From earning a low test score to losing a soccer game, it can sometimes be difficult for girls to cope when things go wrong. Parenting expert and best-selling author Dr. Michele Borba, Ed.D., shares insights to help them deal with tough setbacks and build resilience along the way.
“We can’t—and shouldn’t—protect our kids from losses and disappointments,” says Dr. Borba, author of Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine. “They will face plenty of adversity throughout life and must learn to adapt and bounce back. The best thing we parents can do is teach them the coping skills they need to face upsets, learn from them, and try again.”
“One of the keys to building resilience is recognizing that you can endure a hardship,” adds Dr. Borba. “Kids can bounce back from a challenge and handle stress—as long as it doesn’t build up to a toxic overload, of course. Always bubble-wrapping and shielding our kids from tough things and disappointments doesn’t do them any favors.”
As parents, we tend to push our kids to strive for better grades and accolades. Yet we aren’t helping them develop the coping skills and character strengths that make them Thrivers—a term Dr. Borba uses for mentally tough kids that have a sense of control over their lives and flourish in our chaotic world. The good news is that parents can do plenty to help kids build resiliency.
Nine Ways to Help Girls Overcome Disappointment
1) Take time to listen. Give girls permission to share their concerns with you. Doing so helps your child recognize that you care, but it also gives you the chance to hear your child’s point of view. Her outlook on a disappointing situation might be far different from yours. But often, just knowing that you are listening and want to understand is enough for the child to let some of their disappointment dissipate. Plus, treating them empathetically as they struggle will help them develop their own empathy.
2) Find one little thing YOU can do to help your child better handle disappointment. We pay so much attention to our kids’ performance, but we forget to look at how we are guiding them as parents. Tune into your interactions with your child. What is one little thing you can do to help your child deal with disappointment, develop a little more grit, and become more hopeful about life?
3) Stop stressing winning. Instead, stress the trying. Kids are always watching us for our responses. In fact, one reason they get so upset by setbacks is that they don’t want to disappoint us. So, pay attention to the signals you are sending. Kids will pick up on it if you have a “Winning is everything” mindset. Instead of over-focusing on “What do you get?” emphasize the effort your child made along the way. Trying is far more important than winning! And the more effort a child puts into any task, the greater the likelihood that he will improve and ultimately succeed.
4) Teach them to look to “next time.” Thrivers are gritty and have a growth mindset. You can help develop these characteristics by reminding your child that they can always improve with more effort and encouraging them to be curious about what they can do differently next time. After any loss, ask them, “What part were you proud of?” And then, “What part do you want to do better at next time?” Or, “What’s something else that you could do?”
5) Break it down. When kids are dealing with disappointment, they get easily overwhelmed. They think, “Oh no, the whole project was wrong,” or “I ruined the whole game,” when the reality may be that just one part of their performance didn’t work. This is why it’s so important to teach them to identify “the little stumbler”—the one part that still needs work. Instead of treating a mistake as a total loss, break it down and find the little areas where your child needs improvement. Coach them to keep working on the little stumbler because that effort and practice builds perseverance.
“Don’t let your child get discouraged as you break down their fear into manageable nuggets,” says Dr. Borba. “When he says, ‘I can’t do it,” correct her by saying, ‘You can’t do it yet.’ Think of yourself as a coach showing an athlete a video replay and asking, “What did we do here?” until the athlete can figure out what needs more work. This empowers them to ascend the ladder of success one rung at a time.”
6) Help them brainstorm solutions when their plans are ruined. Cancellations won’t sting so badly when your child learns they can use brainstorming to solve problems and overcome disappointment. Brainstorming is a great resilience builder that also nourishes your child’s curiosity. Thrivers have a sense of agency that makes them feel they are in the driver’s seat when challenges arrive, and this same inner sense of control is also a great stress reducer.
7) Take a look at how YOU react to disappointment too. Resilient parents raise resilient kids. So, pay close attention the example you’re setting in how you cope with challenges. If you struggle through disappointments and setbacks, your child is likely watching and learning by copying you. The best way to teach self-control, empathy, curiosity, and other essential character strengths is by modeling them yourself. Here’s a quick checklist to help you assess your behaviors that could be influencing your child. How do you react:
- When your family reunion or wedding is canceled, and you don’t get to go?
- When you see a dismal news story?
- When you don’t get the promotion?
8) Don’t allow blaming or excuses. If you have allowed your child to avoid taking responsibility for their actions in the past, stop now, says Dr. Borba. Buying into excuses allows your child to continue refusing to take responsibility for their actions, but Thrivers take ownership of what they say and do.
To stop this pattern, come up with a mantra to repeat until your child adopts it as her own. It could be “We are responsible for our own actions,” “We step up to the plate,” or “We don’t blame others.” A starter mantra for younger children is “Was that helpful or hurtful?” For an older child or teen, try “Was that productive or not?”
9) Find the silver lining in hardships and challenges. All kids are going to have bad days sometimes. What’s important is that they do not let pessimism mount to the point that it erodes hope. To help them develop optimism, keep asking your kids, “What’s the best part about it?” and “What could you do differently next time?” and “It’ll get better—we’ll just keep working on it.”
“Parenting is an ongoing journey and every moment along the way prepares your child for the future,” concludes Dr. Borba. “Simple, ordinary, and everyday lessons create Thrivers who can face adversity and get up to try again. Don’t miss out on those opportunities to help them learn to cope and find greater resilience. In the end, the ordinary little things add up and help your kids become extraordinary.”
Michele Borba, EdD
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