Learning to Support Our Kids’ Disappointments
By: Misty Boucher
A few years ago, my eldest daughter announced she was going to try out for her high school volleyball team. I immediately felt a lump form in my throat. “Really?” I asked. Trying not to appear overly enthusiastic. “Yes, yes, yes!” I thought. “This is exactly what you need!” She had been struggling with depression and for the first time, her grades weren’t great. In addition, some of her friendships were changing, which was causing my daughter to self-isolate. A team would be perfect! A team would solve everything!
During the three days of tryouts, I could hardly sleep. I would lie awake thinking, “Please let her make the team. Please let her make the team.” At the conclusion of tryouts, she felt she had done well and was fairly confident she would make the team. I just knew when we received the email letting us know she was on the team everything would be great again. I anxiously awaited for the good news.
The next day, she texted me from school, “Didn’t make the team” with a crying emoji. My heart sank. What? How? Why? I could feel myself beginning to spiral as options ran through my head. Surely, I could email the coach and explain how hard my daughter would be willing to work. Undoubtedly, she could allow her to join practices and earn a spot on the team, right? Obviously, the coach had to understand how desperately my daughter needed this. My daughter certainly couldn’t endure any more disappointments right now. She was much too fragile and needed me to fix this immediately. I decided I would write the coach an email first thing in the morning.
That night I thought back to some of my own disappointments. Remembering when I didn’t get the lead in a play during my 8th-grade year and the rejection letter I received from my top college choice when I was in high school. I started thinking about my own parents..they hadn’t tried to change the outcome to either one of those scenarios. And hadn’t each disappointment led to an opportunity? If I had been capable of overcoming my personal setbacks, why was I interfering with her opportunity to surmount her own obstacles?
Many of us parents so desperately want to prevent our children from experiencing disappointment. Why? Because we remember how awful it feels and immediately want to help them feel better. But, here’s the thing, when our immediate reaction is to make our kids “feel better” we aren’t teaching them disappointment is both normal and inevitable. By allowing our children to experience disappointment we are helping them develop skills they will need to respond to future obstacles accordingly. We can offer them a different perspective on disappointment by using the situation to encourage them to seek different opportunities, ultimately, helping them build motivation, confidence, and resilience.
My daughter did sulk for a week or so and yes, it was painful to witness. The truth of the matter is, her high school’s team is competitive and she hadn’t picked up a volleyball in over a year. She hadn’t practiced or prepped the way she should have. While it was a bummer she didn’t make the team, it shouldn’t have been a shock to either one of us. Not long after this debacle, my daughter began working at a job that she really loved. She worked hard and saved, eventually buying her own car. And while I wanted her to be part of a sports team as a way to help her cope with some new challenges, I came to realize that she needed to find her own way, pave her own path and well, sometimes disappointment is part of that path.
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