BY BARBARA ESTEVES-MOORE
I find one of the hardest things about parenting is helping your child deal with disappointment – you know, the kind you cannot fix.
I’m referring to disappointments such as losing a competition or game, not being selected for a group at school, not getting into a program or college, failing a test or even a class, not being cast in the school play … or even the pain of a relationship ending.
Parents cannot make some things better for their teens. As they get older, there is less and less we can fix for them, too. They just must deal with loss, defeats, letdowns and failures. We all do. But, as a parent, it’s painful to watch.
Dr. Shana Reece, a licensed psychologist practicing in Brentwood, Tennessee, said there are some ways parents can help their teens navigate life’s disappointments.
“The best way to be proactive is to not put unrealistic expectations on your teen,” Dr. Reece said.
For example, if your child is trying to get into a competitive magnet school or a highly selective college honors program, make sure they know that it’s not all or nothing. She said have a conversation with your teen about what would happen if they don’t get in or don’t win or don’t get elected to student council. These conversations will help them to see for themselves that it’s not the end of the world.
In other words, it gives them an option B.
“You should always have a plan B,” Dr. Reece said, adding that as adults, many people plan that way, but teens don’t necessarily think that way.
“If something doesn’t work out for them, have them look at the hard work they put into that effort and how it strengthened them,” she said.
When I was a teenager in a relationship that was ending, the boy I was dating told me to not look at our relationship ending so dramatically. Instead, he said look at is as something that will help me with my next relationship. He said every relationship we have teaches us something to help us in the next relationship. I am not sure how he came upon this wisdom at the age of 18 or 19 and I’m not sure I fully appreciated his words at the time, but I sure did remember them. Some 30 years later, I appreciate his sage advice and will someday repeat those words to my teen when they are needed.
Dr. Reece’s advice is the same. When life disappoints your teen, try to get them to see the bigger picture, what they can learn from the disappointment and where they can go next. I know that sounds very idealistic but it’s something to try.
“When they are focused on the one thing they want, have them describe it to you,” she said, then ask them what they think will happen if they don’t get what they want. Thinking about different scenarios ahead of time can help them prepare for disappointments when they happen.
“Ask them questions like, ‘How is making an F on this test going to affect you in the next six months? How will it matter to you in a year?’ How does this define me as a person? How is this really going to affect my life?’”
Remind them that no one asks them what they got in high school chemistry 10 years from now, she said. Also, keep the communication lines open so that they come to you when disappointments happen.
“If you show interest in their interests and excitement about what they are excited about, that opens communication doors like no other.”
It’s still painful to see your kid disappointed and hurt – sometimes maybe even more painful to us as parents. But just talking about it can help. And if they don’t want to talk to you, she said suggest that they talk to someone they feel comfortable with whether that’s a friend or a school counselor.
My daughter has a friend who is her BFF, soul mate, partner in crime and most trusted confidant. When she gets upset and doesn’t want to talk to me, I suggest she go call her BFF.
Dr. Reece said it’s important to let teens know that it is good to just talk to someone.
“Don’t shelter them and tell them only parental opinions matter,” she said. “Encourage them to talk to other people, too. And just let them know you are there when they need you.”
Barbara Esteves-Moore is a journalist, editor and the owner of Two Roads Communications and an editor for Home Page Media. She has been married for 20 years and is the mother of an active, opinionated and very lively 16-year-old.You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.