That's Life: Helping Kids Deal with Disappointment

When Minor Problems Cause Big Tantrums

Would your child burst into tears if you ran out of his favorite brand of apple juice? Or throw himself on the floor if another kid were playing with his favorite Thomas train? If the tiniest disruptions spell big-time trouble or if your child dwells on a disappointment for hours, then you have to begin with the basics.

  • Teach your child what can and can't be changed. He may not understand that the problem is out of your control or that a tantrum won't get him what he wants. Validate his distress by saying, "I know you're upset," and then discuss more-effective solutions.
  • Expose your preschooler to different activities until he finds one that he really enjoys -- and that you could see him mastering. If a child can turn to something he knows he's good at when the chips are down, it's like an instant ego boost, says Dr. Brooks. "It can immediately change his thought pattern from, 'Poor me, nothing ever goes my way,' to 'Oh well, it'll work out next time.'"
  • Don't punish your child for a negative reaction to disappointment, especially if she's prone to tears. While that can be hard -- especially mid-tantrum -- remind yourself of the times you've needed to vent or have a good cry to get through a rough situation.

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