How to Help Kids Deal with Disappointment

by Heligirl on May 2, 2011

in Daily Ramblings,Mom Tip Monday,Parenting Articles

Teaching our children how to deal with disappointment helps reduce tantrums and frustration. Recently I borrowed Dealing with Disappointment: Helping Kids Cope When Things Don’t Go Their Way by Elizabeth Crary to learn more about helping my kids reduce their frustration and tantrums when things didn’t go their way. While this is typically a skill we as parents and caregivers should attempt to teach early in a child’s life, there are lessons here valuable no matter what the age.

Primary to dealing with disappointment is a child’s ability to calm or comfort themselves. Crary believes it’s best to have a self calming or comforting skill for every year of age. So, for instance, a four year old will have four different skills. Different tools work better for different ages, stages, personalities and situations. The more options a child has to choose from, the better the chances he or she will be able to successfully handle disappointment.

Crary describes six general categories of self-calming tools. They include: physical tools, auditory/verbal tools, visual tools, creative tools, self-calming tools and humor tools.


  • Large Movements: running, dancing, jumping, hiking. Small movements like hitting a pillow often only increase anger, Crary says.
  • Shake off the Feelings: shaking arms, feet, legs, shaking out the bad feelings
  • Breathe in Calmness: Taking deep breaths. Teach children to take a big breath to blow out the birthday candles, or blow a feather across a table.
  • Hold Yourself Together: Give themselves a big, strong hug.


  • Talk to Someone: Kids need to be heard before they can problem solve. Just listen, uninterrupted and without trying to problem solve.
  • Positive Self-Talk: Model this for kids, showing them how even when we’re angry we can productively problem solve.
  • Listen to Music: Learn what kind of music your child responds to when happy, when angry.
  • Sing a Silly Song: Songs are stored in the same part of the brain as emotions. Singing about feelings helps children comprehend them.


  • Read a Book: This helps give a child focus, calming them. Offer to read a story.
  • Look Outside: Looking outside is helpful in detaching from the feelings. Look at trees, clouds or play “I Spy.”
  • Visualize Calm Place: This is a place the child has visited or feels good, like the park or Grandma’s lap. Help them recognize and remember a place like this they can go to in their minds when angry.
  • Watch the Aquarium: This can also be watching a lava lamp, trees swaying, or any other repetitive movement.


  • Draw a Picture: Have them draw their feelings.
  • Write a Letter: Model writing out your feelings. Young children can dictate their feelings.
  • Make Something: Make pasta, build a birdhouse, make a building out of blocks, etc. This helps release restless energy.
  • Bake Bread: Kneading bread can be very soothing and puts the senses to work, great smell, warm dough, etc.


  • Get a Hug: Physical touch is comforting. Learning to ask for a hug when it’s needed is a good like skill.
  • Drink from Water Bottle: Make the water “magic calming juice” by adding a touch of lemon.
  • Take a Warm Bath: Learn about washing away the irritating feelings.
  • Get a Snack: Carbs are good at helping generate mood chance. It’s important not to let this be a primary soothing technique so as not to develop a need to eat to calm.


  • Read Humor Books: Laughter can change body chemistry and help us let go of lingering feelings.
  • Watch Funny Videos: Invite your child to watch a funny movie with you. Ask how he or she feels after.
  • Find Humor in the Situation: This helps teach your child to look at things from a different angle. Let kids see you laugh at yourself.
  • Make Silly Faces: Laughter is a great way to diffuse tension.

It takes time to teach these skills, but the effort is worth it when we see our kids handing disappointment. These life skills will carry them throughout their lives and help them know that they are not dependent on others for their happiness.

Do you see something above that has worked for you? How did you teach that skill? Or do you have something else you use? Please tell me about them. I’d love to hear what works for you.


Kris May 2, 2011 at 11:09 am

What a great list – bookmarking. We only have small frustrations right now. I allow him to push an object or food away, but not a person or animal. For that we have to follow up with a gentle touch. He actually says “Sowwy Mommy” and “Sowwy Daddy” when he does this…haha, but I’m sure that won’t last. This is a good toolbox to have for later, thank you!
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Twitter: Heligirl
May 2, 2011 at 11:16 am

Thanks Kris. I’m so glad to hear this is helpful. We’re in the full throws of this at home. Just wait until you add another child! I’m posting a lot of what I’m learning to help deal with the issues of the hour around here. I loved some of these so much I had to share. 🙂

Susan May 2, 2011 at 7:29 pm

Breathing is a huge one for when my son gets mad. He can go from zero to over the top in seconds. Working with him to breathe (nice long breath out) has worked wonders. I have also been known to have him run around the house outside, three times. Helps deal with the adrenaline. We also use humor, music and hugs. They work for me, too.

Great post!

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