Overcoming the Storm: Guiding Children with Intense Emotions Through Disappointment


We All Experience Disappointment:

My dear husband is a San Francisco native.  All of his childhood, no matter where he lived, San Francisco was home.  Both grandparents lived in the Bay Area, aunts, uncles, cousins ... family.  Needless to say, San Francisco is a part of who he is.  

As you can imagine my dear 49er Faithful husband was elated when we went to the Superbowl this year.  He grew up in the Steve Young years and was feeling excited about the team, the kindness, and the cohesion they had this year.  

The loss in the last few second of the game was so disappointing.  Kid anxiety was on high alert and emotions were running hot.  

I know we are talking about "just a game," here; and a game we are not even playing in.  But my point is disappointment comes in all shapes, forms, and sizes.  And we have to learn how to navigate the little moments of disppoinment when we are kids so when when those much bigger moments happen in life, we have mastered the skills the steps to get through them; and equally as important we can help those around us work through their disappointment as well. 

So here are a few tips to working through disappointment.  

Listen and Validate:

When children face disappointment, the first line of support is a parent's ability to listen and validate their feelings. It's not about immediate solutions; it's about acknowledging their emotional squall as real and significant.

  • Embrace their narrative: Start by hearing them out. Let them recount their story, their expectations, and the ensuing letdown.
  • Validate their emotions: Use phrases like "It's completely understandable you're feeling this way," or "It sound like you feel _______," or "I get that, I would feel _______ if that happened to me," to affirm their emotions.
  • Avoid minimizing their feelings: Phrases like "It's not that bad" or "things could be worse" can trivialize their experience.

Provide Perspective:

As the emotional storm settles, and your child becomes regulated, parents can help their child by offering perspective. This isn't about negating their feelings but about helping them see beyond the immediate horizon.

  • Highlight the transient nature of disappointment: Reinforce that while the disappointment is palpable now, it will dissipate with time.  Maybe even set up a check in, "How about we touch base on this tomrrow and see how your are feeling.  This feels like a 7 now, do you mind if I ask you tomorrow what it feels like?" 
  • Share your own experiences: Relate your stories of overcoming similar feelings to show them they're not alone.
  • Teach them about resilience: Discuss how overcoming these challenges can make them stronger.  Explain how overcoming the story you shared made you stronger. 

Seek Solutions:

When your child is thinking clearly, encourage them to become a solution-seeker. Together, brainstorm practical steps they can take to either address the source of disappointment or to move forward constructively.

  • Problem-solving together: Engage in a dialogue to find tangible solutions.
  • Focus on what can be controlled: Help them identify aspects of the situation within their power to change.
  • Encourage proactive behavior: Motivate them to take action where possible, reinforcing a sense of agency.

Give Them a Sense of Control:

In the face of disappointment, children often feel powerless. By giving them a sense of control, parents can help them regain their bearings.

  • Offer choices: Where possible, let them make decisions about next steps.
  • Set achievable goals: Help them set small, realistic goals to work towards.
  • Empower them to express themselves: Whether it's through art, writing, or conversation, self-expression can be a powerful tool for regaining control.

Instilling Emotional Intelligence:

The silver lining to experiencing disappointment is the opportunity for children to develop emotional intelligence. Parents play a pivotal role in this educational journey.

  • Teach them to name their emotions: Help them articulate what they're feeling, which is a key component of emotional intelligence.
  • Encourage reflection: Guide them to understand why they feel a certain way and what triggers these emotions.
  • Model healthy coping strategies: Show them how you manage your own disappointments healthily.

Strengthening the Support System:

No ship braves a storm without a strong crew. Similarly, children with intense emotions need a robust support system to navigate disappointment.

  • Involve other caregivers: Share strategies with teachers, relatives, and friends so they can provide consistent support.
  • Seek professional guidance if needed: Sometimes an expert can offer insights and strategies beyond a parent's scope.
  • Celebrate their progress: Recognize and praise their efforts and growth in handling disappointment.

Encouraging Social Connections:

Peers play a significant role in a child's ability to weather emotional storms. Foster social connections that provide additional avenues of support and understanding.

  • Facilitate friendships: Encourage your child to make and maintain friendships, which can be a source of comfort.
  • Promote group activities: Group settings can offer different perspectives and collective coping strategies.
  • Support empathy development: Teach them to understand and share the feelings of others, which can, in turn, help them process their own emotions.

Nurturing Self-Compassion:

Lastly, teach children to extend the same kindness to themselves that they would offer a friend in distress. Self-compassion is a crucial life skill. 

  • Encourage positive self-talk: Help them replace self-criticism with words of encouragement and self-acceptance.
  • Practice mindfulness: Techniques such as deep breathing and meditation can help them stay grounded amidst emotional upheaval.
  • Reinforce their worth: Ensure they know their value is not dependent on external achievements or circumstances.

Conclusion: Embracing Disappointment as a Growth Opportunity

Disappointment, while challenging, is an inevitable aspect of life. For parents of special needs children, it presents a unique opportunity to foster resilience, emotional intelligence, and compassion. By teaching children to navigate their emotions, strengthening their support system, encouraging social connections, and nurturing self-compassion, parents can equip their children with the tools they need to face disappointment head-on. Remember, every setback is a setup for a comeback, and with the right guidance, children with special needs can learn to bounce back stronger and wiser.

Sources: 

  1. Supporting Children Through Disappointment
  2. The Role of Emotional Intelligence in Child Development
  3. The Importance of Social Connections for Children
  4. Self-Compassion for Kids: Why It's Important and How to Foster It