7 Coping Skills for Dealing with Disappointment

Hi, everybody.  I’m coach Rebecca.  Today I’m going to talk about disappointment.  I usually have all of these nice notes for my live discussions, but I have a feeling I’m not going to need those today.  This one is coming from the heart.  I feel it bubbling up in me just as I start to think about it.

My “Big Cry”

So, we have been in this COVID-19 pandemic for four months (feels like 700 years), and I don’t know about you, but I have had these waves of crushing despair and then holding it together, holding it together and then crushing despair, and then holding it together, ad nauseam.  I don’t know if this is a parent thing that you just have to pick yourself up and get back to work and, “Everything’s okay, kids,” and then you have your big cry about it once every couple of months, but I’ll tell you, I’ve been riding this thing.  Any parents out there who are just in the struggle, feel free to let me know.

It’s been rough.  I had a big, huge cry last night.  It was a big, can’t stop myself from crying cry, because yesterday was our first day of distance learning. I know it’s July, but we started distance learning for my daughter’s kindergarten.  We have her enrolled in a year-round school, so we started last week, unofficially.  We did Zoom on top of a volcano, and it was very romantic and amazing. We thought, “Wow, this is so cool!  Distance learning, woohoo!”

Back to Reality

Then we got home and it was Monday at 8:30 AM and we were getting to it.  All of a sudden I just had this doom welling up in me because I’m not a teacher.  Well, I’m sort of a teacher, but I’m not a kindergarten teacher.  When I coached gymnastics, kindergarten was the class that I hate to admit I enjoyed the least.  I wanted to 12 and 13-year-olds I could actually have a conversation with and do some big skills with.  Kindergarteners, no thanks.  The irony is now I’m here, teaching kindergarten.  Oh, and I have a two-year-old.  Now I’m running a kindergarten and a preschool, basically the two jobs I never, ever wanted to do.  God bless any of you who do it.

So I’m trying to manage my five-year-old, then my two-year-old climbs in the sink and turns on the water and dumps out all the cat food, and she’s giving herself a bath in the bathroom sink while I’m helping big sister.  I go get her out of the sink and dry her off, and then sister’s freaking out saying, “I don’t know what to do,” just in time for the baby to pee on the floor.  “OK,” I said.  “We’re going to go to recess.  We’re going to go outside.”  We go outside, we start riding scooters and the baby smacks her face on the ground.- so hard that she got this crazy giant bruise, and her little tooth starts bleeding and wobbling.  First day, wow. This is awesome.

What I Want to Do vs. What I Have to Do

Do you know what I would rather be doing?  I want to be working.  I love what I do, and now, here I am, all these hours a day of being with my kids who I love, but I am disappointed because this was supposed to be the week though both kids were finally in care for a decent chunk of the day.  One was going to be in preschool, the other in kindergarten, both having fun with their friends, and I was going to be working in my peaceful office.  I am disappointed because that is not what’s happening.  That’s why today I want to talk long-story-short about disappointment.

Let me go back to last night and my big old, gnarly cry.  I’ve had maybe three big “oh my gosh I can’t do this” cries.  I want to talk to you about some coping skills – things that have been working for me, things that are working for me, currently, and things that I would recommend with your athletes.  I know athletes had their state competitions taken away. Seniors had their final season taken away.  There’s so much disappointment in this moment that we’re in, so I want to talk about some skills that can help.

7 Coping Skills for Dealing with Disappointment

Parents, I’m going to talk to you first, but really, these skills will work for anybody who’s dealing with disappointment and wants help managing that disappointment.

1. It’s OK to Feel Sad

I had a friend last night tell me, “It is okay to feel disappointed right now.  You are not feeling disappointed because you’re not mentally strong, you’re feeling disappointed because this is a disappointing moment for a lot of people.”  Having that compassion to be like, “I’m not feeling this way because I messed up or because I’m a bad mom or because I’m not practicing what I preach well enough.  I’m feeling disappointed because this is sad and I just need to cry.”

I also need to remember, I am not a disappointment.  I am doing a good job.  Just because I’m disappointed, doesn’t mean that I am a disappointment.  That’s a really important distinction.  I’m not a bad mom because I don’t want to do distance learning kindergarten. I’m not a bad mom because I don’t want to be a preschool teacher.  I’m not a disappointment because I’m disappointed that things are not going my way.  I can just acknowledge, “Yes. I’m sad.”  Anybody else here feeling sad?  Maybe there are plenty of us.  Maybe there are none of you.  That’s okay.  Either way, I can acknowledge I’m feeling sad about what’s going on.

