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Kids Can Handle Some Disappointment in Life

Back in the day, it was good to get on the honor roll, you sweat during play auditions, and getting the state tournament was everything.  Anymore, kids get meaningless ribbons, participation awards, and sometimes no valedictorian for graduation.  Too much competition, chance to not feel included in everything, or potential disappointment is seen as harmful and un-PC.  Me?  I can’t imagine growing up without it.

So many parents have gotten their feathers fluffed up about the slightest risk of low self esteem.  I wrote another post a while ago about the value of promoting self worth rather than self esteem.  That post echoes my main point here.  Self esteem is just all about feelings.  Self worth is based on what you do and how much effort you put forth.  You can easily be proud of good work done.  Hard to pinpoint your own feelings from minute to minute.

You can begin to see how futile it is to jump around protecting your child from any potential hit to their self esteem.  Stuff happens, and you can’t control everything anyway for yourself much less anyone else.  Take a look now at how this connects with my focus on disappointment.

Losing is disappointing and winning is fun.  That’s pretty much by design.  That doesn’t mean losing is bad, though.  How do you think people get pushed to be better?  Often times, losing does it because it elicits some pretty strong disappointment.  A kid puts their heart into their tryout for the soccer team, the choir, the advanced dance group.  That extra heart and effort is often what makes the difference between someone reaching their goal and someone falling short.  But if they still don’t make it despite their very best efforts, the fall can be long and hard.  And it can hurt.

So does that mean kids shouldn’t try because there is a risk of losing and being disappointed?  Absolutely not.  That’s what makes accomplishing something so great.  When you put your all into it, the accomplishment of your goal overflows your sense of self worth.  You feel on top of the world, ready to accomplish more with confidence.  That’s playing to win.

Playing not to lose is pulling back some because you’d rather not be *too* disappointed.  Being disappointed has been made out to be so bad, so you should probably just be safe and hope they like you.  Are you kidding me??  Unfortunately, that’s the PC message we’re starting to hear in America.  Protect self esteem at all cost (even if it means we create overemotional wimpy people).  We don’t want our kids to think we are being mean!

I had reason to tell one of my kids about a very disappointing experience with a high school music tryout.  I had been chosen for my vocal part as the “alternate” – almost good enough, but not quite.  Although I felt kind of bad hoping someone would get sick or break their leg, I hoped for something to make the disappointment go away.  I ended up watching the concert with my mom while tears ran down my cheeks.  Disappointment.

I was involved in my speech team and we were pretty decent.  In two short years, I went from clueless and wanting to throw up on stage to winning state in my event.  Not by magic, but through hard work and disappointment along the way.  Discouraging comments from judges, not making finals a few times, and of
course, my failed choir audition.  All of this was fuel to get better and better.

I don’t even think of myself as a competitive person by nature.  In fact, I’m often too quiet with my own initiative, even today.  But those disappointments set me up to push myself beyond my known limits.  I am eternally grateful that my teachers and my parents let me suffer instead of protect me.  How else would I
have gotten out of my own head and done the hard work?

Hopefully, there are lots of other “old school” parents like me who remember their moms and dads doing things similarly.  Nope, I won’t bring your instrument to school after you forgot it.  Sorry, I’m not bringing your planner, either.  Guess you’ll have to sweat it out.  It’ll be good for you.

Kids Can Handle Some Disappointment in Life

Erika Krull, MS, LMHP

Erika Krull, MS, LMHP is a practicing licensed mental health counselor in Nebraska.

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APA Reference
Krull, E. (2009). Kids Can Handle Some Disappointment in Life. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 21, 2020, from


Last updated: 16 Oct 2009
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