4 Ways To Help Your Child Navigate Disappointment

Associate Pastor | Music Minister

The time had arrived. Dylan, our 18-year-old son, has played basketball since he was 7 years old. This is his senior year.

Almost every season thru these years Dylan played along side his friend Zach. Zach has always been the guy you want on your team. He dominated with his talent and determination. But Zach graduated last May, so it was Dylan’s time to step up.

Dylan’s season started and his first 9 games Dylan played strong! Then on Dec. 13th, during the 10th game of the season, we were in the middle of a SCROOGE performance and I was backstage getting ready to go for my scene…. I get the message that Dylan was injured during a game and was being taken to the clinic.

Cheryl left Scrooge and went to be with him. When Scrooge was over, I thanked a few folks for coming to this performance and headed to my office. I picked up my phone and there was the message… his foot was broken.

At the moment, I stopped and realized my biggest job was not going to be how I deal with his physical pain and broken bones. My biggest job – help Dylan navigate through negative thoughts and disappointment.

As a man in my 40’s I understand that high school basketball is not the epitome of life, achievement, and accomplishment. But to an 18-year-old senior in high school, it is okay for it to be a big deal to him.

Here are some things that we have learned.

Take some time to show empathy to your child!

Even if your child’s disappointing event is not a big deal to you, it is important to them.

My friend Bill Isaacs tells a story of a time he went to a Christian concert with one of his boys. It was a group that Bill would not naturally be into their music. Before the concert started a friend saw him there and was surprise to see him there at that concert. After this friend inquired why he would ever come to this concert, this was Bill’s reply, “My son is really into this group and I am really into my son.”

A great way to show someone you love that you deeply care for them, show interest in what they care about. We looked Dylan in the eyes many times through the first couple of weeks and told him how sorry we were that this happened!

It’s okay not to have all the answers as a parent!

Many times when something bad happens, parents can fall into the trap of messing up scripture to help their children feel better. They might say –

“God won’t put more on you than you can handle”

“God must be trying to teach you a lesson”

Be careful to not tell your child something you cannot back up scripturally to make them feel better.

Here is what we told Dylan:

“We don’t understand why this happened”

“We don’t think God did this to you.”

“It rains on the just and the unjust.”

“God could have stopped this from happening but he didn’t.”

Which leads us the next but VERY IMPORTANT question.

What does God want to say in moments like this? How do you need to act during this time?

It is super important for parents to turn the corner from disappointment as the focus to what can I learn from this event! If we do not turn this corner with our children they may end up living a life where “everything is someone else’s fault” or have the “poor me” mentality. We MUST NAVIGATE them to turn this corner!!

I have done more coaching with Dylan in the last 4 weeks than probably any other 4-week period in his life. Even though I don’t have all the answers I have a HUGE opportunity to pour into his life. Here are some of the things we have talked about:

• How he acts with his teammates and coaches now shows who he REALLY is!

• What can he learn about himself during this time?

• What is God revealing to him?

What we DO know is this… CHARACTER is revealed and developed through times like these.

I wish I had the perfect movie ending to Dylan’s story – but I don’t. We are still waiting and hoping that he can play at least a couple of games before the season is over. I pray for complete healing for his foot everyday but then I REALLY pray that God transforms his mind, heart and soul.

So how do you help your children navigate through disappointment?

• Show them you care about their disappointment

• Be real! Its okay that you don’t have all the answers – life isn’t fair!

• TURN THE CORNER: lead them to discover more about themselves, their character and what God is showing them.

• Pray for them

Associate Pastor | Music Minister

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28 thoughts on “4 Ways To Help Your Child Navigate Disappointment

  1. Great post Arvil! I can certainly (and painfully) relate so much to sports injuries and the disappointments involving them.

    He is so blessed to have such wonderful parents like you and Cheryl navigating him through all of this!

    Enjoyed this post so much!

    • Beck – I think sports injuries like this can help us form our character to face BIG LIFE issues later. Most of the time the “tools” we use are still applicable as we get older! Thank you for helping form the next generation!

  2. Arvil, I think the most important thing you did was actively engage Dylan. I think so many of us are afraid we will do it wrong so we don’t do anything even though we truly do care. Seems you hit a home-run but a bunt or single is still much better than sitting on the bench.

    • Terry – You are so right about engaging. Sometimes as parents when events like this arrive, the biggest battle is not figuring out what to say and do- but rather the battle to take the first authentic step to engage. I can think of a few reasons for that but maybe that will be another post for another time.

      One piece of advice I would give to young parents – ask all the questions you can of your friends parenting a few miles ahead of you. I did that with you. Thanks for fielding my many questions!!

  3. I enjoyed the post Arvil. When I first saw Dylan after the accident, I went up to him gave him a big hug and said, “My heart breaks with yours but I am so excited to see what God is going to do ‘in you’ through this!”

    • Michael – Another blessing of growing kids in a “Tribe” is that I certainly embrace people like you pouring into our children! Thank you!

  4. Some really great points, Arvil. It took a long time, and some Family Church exposure, for me to realize that I didn’t always have to have an answer. I thought as the “Man”, I was supposed to have an answer to all life’s situations (instant in season, and out :)) – which led to some really poor ones at times. Even now, I have to monitor myself to be sure I don’t automatically go there.

    • Good insight Terry! That is a trap society has certainly push us toward! Some of he best times are when I just admit I don’t know the answer but we trust together!

  5. I really needed this tonight as my 10 year old daughter was told today that she would be unable to participate in basketball and ski club which both had just started for the season…She broke her cortex on her pinky toe and it is broke into her growth plate….It broke my heart to see my baby sobbing to not be able to do these winter events with her friends especially since she is a very active/busy little girl…..Thanks Arvil

    • Sherrie – times like these can really be a special time for you both. Not having all the answers but learning to trust he process together is so important for her to experience WITH you! I pray she has a quick recovery and you both can learn a few things along the way. I know we sure have!

  6. Excellent insight, I enjoyed it. It is so hard to see your kids miss opportunities, but God never leaves them out of the equation. He provides bigger better life lessons that endure no matter how hard.

    • Thanks Vonda – Times like these certainly give parents the opportunity to engage. Missed opportunities can be the best opportunities for us to example faith and trust in Him and the processes of life!

      • Yes, as you know with Sadie’s two brain surgeries and two knee surgeries we have been stretched. It is so sweet to see your child press into God and depend on Him in a very mature way because of their own adversity. A chance to see the seeds start to bloom.

        • Everyone has a story …. You guys have such a compelling story! I DO celebrate with you when you see these seeds of devotion grow in your children! I’m thankful for every day!

  7. Thank you Arvil. So often we as parents fail to realize that some of life greatest lessons are learned through disappointment. Our kids need us to walk through those times with them. Great job!!

  8. Take some time to show empathy to your child!

    Even if your child’s disappointing event is not a big deal to you, it is important to them
    even with Abby my 6yr old. I have a bad habbit to point out the other person’s side, that has hurt my child and I never took the time to have empathny with my child first. Its like im saying they have no right to be sad or hurt.
    I think my words of trying to get them to see the other person side, would go over better if they see me caring about their feelings first.

    • Lisa – I also was the King of questioning what my child did to contribute to them being upset. I think that IS very healthy also!! It can keep them from manipulating the system where a sad face and a tear can blur the view of the parent not to see what REALLY happened. It is about balance, discernment, and them trust in your unwavering love.