5 Ways to Help Students Deal with Life’s Disappointments

5 min to read
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Most people can relate to disappointment–that feeling you get when you work so hard for something, but things just don’t work out as hoped or planned. 

Parents and Learning Coaches often want to shield their students from the negative things that can happen in life. We care about our kids, and it’s difficult to see their hurt feelings. But whether it's a poor grade, a rejection letter from their top college, or being cut from a team, kids will feel disappointment at some point. It's a natural part of life!

Thats why it’s important to help children learn how to cope with disappointment and turn the challenges into opportunities to learn and grow. 

Getting Over Disappointment Builds Skills for the Future

Often, emotional disappointment comes from students taking risks, which can be a good thing! Parents want their students to dream big and work toward achieving their goals. It takes confidence and initiative to try out for a team, risk rejection making new friends, or apply for an internship. But students who stretch for something are willing to go beyond their comfort zone and try new things, which will ultimately help them achieve success in their journey after high school. 

Students today can feel a great deal of pressure to succeed at everything they do, which can lead to anxiety

Students who learn how to manage disappointment and overcome negative feelings develop resiliency, an important soft skill that will help them throughout their life. Resilient students can handle adversity and bounce back from disappointment. They have the skills to overcome life’s setbacks and thrive under different circumstances. 

Learning how to respond to disappointment also builds problem-solving and adaptability skills. Students who face disappointment learn how to adjust their expectations and adapt to a change in plans. They can also problem solve to determine how to overcome barriers that may be standing in the way of achieving their goals.  

For example, if they don’t achieve their desired goal because they didn’t have time to study or practice, they can take a hard look at their schedule and manage their activities to find time to better prepare in the future. 

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5 Ways to Deal with Disappointment for Students

While it is easy to blame others for falling short (“I didn’t know that was going to be on the test” or “the coach doesn’t like me”), it’s important for students to move past those feelings of hurt and anger and look at what they can control about the situation. 

So, how do you handle disappointment in a healthy way? 

1. Acknowledge their feelings.

It is a big deal when students of any age face disappointment after not reaching a personal or academic goal – a really big deal. The best thing you can do is acknowledge their hurt and anger and empathize with them. 

When you let them know that what they are feeling is normal, they know they have someone in their corner, even if they fell short of their own expectations.   

Don’t avoid letting them vent their frustrations. Talking through what they are experiencing is a healthy way to overcome those negative feelings. While it might be tempting to mention things they could have done differently to achieve their goal, when their feelings are raw, it is best to just be there in the moment and listen. 

2. Praise their effort and bravery.

It takes guts to put yourself out there by trying out for a team or applying for a scholarship. Let your student know you are proud of them regardless of the outcome. Praise them for being so willing to try something different or new, which reinforces the idea that it is okay to keep trying. Being positive even after they didn’t achieve their goal can help keep the fear of falling short from affecting them in the future.  

3. Help them develop positive coping mechanisms.

When students face disappointment, they may shut down emotionally and turn to their devices for mindless scrolling, which only pushes those feelings aside for that moment. Instead, teach them to develop healthy coping mechanisms and good self-care routines, like exercising, practicing deep breathing, meditation, or journaling. Encourage them to talk to their friends or trusted adults about what happened and how it makes them feel. Talking through their experiences instead of keeping their thoughts inside can help them feel better and give them the ability to move on. 

4. Manage expectations.

While you don’t want to discourage your student from trying, it is good to talk to them about setting realistic goals. Openly discuss what their plans are to meet their goal and what they will do if they don’t achieve their desired results. Planning how to achieve their goal can help them work through potential scenarios ahead of time, including creating a back-up plan if things don’t work out.  

Encourage them to keep an open mind about their goals.  It's hard to face the fact that no one is destined to be perfect at everything they set out to do, but finding other opportunities that they can enjoy just as much can help them mitigate any strong feelings of disappointment.   

5. Make a plan for next time.

Sometimes it is hard for students to face the reality that they may not have done the things they needed to do to achieve what they wanted. Maybe they didn’t have time or weren’t motivated to study or practice. If they want to try again, they will have to self-reflect on what went wrong and develop a plan to put in the needed work to achieve success. 

Have them talk to the people who made the ultimate decision, if they can, to ask for feedback. If they did poorly on an exam, have them reach out to their teachers about how to bring their grades up. If they did not make the team, ask the coach how they could improve. If they did not get the internship, ask the hiring manager what made them choose a different applicant. While some of these decisions may have been out of their control, they can learn what skills they may be lacking so they can work on them for future opportunities. 

Flexibility to Achieve Goals

Online school students have the flexibility to fit opportunities to learn new skills or practice a favorite activity into their school day to help them achieve their goals. Teachers can also work with Learning Coaches to develop action plans to help students overcome disappointment and achieve success. 

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