Handling Disappointment – Seven Ways to Help Children Feel Okay About Losing

No trophies today? That’s okay.

This past weekend our kids were in a massive martial arts tournament. They came away with a good attitude, great memories and no trophies. Why am I talking about that then? Well, I was super proud at how grownup the girls were after losing. Handling disappointment is a part of growing up and it’s a skill I feel like they are finally doing well. So, I am celebrating losing.

Past Examples of Not Handling Disappointment Well

Trust me, this has not always been the case.

In the past, my youngest would have cried or had a full meltdown in exhaustion and frustration. And my older daughter, a perfectionist, with anxiety disorder, now 15, would have been down on herself. She is sensitive, really hard on herself and expects perfection.

My younger girl, Ainsley, 13, excels at sports, and she also has sensory processing disorder, and FASD. On Friday night she was looking forward to attending a dance with friends, but when we arrived it was full and we had to go back home. In previous years she would have had a massive meltdown over a disappointing weekend and leaving without a trophy. Essentially the weekend was a recipe for disaster.

A Weekend Recipe for Potential Disaster

Disappointment is hard and failing at something doesn’t feel good. But this weekend my kids both proved how grownup they are and they made me proud. Up until this year I literally would have said my younger child doesn’t handle disappointment well. BUT proved me wrong this weekend.

That got me thinking I am as proud of them for handling disappointment well, as I would be if they’d won trophies this year. In fact I might actually be more proud. Why? Because handling disappointment is hard but it’s also part of life.


Handling Disappointment When You are a Child

Seven Ways to Help Them Lose.

Give them Chances To Succeed and Fail:

This was a lesson we learned early on with Payton. She is a first born overachiever at times. If she lost a board game, or a card game, she would freak out. We were once in an article in the Globe and Mail about perfectionism. Provide safe opportunities and an environment in which to succeed and fail sometimes too. Handling disappointment and those big emotions is every bit as hard as mustering up the confidence to compete in the first place. So let them fail.

FEEL all the Feels:

Let them Feel all the Feels. Good, bad and in between. My anxious girl is also an avoider. So if it feels like a big, negative feeling she will avoid feeling it or replace it with anger. Ignoring feelings doesn’t make them go away. If I had a dollar for every time I sat with her and tried to help her figure out what the actual feeling was I’d be a millionaire. This girl is gentle and smart and sensitive. If she explodes or implodes then there are some very big feelings hiding…often sadness is there. Sad is one of the hardest feelings for kids to handle. Most children will replace sad with anger to drive people away.

What I do …

I get really calm and sit nearby. Like Time In (opposite of time out) but for older kids. Sometimes I can just say – What’s really going on here and eventually it will come out. See this post about Triggers and Adoption. With my younger daughter it takes hours. With my older girl sometimes less than a half an hour.

Model Handling Disappointment and Show Them You Fail Too:

In my early 20s, I started selling poetry, then articles and posts and I handled a lot of rejection slips. Did it stop me from doing what I love? No. Every night when my oldest gets in from school she asks: How was your day? Sometimes I say: “NOT GREAT.  I pitched brand X and told them my rates and they told me they didn’t have budget. And when I land a great project or Family Travel Opportunity that I pitched I celebrate. When we were learning to ski I fell the most. I skidded off trail and I got back up, over and over.

Give Specific Praise

“I love that you charged in there even when your opponent kicked hard.”

“I know you really didn’t want to enter this category, but you did because your Sensei suggested you are good at it. Proud of you for following through and not letting him down.”

“I love that you committed to this and did your best.”

“You looked really confident doing Cali One. How did it feel?”

Do Not Give Them The World

Of course you want the best for your child. Most of us do. BUT when they were little we made a choice if they asked for ten things they wanted from Santa, they might get five, or four or three. There’s nowhere to go and no room for motivation if everything you want is given to you always. Even small children can start handling disappointment.

