One of my favorite stories about my father was his reaction when I got accepted into college. The moment was, to put it simply, not how I imagined it. On the actual day I was set to receive either an acceptance or a rejection, my dad was in the hospital battling cancer. He was getting a new port put in around 4:00 – the same time my parents knew I would be getting home from school and heading to the mailbox. As soon as the procedure was over, he found my mom (who he knew I would’ve immediately called.)
“Well…?” he asked.
“She got in,” my mom responded.
My mom told me later that my dad just stood there, crying in his hospital gown, overwhelmed with happiness for me. “He really didn’t care that much where you ended up going. He just didn’t want you to be disappointed.” Yes, in the midst of his cancer treatments, he was more concerned about my potential college heartbreak than anything else.
Which brings me to the topic of this week’s blog post: handling disappointment. Like my own dad, many parents absolutely dread the idea of their child not getting their top choice school. For some, it’s the hardest aspect of the college admissions process. Of course, you cannot protect your child from letdowns and setbacks – in academics or in life. The only thing you can do? Teach them to be mentally tough, determined, and able to cope with disheartening circumstances. Mental toughness might not be something your family has focused on in the past, but it’s never too late to start. These are TK of our best tips for teaching mental toughness and resilience.
Observe the 24-Hour Rule.
At the Enrichery, we give students 24 hours to either grieve a disappointment or celebrate a victory. After that, it’s back to business as usual. Start observing this rule at home to prevent wallowing after a setback, and to remind your child or teen that life goes on after peaks and valleys. By setting a firm time limit to “snap out of it,” they’ll learn that they need to get everything out of their system in a timely manner… and then it’s time to move on!
Talk it out.
I used to roll my eyes when my parents encouraged me to talk through how I was feeling, but eventually I realized verbalizing the chaos going on in my head often made me feel ten times better. And, in my opinion, expressing how bad we feel sometimes is one of the toughest things we can do. Teach your child that if they’re disappointed to say they’re disappointed. If they feel devastated, talk about it (or even cry it out!). If they’re scared, ask them why. Instead of letting them repress or run away from certain feelings, encourage them to talk through how they feel and honor their emotions (no matter how uncomfortable they are). By getting everything out in the open, they can share the load and, hopefully, feel a bit better.
Be an example of problem solving and resilience.
Actions speak louder than words, so don’t just tell them how to respond to disappointment – show them! Whenever something goes wrong, don’t waste any time complaining or playing the victim. Start brainstorming ways to fix things or discussing Plan B. Encourage them to do the same. Failed a test? Let’s discuss finding a better study method for the next one. Didn’t get into their top choice school? Let’s list all the reasons why their second (or third or fourth) choice would be amazing, and get that application in ASAP. Well, after their 24-hour grieving period, that is.
Teach them to think realistically.
Life isn’t rainbows and butterflies, and disappointment is inevitable. The sooner your child learns that, the better. While everyone should be encouraged to chase their dreams, it’s important to teach them that back-up plans are just as important. Tell them stories of your own personal failures (and, ideally, how they ended up working out for the best). Don’t sugarcoat things or minimize their sadness with phrases like, “Everything will be fine,” or “Don’t worry about it,” because… sometimes things aren’t exactly fine and worrying is normal. Instead, commiserate with them (for 24 hours or less!), remind them that this is part of life, and start discussing solutions and alternatives.
Don’t let them give up.
You know what’s worse than not getting into their dream school? Throwing in the towel, missing application deadlines, and not getting in anywhere. No matter what the scenario is, giving up won’t make things better or easier. Whenever your child wants to call it quits, ask them (sincerely) how that would improve the situation. It won’t.
Life is hard, and disappointment is inevitable. No matter how badly you might want to, you can’t shield your child from the hard stuff. Instead, work diligently on teaching them mental toughness, and being an example of it yourself.