by Dr. Roni Cohen-Sandler
Local clinical psychologist, author and speaker
Although dealing with disappointment is an important and inescapable part of childhood, one of the hardest things for parents is seeing kids fall short of their goals. Not only does it hurt us to see them feeling sad, disappointed, or rejected, but also it’s challenging to know how to help them. Yet our response, and the lessons it teaches our children, is vital to their development. Typically, life gives us plenty of opportunities–for example, dealing with a 11-year-old who doesn’t make a premier sports team, a 14-year-old who gets turned down by a competitive orchestra, a 16-year-old who isn’t elected to student government, or a 13-year-old who doesn’t get a leading role in the school play. In my view, how we respond powerfully shapes the way our teens and tweens process these experiences, feel about themselves, and make future decisions.
During the past weeks, when many high school seniors heard back from colleges, I was reminded many times of our key parental roles. Of course, it is far easier to respond helpfully when our teens are accepted to their dream schools. But this year many students and their parents were shocked by rejections from colleges they considered “safeties” rather than “matches.” In many cases, the news sent families reeling.
Mothers and fathers reported feeling “awful” or sick,” “unable to sleep,” and withdrawing from people to avoid having to talk about college. These initial reactions to disappointment are perfectly normal and understandable. By acknowledging our feelings, we are modeling for our kids that it is okay to be upset and distressed when they don’t get what they want–whether it’s a romantic partner, internship, or graduate school slot. And then we all have to move on.