How to Help Your Teen Deal with Disappointment

dealing with disappointment

Do you remember what it felt like being a teenager? So many things seemed magnified. It seemed like everyone was watching you. Everything was a big deal. And when even little things didn’t go your way, it seemed like the sky was falling. Dealing with disappointment was so painful and so hard.

In the classic film The Princess Bride, there are two good quotes about pain and disappointment. The first comes when Princess Buttercup admonishes the Dread Pirate Roberts (her love in disguise) for mocking the great pain she feels for her presumably dead true love, Westley. He replies with this classic line: “Life is pain, Highness; anyone who says differently is selling something.” Classic.

The other quote comes during an earlier sword fight scene between Roberts and the Spaniard named Inigo Montoya. In the middle of their splendid duel, Inigo tells the masked man that he must know who he is. The pirate simply replies, “Get used to disappointment.” The Spaniard shrugs acceptingly, and their duel continues.

While there are thrills of victory in life, there also is the agony of defeat and disappointment. Recently, a friend was struggling to help his teen daughter handle the immense disappointment of failing her first driving test. To her, it seemed at that moment like her world was ending. To him, he knew it to be only a bump in the road of life and was able to navigate her through it and come out stronger for it.

When our kids are dealing with disappointments, they may not know how to respond. Like my friend, as parents, our job is to help them navigate through that disappointment. How we guide our children through trials today will shape how they handle trials in the future. [Tweet This]

Here are some tips to help you to help them handle disappointments: 

Listen first…don’t talk first.

Very often our kids need to know that they have been heard. Parents want to fix things and teach lessons. But the first priority is to hear our kids out about their frustrations, fears, and feelings. Identify with your teen; feel what they feel.

When you do talk, ask questions, ask questions and…ask questions.

Here are some questions to ask them to think about and answer—if not to you, at least, to themselves:

  • Why do you think you’re so disappointed…really? Help them think about what the real cause of the pain is for them. Their answer may be a surface thing like, “I really wanted to make the soccer team.” Keep asking why at least to three levels to help them get to the root of the disappointment. For example, asking the question, “Why did you want to make the team so badly?” might yield the answer, “So the other kids will like me.” So then asking, “Why do you think it’s important to you to be popular?” may help you and them see something more important about themselves such as self-doubt or loneliness.
  • Did you have realistic expectations? Many of our disappointments are things we set ourselves up for because of unrealistic expectations. Asking this question helps them consider how a different perspective at the beginning may have helped them handle the disappointment at the end.
  • What can you learn from this? Regardless of how or why our kids are disappointed, there are always important lessons to learn. Asking them to think about this question opens the door for you to share some lessons you’ve learned through disappointment, too.
  • What are you trusting in to make you happy? This question helps your teen think about where their source of happiness and satisfaction comes from. Is their hope in something strong and reliable such as love or faith? Or, is their hope in something fleeting and foolish such as popularity or stuff?

Ask if you can give them some ideas.

At some point, you may notice an opening to speak some truth and some perspective into their hearts. But before you rush in with your wise words, ask them if they are ready and willing to hear what you have to say. If they are, help them first with perspective…to see the reality of things clearly. They may not know what parts of the pain are really theirs to own and what they should let go of.

You can also help them see the difference between an injustice and a consequence. For instance, my friend had to help his daughter realize that some parts of her driving instructor’s attitude when he failed her had nothing to do with her at all and seemed unjust and unfair. Yet some of her actions during the test did set her up for possibly failing, creating consequences that she had to own.

Remember to give your child a lot of affirmation.

Disappointments happen, but they should never alter your child’s belief that you love them and are standing with them, no matter what. Remind them that you value them not for what they do or don’t do, but for who they are—your child and God’s child. Sometimes navigating disappointments brings up some tough topics. For some tips on handling those really difficult conversations, my blog, How to Tackle Tough Topics with Your Teen might help.

Please share your ideas for helping your teens handle disappointments in the comments section below.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.