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Dealing with Disappointment

Dealing with Disappointment
Lori Abe

The students learned about many different healthy coping strategies to help themselves feel better when they feel unhappy. We discussed how they could keep their body healthy through various ways such as drinking water, sleeping, or exercising, as this can affect their overall mental health too. We also learned many evidence-based strategies to help their soul to feel better, including talking to a friend or trusted adult, being out in nature, hugs, and expressing creativity through activities such as drawing, building, writing, or cooking.

The first and second graders then discussed the feeling of disappointment. Everyone inevitably experiences disappointment some time in life, and it obviously isn’t a pleasant feeling. I first started exploring disappointment several years ago with students, and through their sharing, noticed some common situations where they felt disappointment: when they couldn’t go somewhere, when they lost when playing a game, and when they couldn’t get something.

To share a snapshot with you, students wrote of an experience where they lost a game (soccer after school, kickball at recess, chess or video games at home) and identified ways they could help themselves to find peace: “Take deep breaths… Try again… Practice… Play another game I can win… Do positive self-talk and tell myself, ‘It’s just a game and I can try again next time’… Draw.” We discussed how each of us have our own individual set of go-to healthy coping strategies.

Playing the card game “War” to practice our feelings of disappointment when we lose.

Feeling disappointed when losing can affect our relationships with others, especially at recess. I read The Empty Pot to them, and as I read, I asked them how the main character felt when his seed didn’t grow (“worried… nervous… sad… disappointed… jealous [of the other children who did grow flowers]”). Asking your children how they think the character in the story is feeling is a great practice to do with your children as you read books together; studies have shown that this can help to develop empathy for others.

We delved a bit deeper. I asked them why they thought people cheat when playing games: “To win… To get glory… To get a prize… Because you want to look better than others.” I also asked them WHY they play games fairly or honestly. Several shared that they want friends to continue to want to play with them, as nobody wants to play with someone who cheats, and they want to be someone that others “can trust.” We talked about how once you betray someone’s trust, it takes time to earn it back; even if you do play fairly later, people tend to be suspicious of you. Others shared that it feels good inside to play fairly, or conversely, that they feel bad inside when they cheat. Also, it isn’t a “real” win if you cheat to win; one person shared that she wanted the challenge of playing fairly. Others said it wasn’t “nice” to the opposing players and that they didn’t want them to feel “mad and sad” because of their actions.

I wanted to share this last snapshot with you: when students finish their work and are waiting to meet with me, they can use one piece of scratch paper to draw or fold. I’ve explained to them that the reason why it’s only one piece is because I have over 200 students that I see twice a week, which is over 400 pieces of paper each week or over 1,200 pieces each month. I’ve wondered if I was being too controlling of the paper, but I want students to realize in real time that there are finite resources on our planet, and we have to share with the other 8 billion people in our worldwide community. Just today one student shared with me that he wanted to make more than one paper airplane but he only had one piece of paper, so he carefully tore the paper into pieces and made 4 planes of varying sizes. Yes! We celebrated his innovation as a class.

Other students have shared with me that they turned their mistake into a “beautiful oops,” a phrase that Ms. Day has taught them at Art, where they transform a mistake into a piece of art. Another young student shared with me as he was leaving CE that he had messed up on his one piece of paper, and he was frustrated and struggling because he really wanted to just take another piece and not tell anyone. He came to me for a hug as he worked through his disappointment. I was so proud of him that he was striving to do what was right even when it didn’t feel good.

This may seem like I am blowing up a silly or mundane paper problem out of proportion, but doesn’t it truly epitomize an aspect of our human existence? We want and covet, but sometimes we can’t have it, and the disappointment doesn’t feel good. Whether we are six or 46 years old, for our own peace and happiness, we each have to figure out healthy ways to manage our disappointment as well as work within our community.

Here’s to the growth of our children!

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