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Articles Tweens Teens & Twenties

Helping Our Teens Manage Disappointment

By Dr. Dean Beckloff | Contributor

Her excitement had billowed over at the prospect of studying abroad, in England no less! She could just envision landing at Heathrow, seeing the red double decker buses and the tumult of people in London, with so many new sights and sounds. But then COVID-19 struck. All the world began to shut down and soon she learned her study abroad was canceled over concerns about the virus. She was crushed, and she slipped into a cold and lonely depressive funk.

He could not believe his good luck! He was elated to learn that he was not only accepted to be on the university golf team, but also he was going to earn a golf scholarship! Right before he was to enter his freshman year came the news he could not believe. The golf program had been cancelled due to the pandemic outbreak. As the reality set in, his frustration, anger and disappointment raged. He hit the wall with his fist and wanted to slam his golf clubs into something.

These stories of disappointment are all too familiar to parents raising teens during a global pandemic.

Disappointments come, but this one is different. How do they get through this one? How do you pick up the pieces of an amazing future that has just been devastated? And even more important, what is a parent to do? The consequences of this disappointment can be huge, from a severe depression that takes over their life – and perhaps takes their life – to consequences affecting their hopes and dreams.

What is a parent to do for their child who is either on the cusp of adulthood or entering early adulthood?

There are several things to note as we stand with wringing hands, not wanting our kids to give up and give in to the anger or depression we see coming.

First, there is the reality that this is their fight. This is not our battle. All their growing up years have been preparing them and us for this day.

There is no longer a band aid that we can give them and their joy returns. The most we can do is stand with them. The most we can give is our support as best we can give it. And we must not discount how important that one thing is – our support as parents is vital.

Here are some ways we can support our teens and young adults dealing with crushing disappointment:

1. Listen and Learn

The first part of supporting our teens is helping them to grieve. There is a saying that most folks listen to respond, rather than listen to understand. Listening to understand is to hear their words that signify their inner, deep feelings. It is important to listen to that grief and respond with understanding and support.

2. Support, But Don’t Fix

Next, they must little by little pick up the pieces. Again, here is the bane of being a parent to teens and young adults, we cannot help them pick up the pieces any longer. When they had to pick up the playroom, we could obviously jump in and help – and the job was done quickly. As they begin to pick up the pieces, we can encourage, little by little. We must not succumb to the urge to advise and preach to them about turning the lemons into lemonade. They know that stuff. But as they begin to look around them from the disaster, and they begin to perhaps see smaller pieces of their dreams beginning to materialize, we can encourage their steps toward finding a new and perhaps different but possible dream.

3. Role Model a Positive Attitude

How does one overcome dashed hopes and dreams? This is a question that they must face, now and in the future. All people face challenging disappointments. Maybe, just maybe, we can begin to allow ourselves to face our own dashed hopes and dreams and learn to find a way forward. And perhaps, just maybe, our children may also then begin learning how to move forward when disappointment comes crashing down. Now, the parent and the child can share the struggle of moving forward after calamitous disappointment.

4. Move Forward with Gratitude

Many folks in the struggle of disappointment either choose to ignore it and its devastating consequences, or they move to a life of bitterness, anger, or depression. But there is another way. And that is learning bit by bit, to also begin living a life that is full of gratitude. It is a deeply effective, psychologically sound way of moving positively forward.

If we as parents can move forward in life, not ignoring the dreams that have been dashed, but stepping over the disappointment, being thankful for the good and the bad that life offers to everyone – perhaps that will also become the model for our children of a life lived well.

And as they pick up the pieces that everyone in life has to do after devastating losses, perhaps that model will be a guide that will light the path forward – so that our daughters and sons may also begin to step over the loss and keep going, with gratitude for life. I have walked with many folks who hit difficult and challenging times, losses, and disappointments. And I have seen their spirit recover more strongly, with deeper compassion and wisdom as they allowed themselves to take the step over that disappointment and open themselves up for new learnings.

So be a journey mate with your sons and daughters. Walk with them through it. Give them time, heartfelt compassion, listen very carefully to what they are saying, share your love and words when you can, be beside them. Walk with them as they pick up the pieces, step over the loss, and grow more deeply as people.

Editor’s Note: Dr. Dean Beckloff is a pediatric therapist and is the founder of the Beckloff Behavioral Center in Dallas. If you wish to contact Dr. Beckloff with questions, comments or for a consultation, he can be reached at DrBeckloff.com or 972.250.1700.

ABOUT DR. DEAN BECKLOFF:

Dr. Beckloff maintains an active counseling practice in Dallas, specializing in treatment for children’s issues and families going through divorce. Dr. Beckloff has extensive experience, including teaching, working as a school counselor, providing teacher training, and working at the Center for Play Therapy at the University of North Texas. He is also active in his community, working with child-focused community groups; his desire is to see kids and families thrive despite the stressors of life.

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