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Dealing With Disappointment

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Raphael Buchler

Q. How can I help my son to feel better? He's crushed because he wasn't chosen for a special singing group that all his friends are in.

A. "The worst thing you could do is to say something like 'Who needs them, anyway?' or 'That singing group is a waste of time,'" says Founding Director of the Child Study, professor emeritus of psychology at Brown University in Providence, RI. "Those responses not only demean a child's choice of activities, but also fail to provide him with any tools to help cope with his disappointment."

The best way to help your son is to view this situation as an opportunity for him to work out his feelings and reactions to rejection, adds Dr. Lipsitt. "As painful as they are, experiences like this one can help prepare a child to handle the failures and inevitable disappointments of adulthood," he says. "Also, rejection is not always negative. In fact, it can often make a person more determined to succeed-either next time around or at some other pursuit."

So sympathize with your son and talk to him about how you felt in a similar situation. "But try to convey that it's not the end of the world," says Dr. Lipsitt. "There are many other things he's good at and other ways he can get to spend time with his friends." For instance, you could say, "I can see that you're feeling sad and angry about not getting chosen to sing with the group. I remember feeling like that when I was 9 and didn't get on the same baseball team as my best friend. It was very disappointing, and I was afraid that my friend would stop hanging around with me since I wasn't on his team. But he didn't. And I found out I was better at soccer than baseball, anyway. Even though I know you'd like to be in the singing group, this may be a good chance for you to take those karate lessons you've been wanting to try. And you'll still get to spend time with your friends later, at school and during Boy Scouts."