How to Help Your Kids Handle Disappointment
Whether it's a postponed prom or a canceled baseball season, here's how to help your kids cope with the loss.
Let's face it: 2020 has not been a great year for pretty much everyone on the planet. But for kids, it can be especially hard to be stuck at home and have so many events and activities postponed or canceled in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, since they haven't reached the developmental milestones that help them take it all in stride. "Teens and children really live in the now," says Jeffrey Bernstein, PhD, a licensed psychologist, parenting coach, and author of 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child. "They have a hard time waiting for the future."
Related: How to Help Kids Cope With Anxiety
If your child is having difficulty coping with missing out on some much-anticipated fun, here's how to help them deal with their disappointment and become more resilient.
Give Them Space to Feel How They Feel
Don't expect your kids to immediately get over their sadness, anger, and other feelings over the loss. "Don't just rush in with the bright side," Bernstein says. "Give them permission to feel and express their emotions. Say things like, 'I hear that this is really difficult, I know prom is a big deal and I know how much you were looking forward to it,' or, 'If I was on the winning team, I would have wanted a chance to go to practices.' Putting yourself in their shoes and doing it in a very authentic way helps."
Model Good Behavior
Letting your kids see your own disappointment over losses related to the coronavirus—and see you dealing with it in healthy ways—can help them develop their own skills at handling life's ups and downs. "This can be a teaching moment," says Bernstein. "Model to your kids how to roll with it." You can talk about how you're experiencing your own disappointments—like scrapped vacation plans or work-related pressures. And show them effective ways to handle negative emotions, such as talking about it, exercising to relieve stress, or finding a creative way to still do something that you want—like having a virtual dance performance with your class, in lieu of the formal recital.
Accentuate What's Going Right
It can be all too easy to focus on what's going wrong (and there's plenty of it), but it can be helpful to point out what's working, especially when it's behavior that your child is exhibiting. "Reinforce the things your child has been doing well," says Bernstein. "Say something like, 'I know you’ve been frustrated, I want you to know how proud I am that you’re stepping up, and helping out. I really appreciate that I asked you to clean up, that you did with no complaints.'"
Be Honest About How Hard This Is
"What we're being asked to do, no one has ever been asked to do," says Bernstein. "It can be hard to not go to the places we're used to going and do the things that we're used to doing." Stress that it's been a big, overnight change for everyone, and that everyone's struggling to make sense of life in this pandemic—but that there is light coming at the end of the tunnel. "It is going to get better—there will be a vaccine or a treatment eventually—but this is one of the few times when nobody really has a strong solid answer. But people come up large in times of need and times of pain, and that's what we're doing."