Find The Silver Lining

Recently my one girl applied for a volunteer camp counsellor position she REALLY wanted. REJECTION email arrived when she was away in NYC and she was upset. So was I. The interview had gone well, but she still didn’t get it. I reminded her to thank the person who interviewed her and ask for feedback. Silver Lining. It freed her up to apply for a paying job which she asked for on her own and got. That one worked out for the best. Think about what the silver lining is in this situation and show them.

Have a Plan B

Don’t bank everything on one outcome. If Plan A doesn’t work out what is our Plan B? I talk about this with my older daughter all the time. We had a Plan B going into the camp counsellor interview. It worked out beautifully. Sometimes Plan B is the one that was meant to happen.

[tweetthis]Help Your Child Deal with Disappointment. Seven Ways to Help Them Cope[/tweetthis]


Handling Disappointment Is No Fun But It’s Also a Life Skill

For years I stressed over my kids being super sensitive and emotional. Worrying that they were not ever going to be resilient creatures was my pastime. This weekend I see resiliency growing strong, even when faced with disappointment and that’s why I am celebrating losing.

Mom of two beautiful active girls, traveller, fitness junkie, social media consultant, and keeper of the sanity.


  • Debbie Mc

    This is such a huge part of life and teaching our kids it early is a very handy thing to do. I love your ideas for helping me do that with my 3 year old as she starts doing sports and such.


  • Ali Rost

    It’s so hard watching our kids fail .. our natural instincts are to simply make it ok. Instead in the long run it’s far better to coach them through it. I love your advice about modeling. what an awesome responsibility that these little ones look to us. Keeps us on our toes and makes us stay on top of our game!

  • lisalisa

    Great post! We actually just dealt with this when my grandson lost a game this week. He didn’t take it so well but my husband had to take a moment to address him being upset right then and there. I agree with you when you mentioned that we can share with them about our failures too, that’s just what my husband did and before long Jordan whole attitude changed.

  • Tiara Wilson

    My goal with my kiddo, when he is old enough to play sports and partake in other activities is to always give him praise on what he did GREAT. As a kid growing up, if it wasn’t a trophy that meant you lost and it was a hard thing to swallow. You always wanted to be recognized for what you did great and it just seemed like if you lost, you lost. I never want my kiddo to feel the way I felt, during those times.

  • Censie Sawyer

    Great tips. We are working on this with both of our kids now. We love having our kids in sports but it is great to teach them that they will lose a couple times too. Important life skill to teach all kids.

  • Jacqui S

    These are great tips. I’ve always felt that it’s important for kids to know that they can’t win all the time. That it’s how you handle yourself with the disappointment of loss that makes you a winner. My son had a few disappointments, but he always made sure to congratulate the winner.

  • Mars

    One of the hardest thing I guess is for mothers or any parent to see their child losing. What important here I think is to teach children resiliency and how to manage disappointments in life. This is a life skill that must be taught in formative years.

  • Roch

    Handling rejection and failure is one thing that parents must take note of when raising a child. It’s even more difficult when the kid has sensitive feelings. There must be open communication so they know they’re understood.

  • Kiwi

    These are amazing tips for parents to teach kids how to deal with disappointment and losing. My nephew plays basketball and 12 and was starting to get frustrated when he would lose games. He had to learn that life isnt about winning but continuous encouragement and work ethic is making him a better ball player.

  • Erinn Sluka

    My son is almost 9 and plays 3 sports a year. The best team he ever had and still talks about was heavy on drills and motivated winning in a tasteful way but he learned. Too many teams the kids are goofing around, not listening and then they get high fives and ‘good jobs’ as they come off the field. I actually had to tell a coach to stop telling my son good job after my son was goofing around-not paying attention. He is so unmotivated on teams like that. It’s not about winning but should be about team playing and discipline too

  • adriana

    Such a great post! It’s never easy to lose, and especially so when you’re a kid. I think teaching kids about losing from a young age is super important too! Being motivated, having great intentions and trying your hardest is what’s most important! Loved reading this!