We’ve all been there, playing in the big game, running for student government, trying out for the school play, waiting to be asked to the dance … and it doesn’t happen. You feel crushed, angry, embarrassed and disheartened. As adults who care about young people we hate to see them have difficult experiences, but disappointment is a part of life.
In the 7th grade I wanted to be a cheerleader so bad! When it was time for tryouts I was excited and nervous. I worked hard to learn the routine and practiced for hours. The tryout itself was in front of our whole grade … totally nerve wracking! Then we had to wait all day for the results to be read over the loudspeaker. When the announcement was made I sat in class with everyone else and waited to hear my name … but my name wasn’t announced. I was devastated. But you know what? I survived. And went on to tryout and make other teams and have amazing experiences.
We cannot (and should not) protect young people from disappointment. What we can do is give them support and teach them to be resilient so they can pick themselves back up and move forward.
First and foremost you need to be there for your teen during disappointing times. Not only to support but to model the behaviors you want to see in them.
- Empathize with your teen. When they are ready to talk about their disappointment listen and let them know they are not alone. Allow them to feel however they are feeling without trying to cheer them up or telling them to get over it. Do not try to solve their problem. They will ask if they want your opinion about what they should do.
- When we are disappointed it is easy to get angry and attack or blame someone else for our setback. Help your teen handle the situation with grace by not lashing out and helping them do the same.
- It is about your teen not you. You should NOT be reacting more than your teen. When young people see the adults around them reacting more strongly to their situation than they are it can create additional stress and feelings of guilt or shame. Stay calm.
Merriam-Webster defines resilience as an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change <emotional resilience>. If we can help our young people with their outlook on life they will be better equipped to deal with disappointment and set backs.
- Recognize that most things are beyond our control. We cannot control how other people act, only ourselves.
- Take a step back to get some perspective. Will this matter a year from now? Are you still healthy and safe? In the grand scheme of things, most situations are not as dire as we think. Maybe you just need a different point of view.
- Manage your expectations. Are your expectations realistic? You are always a beginner before you are an expert. Also, see #1 above.
- Your feelings are Okay. There is no right or wrong way to feel. Allow yourself some time to feel your feelings before you move on.
- Have a good sense of humor. Any time you can find the humor in a situation you are already a step ahead.
- Accept change. One of the only things in life that is guaranteed is that things will change. Change is inevitable and doesn’t have to be scary, it can be an opportunity.
- Do something. Often you don’t have to just sit back and do nothing. Is there something you can do to change your situation?
- Learn. There is almost always a takeaway from disappointment. Evaluate the situation and consider what you could have done differently.
Disappointment comes in all shapes and sizes: sports, family, friends and even ourselves. No matter the situation, with the right support and attitude, teens can do more than survive disappointment … they can thrive!
What are ways that you have handled a disappointing situation?
How else can we support teens through tough times?
Want to learn more about building resilience in your teen? The American Psychological Association has a great resource guide. Resilience guide for parents and teachers