Life has been disappointing, to say the least in recent months. For us as adults, the disappointments have been many: lost jobs, cancelled vacations, missed loved ones. This is no less true for our children. They’ve been separated from their friends and teachers. They’ve missed out on a season of sports. The recitals and plays they practiced so hard for were cancelled. Special celebrations and events did not take place as anticipated.
Disappointment is hard for us as adults to process, how much more so for our children! Many children today haven’t experienced so much disappointment all at once. In generations past, our ancestors were used to disappointment and loss. They didn’t expect things to always go as planned. They knew how to do without. Hardship was often a way of life. I grew up hearing my grandparents talk about what life was like during the Great Depression and WWII. It was so different from my own life experiences that their stories stuck with me.
For our children today, we will need to help them navigate this new terrain. We will have to help them learn how to process the disappointments of life.
Helping our Children Navigate Disappointment
Give them a vocabulary: Teach your children to verbalize how they feel. Give them a vocabulary of emotions. Point out to them when they appear to feel sad, worried, or disappointed. You can say things like: “Are you feeling sad that you missed spring sports?” “Are you feeling lonely without seeing your friends every day?” “You seem disappointed that you can’t go ___ or that you missed ____.”
Teach them to Pray: The Bible calls us to bring all our emotions to God in prayer. Teach them that just as they come to you when they are hurt and need to be comforted, God invites us to do the same because he is our heavenly Father and he loves us. He hears us when we pray to him. Help your children learn to pray. Have them tell God how they feel. Have them tell God what they miss, what they are disappointed about, what frustrates them. Teach them to ask God for help when they feel lonely or sad or worried. And teach them that God is good; they can trust him.
Give them a worldview grid: The Bible helps us understand suffering in this world and the sooner our children understand how to view the suffering they experience, the more equipped they will be when they encounter it. First, tell your children the story of creation, of how God made the world perfect. In the Garden of Eden, there was no sin, sickness, sadness, or loss. Tell them the story of the fall, of how sin entered the world, and with it, death and sorrow. What we’ve experienced with this crisis is a consequence of the fall. It is right for us to feel sadness and disappointments over our losses, for things are not as they should be. Then tell them the story of redemption, how Jesus came to live a perfect life for us, and die on the cross for our sins. God cared so much about the suffering in this world, he gave up his only Son to make things right. And then tell them the best news, the story of restoration. Jesus will return one day and when he does, all things will be made new. There will be no more sadness or loss. No one will be sick ever again. We will be with him forever.
Teach them to give thanks: God’s word teaches us to give thanks in all things. Each day, help your children to look for God’s grace in their life. Make it a family habit to list things those things God has done. There are many things to be disappointed about, but there are also many things to be thankful for. Think of a creative way to keep track of those things and refer back to them often for it’s easy to forget how God has been faithful to us. Praise the Lord together for all the ways he blesses and provides.
Read Biographies of Christian Heroes/Missionaries: Another way to help our children learn how to face their disappointments is to help them learn from believers in the past. Many Christians over the generations have faced great heartaches and sufferings and when we read the stories from their lives, we are encouraged and equipped to face our own. A few examples to start with are: The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom, Hero Tales Series by Dave and Netta Jackson, and Christian Heroes Then and Now series about various missionaries including, Hudson Taylor, Gladys Alyward, Eric Liddell, and Amy Carmichael.
There are many disappointments in life and this season has been filled with them. May we equip and help our children to work through those disappointments, pointing them to the One who is even now making all things new.
Blessings to you and yours,