a great strategy that can develop your child’s cognitive and problem solving skills. Give it a try!
9. Encourage flexibility
Advice: “You could be right. But have you thought about… ” Rational language results in realistic thinking. Make a habit out of challenging your child to find the realistic alternative for their emotions. This will help them get a realistic perspective about life.
Another great strategy you can use with children inclined to exaggerate situations or emotions is realistic language. Challenge your children to have flexible thinking by introducing a rational alternative.
For example, when your child says, “I’m furious!” you can try suggesting a more rational alternative, which could be, “I’m annoyed.”
In a nutshell:
Your child’s disappointment can easily become your disappointment. But this is not a strategy that will help either of you. In order to teach your child resilience, you need to nurture resilience in your own mindset.
Your child will quickly learn how to master resilience by copying your own behaviour. There is no greater reward than to see them using skills and tools you have shared with them to support others or help themselves in times of need!
Playgroup can provide a great environment for your child to practice resilience. Apart from the social connections and friendships they will discover, your child will also encounter many opportunities to learn about how to support and share with other children. Find a playgroup near you.