Helping youth thrive through disappointment

As adults we need to be prepared to help youth work through an emotion such as disappointment so they are able to reach their fullest potential. Learn about five steps you can do to help youth thrive through disappointment.

It’s fair time!  And in 4-H that means the energy level is going to be high. Youth are excited to display the projects they have been working on for several months and are ready to show off their new skills and talents.  It’s the event that youth, parents and 4-H leaders spend the entire year preparing for. 

Michigan 4-H strives to create positive environments for diverse youth and adults to reach their fullest potential as capable, competent, caring and contributing citizens.  However, Michigan State University Extension knows there are times when youth and adults experience disappointment, often during fair time.  Was it a judge’s score?  Did another youth make a hurtful comment?  Could more effort have been made toward the project? Whatever the reason, as adults we need to be prepared to help youth work through an emotion such as disappointment so they are able to reach their fullest potential.

Disappointment is typically thought of as a negative emotion, but it doesn’t have to be.   In an article called Parents can help youth develop sportsmanship; Dr. Bradford Strand of North Dakota State University suggests the following five actions for parents to help their youth with this developmental area:

  1. Keep encouragement positive:
    Parents must minimize criticism and seize every opportunity to shower their children with encouragement and positive enforcements so that when the inevitable disappointments or mistakes occur, children will have the self-confidence to handle them.
  2. Remember to laugh:
    Parents need to prevent their children from placing too much pressure on themselves and help keep their experience as light and humorous as possible. Remember that the level of seriousness is often transferred from parent to child.
  3. Step into their shoes:
    Don’t forget that the child is that- a child and not a small adult.  To ensure your youth is having a positive experience, parents must make the effort to let their children be children and not get too wrapped up in what is going on.  Parents also must remember that these experiences are not about winning, losing and standings, but rather it is about young children who are learning to develop new skills such as handling defeat, mistakes, pain, fear and disappointment supported by understanding parents.
  4. Notice and praise progress:
    Parents should help their children notice the progress in in themselves and call attention to that progress so they begin to notice and monitor their own successes.  Children often focus on their failures and need the support to refocus on the successes.
  5. Show excitement:
    All parents and guardians should be enthusiastic in their encouragement and calm in their corrections.  Parents need to make a “big deal” when giving encouragement and praise for positives and progress, and they must try to be calm when correcting mistakes.  Parents who remain calm when working through mistakes show their children how to use coping skills; thus children will be less afraid of making mistake.

In the Michigan 4-H Youth Development Program and the Children and Youth Institute the Targeting Life Skills Model is an example of where parents and youth can learn more about the life skills youth can gain.  As parents work through difficult emotions like disappointment, they can also recognize the life skills youth can gain by experiencing this emotion including critical thinking, problem-solving, decision-making, learning and resiliency.

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