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When Life Hurts

When Life Hurts

Helping kids deal with disappointment
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I still remember my First Big Disappointment. While I'm sure there had been others—smaller things—before this disappointment, nothing stands out quite like not making the school play when I was in seventh grade.

I suppose it was because it was the first thing I'd wanted—rather badly—that I'd worked hard at, practiced for, tried out for, but been cut from. It was the first time I'd been told, essentially, "You are not good enough."

Or at least that's how I read that typed-white sheet, with lists of names that were not mine—hanging there on the bulletin board for all my junior high to see.

I remember the moments that followed so clearly: me, faking a headache, heading to the school office, asking to call my mom. I remember getting home, telling my mom the news, climbing on to her lap and just crying. Crying and crying. She rocked me—probably for the first time in years (I was 12!)—and just let me cry. She probably told me it'd be okay or offered some soothing words. But all I remember is her holding me while I cried.

Then, when my crying turned into sporadic sniffles, when I was ready to talk a bit, she told me it was okay that it hurt right now. But maybe someday—maybe—it'd all make sense. But even if it didn't, she told me I'd have to make a decision: to either stay bitter and angry at the friends who did make the play or to cheer them on anyway—even if it hurt a bit.

Then she prayed with me.

I can't think of anything better my mom could've said or done for me in those moments.

Nearly 30 years later, for the life of me, I cannot remember why I didn't apply her wisdom and comfort to the many other big disappointments of my life (I suppose I just got too cool for my mom's lap and it was all downhill from there). That said, as I've raised my own kids, that day, that memory, has served as a model for how I teach my kids to deal with disappointment. The things my mom offered me that day have helped my kids weather their own storms of their young lives and helped them see the choices we all have in the midst of disappointment. These four things can help you too:

1. Let Them Cry. I must admit, this one is the hardest for me. And probably for a lot of us. We sort of want to put a time limit on the tears, don't we? In fairness, we want to see our kids stop crying because we think it means that they are "all better" when they stop. While this might be true with scraped knees, with something like disappointment, it's not so. As difficult as it can be to have a crying or whining or moping child around the house, giving your kids permission to sink down into their grief is a huge gift.

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Caryn Rivadeneira

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September 09, 2013  11:04pm

Great article. I am going to have to move my son and I again and he doesn't want to move. It's been many moves in the past few years due to situations beyond my control and his control so he's hurting. This article gave me advice on how I can show him mature ways to deal with disappointments but also allowing him the opportunity to grieve.

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Dorothy Greco

January 03, 2013  10:38am

Great piece filled with wisdom. It's so much more difficult to let them feel pain than it is to try and cheer them up or change their situation. Thanks.

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April 06, 2012  5:25pm

This is a great article. I remember instructing my two boys, when they were very young, that it's okay to cry. They are both in their 20's now and while experiencing disappointment with girlfriends, they got over their situations and are 'free' to be who the are. I love hugging them, praying with them, and consider it a blessing to cry with them.

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