Learning to Cope with Disappointment

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In our life we have all had disappointments such as, missing a school trip, forgetting our lunch, opening a gift that we don’t really want (or need or like), losing a pet, and having our hearts broken by a sweetheart.  The list could go on and on.  Tantrums, tears, and anger are part of the process of dealing with disappointment.

4-H is a perfect place for children to learn how to cope when things don’t go their way.  Agents and volunteers serve as mentors for children.  When we are in the thick of practicing for a contest or event we take ownership too.  So when children do not win or place we have a platform to have a discussion and can really see their viewpoint.

It’s important to empathize but not to find blame and certainly not to discount the opponent’s win.  If someone else won, then we should be congratulatory toward them.  This makes for healthy competition and an incentive to just try again, study harder, be more prepared, and learn how to deal with missing the mark.  After all 4-H’s Learn By Doing attitude is our end result.  Learning should be the reward.

Have you ever heard of the landmark experiment, which occurred in 1968 at Columbia University, the Marshmallow Study? A researcher set up a room with 4-year-olds, a bell, marshmallows, and a choice.  If a child rang their bell, the researcher would return and give them a marshmallow.  But, if the children waited for the researcher to return without being summoned by the bell they could have two marshmallows.

Some of the children rang the bell within minutes while others waited 20 minutes or so.  They had the ability to have delayed gratification and were able to control their impulses for a greater reward of more marshmallows.  The Columbia Researcher followed the children into adulthood and his findings show that the children who were able to wait and not ring the bell went into better colleges and were able to overcome frustration and stress.  The children who could not wait and rang the bell for instant marshmallow rewards were found to have more social problems moving into adulthood.

So how do we foster delayed gratification in children at an early age?  There is a lot of research that has stemmed from the Marshmallow Study.  And there are supporters of the study and others who have debunked the findings.  But what we have learned is that children who understand loss and can cope with hard feelings, definitely perform better later in life.

Tips for Teaching Coping:

  • Be understanding and available.
  • Provide words for their feelings.
  • Do not minimize their feelings.
  • Give them time to think and sort out their emotions.
  • Avoid negative talk.
  • Encourage the child to take a break.

4-H agents are confronted with rough situations with kids every day.  Divorce of parents, death, infidelity in their family, pregnancy, imprisonment of a parent, drugs/alcohol, and bullying.  The role of agents is important as they serve as mentors who provide feedback and comfort.  4-H children have the benefit of having a consistent person in their life who provides their time and energy to help them succeed.

There are endless articles online to provide information on teaching children to deal with disappointment.  Please find three articles below that are a good place to start.  And check out the you tube video on a mini marshmallow test.  What would our 4-H teenagers do in this same situation?  If we replace marshmallows for potato chips or a slice of pizza would they wait?  This would be a fun experiment to do with them and also a great way to introduce them to the world of Child Development.

Coping with Loss and Disappointment


Marshmallow Study


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