Talking with Your Kids About Disappointment

Lots of kids are disappointed right now. And many parents are wondering how to talk with them. Whether it’s school closures, missed vacations, shuttered restaurants, isolation from grandparents or no more playdates, there is a lot to be disappointed about. No parent likes to deliver bad news, and when you are already struggling yourself, it’s even harder to let down your kids.

We live in a time where it has been possible to shield our children from many of life’s bumps and bruises. But, according to a recent article in Atlantic Magazine, that’s not always a good idea. As Christians, we know it is generally our disappointments which draw us to God in deeper ways and fit us for greater service in His kingdom. Apparently, it is our childhood disappointments which teach us to live in uncertain times with greater peace and hope. Talking with kids about their disappointments is one of the most valuable and formative privileges you have as a parent. Here are three, simple guidelines from Philippians 4 to keep in mind as you do that.

Attitude

Your perspective as a parent will greatly influence your child’s attitude, so deal with yourself first. If present circumstances seem like a bump in the road to you, they are more likely to seem that way to your kids. On the other hand, if you are frightened or overly apologetic or angry, they are more likely to be upset, too. Pray it through, sleep on it, talk with your support group, adjust your own attitude BEFORE talking with your child. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Phil. 4:6

Adaptability

One of the best indicators of emotional maturity is resilience, the ability to adapt to new information and situations. This is an opportunity to help your children develop more resilience. Allowing them to experience appropriate dissatisfaction and disappointment helps them learn how to handle it. Keep in mind they will not be disappointed by the same things you are, so ask good questions. (E.g., “What’s the worst part about missing school?”) And then help them develop a healthy perspective on their issues. (E.g., “I miss my friends, too, but I’m glad we have ways to stay connected. Who would you like to connect with soon?”)  I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Phil. 4:11-13

Action

Talking, praying and connecting are actions we all can take to cope with some of our disappointments. Other important activities for your children might include regular exercise, one-on-one time with parents and a dependable routine. Find ways of working fun and laughter into your schedule, too, because a little joy goes a long way. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Phil. 4:4

If you have specific questions about your own disappointments or parenting your disappointed children, ask them on our Questions page. If you have thoughts, comments or experiences to offer others, please post them as a reply on this page. We love to hear from you.


Related Material:

Helping Anxious Children – DesiringGod.org

What-If’s – Focus on the Family

Angry Parent

Dear Christian Counselor,

I am a mother of 3, redeemed by Christ nine years ago, but every day I fail to live that promise. I have this temper that comes out and hurts my kids. Am I really saved? Then why do I keep repeating this sin with the littlest things, like spilt water, a loud voice etc.? After snapping I am disgusted by it, and I always repent to God and my kids. How I thank God for not giving me serenity in sin. His mercy is there, but I want to experience His victory. I pray each time that His sovereign power protects my kids from me.

I’ve read so many books about parenting, and I’ve been crying out to God each morning to experience His presence and the hope He has given me. Every day I fail in my greatest mission — to reflect Christ to my kids. How can I shepherd them if I always scare them away? Most times I feel that I don’t deserve to be a mother… Why can’t I take care of his gifts well, and why can’t I always be joyful with these? We are talking about being good stewards of what God has given us. And I’m failing big time. Please remember me in your prayers.

Mad Mama


Dear Mad Mama,

I want to answer your most important question first: I do believe you are saved. The Apostle Paul called himself “the chief of sinners” in one of his last letters (I Tim. 1:15). Conviction and remorse are signs of the Holy Spirit’s work. If God wanted to give you an instant victory, He could do that, but being saved doesn’t usually mean we stop grappling with sin – it means we have help for the struggle and forgiveness when we fail. If you can set this question at rest, and stop beating yourself up, it may help you find a bit more patience.

It seems you have taken some good, practical steps, such as reading parenting books and starting your day with reminders of God’s love. Because these things have not helped you substantially, I believe you need to find the root of your anger (see James 4:1-2a). You may be carrying a burden from the past which explodes at an inappropriate target. Finding peace within does not mean blaming others for your temper; it means leaving bitterness behind and redeeming your story. I would suggest finding a local, Christian counselor to help with that process. You might try calling Focus on the Family which has a phone counseling ministry as well as a counseling referral database:

To reach Focus on the Family’s counseling service by phone, call 1-800-A-Family (232-6459) weekdays 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (Mountain Time). Please be prepared to leave your contact information for a counselor or chaplain to return a call to you as soon as possible. The consultation is available at no cost to you. You may also reach our counselors online by filling out our Counseling Request Form.

I want to add a few more hands-on suggestions:

  • First, offer your children an abundance of praise. If you give them plenty of intentional encouragement and loving kindness, it will help counteract your angry outbursts.
  • Second, you might try working through Carter and Minirth’s Anger Workbook noted on our resources page.
  • Finally, I would urge you to take very good care of yourself, finding rest in small ways throughout the day, reducing or eliminating activities which drain your reserves, asking for assistance when you need it. No one else will do this for you, and lowering your overall stress will help you when you encounter parenting challenges. Sometimes I find that Christians have a hard time saying “no” because they feel it would be selfish. You must learn to do this for the sake of your kids, so that you have the capacity to love them well over the long haul.

set of vector icons of religious christianityIn closing, I am asking everyone who reads this letter to say a prayer for you and your children. Perhaps that’s the real gift God has for you here.

To Tell Or Not To Tell?

Dear Christian Counselor,

I was a pretty wild kid back in the ’80’s, but now I’m a pretty conservative parent.  I’m wondering if I should tell my own kids about some of the things I did in hopes that they will learn from my mistakes?

Secrets of a Misspent Youth


Dear Secrets:

There are different schools of thought on this perennial question.  If you ask adolescents, they will generally say they want their parents to be open about their past mistakes and that they would actually take those lessons to heart.  Personally, I don’t advise it.  One of the developmental characteristics of adolescence is the inability to appropriately weigh consequences.  Even when a teen knows that a certain desirable action (such as bungee jumping) has undesirable consequences (a grisly death), he or she lacks the mature judgment necessary to weigh the potential cost (blood and pain) against the momentary emotional reward (exhilarating free fall).  BungeeTherefore, your well-meant revelation about your own bungee-jumping past seems more likely to give your teen new ideas and permission to try them than to relieve them of the burden of testing the boundaries you already blasted.  A recent study bears this out in particular reference to drug use.

It might be gracefully appropriate to tell your son or daughter about your own mistakes AFTER they’ve made the same ones.  But I wouldn’t do that either, if you have younger children.  They WILL find out.  Your teenager needs a wise and even a somewhat mysterious limit-setter more than he or she needs another messed-up friend.