2. Don’t Compare Yourself

I have Facebook friends who have their calendar ready, they lay it out and have their own little work station for their kids.  I even posted one of those, too.  “Here’s our workstation, let’s go distance learning!”  Note that I did not post myself in tears or the kid waking up this morning saying, “I hate school and I don’t want to do it!”  I didn’t post any of that.  You don’t want to be comparing yourself to other people, especially what they’re putting out on social media.  It’s just not reality.

3. Self-Compassion

Another coping skill that is so important to remember at any moment, but especially during disappointing times, is self-compassion.  Self-compassion goes like this: think about a friend who is so sad, so upset, and so disappointed.  How would you talk to that friend?  Would you say, “Buck up, be better!  Come on, let’s go!”  No.  You would say, “I’m so sorry this is so hard for you,” and you’d hug them.  Well, if you could, if they were in your pod.  You’d give them love.  That is what we need to be giving ourselves in those moments when it’s just really hard.  You have to say to yourself, “I love you.  You’re going to be okay.”

Give yourself what you would want from somebody else or what you would give to somebody else.  It can be very hard to extend to ourselves the same compassion and love that we easily give to other people.

4. Check Your Self-Talk

If I’m walking around the world going, “I cannot do this.  Oh my gosh, this is the worst,” and I’m texting and ranting, saying, “I’m so over this,” that is not going to help me deal with the disappointment.  In fact, it will just make it grow.  Also, it doesn’t help me to be able to be helpful to anybody else.

5. Ask For Help

Instead, what I’ve done in those moments is I’ve asked for help.  I’ve reached out to my support system, to people who are navigating it gracefully or at least navigating it with me.  I reach out to them, and only then, once they’ve been able to be compassionate, just give it a cry and be sad and try to at least just start vocalizing what it is that I’m so upset about, then I can maybe start moving into the solution.

Some of you may know that I had a miscarriage about three years ago before I got pregnant with Violet.  There was obviously this humungous disappointment.  We had all this hope for the future that was shattered by this thing that was outside of my control.  The last thing I needed in those moments was people telling me, “You’ll get pregnant again  Don’t worry.  It’s going to be fine.”  That’s the last thing I needed to hear.  Or for people to say, “It’s probably all for the best.”  I wanted to punch people in the face when they spoke to me like that in their “everything happens for a reason” tone.

When you’re feeling so sad and you’ve experienced a loss, whether it’s a big loss, a little loss, whatever, it’s your loss.  The last thing you want is for people to tell you to buck up and be positive.  That’s why I say you have to get into self-compassion first and just be heard.  Find the people who will listen and will not give you advice and will just let you be sad.

6. Reframe the Disappointment

Then, once you have started to process through the sadness, then you can start to reframe it.  Now, I’m not telling you, if you’re having your big cry right now to think, “All right, let’s find the positive in it.”  That might not be what you need right now.  You might need to give it a month or so.  It took me months, maybe years before I could tell myself, “All right, maybe the timing on that was for a reason.” And now I have my little sweetie pie two-year-old who is just absolutely perfect and wonderful.  I could not imagine life without her.  Now I can get into that, but in that moment, absolutely not.  I could not, and I refused to accept it as the way it was supposed to be because it was just too bad, too disappointing.

Finding the Silver Linings (Trust me, they are there)

So when you’re ready to start reframing, that’s when you can start to see the silver linings.  For me, this is where I go, “Oh my gosh, my kindergartener had her first day of school on top of a volcano,” because that was the only place at our campground where you could get enough reception to do a Zoom meeting.  We hiked two miles up a mountain, most of the time with Ruby on my husband’s back to get to her first day of school, which was really cool.

Then you can start to try to get quiet and ask things like, “Okay, what door is opening here?  What solution am I not finding yet?  What is this clearing away?  What is this making space for?”  I like to do things like pull an animal card or an angel card or a taro card just cause I feel like for me (and it’s totally ok if you’re not into this) but I like to pull a card and then check in with my intuition on what it means.

Tarot Cards

There was a really rough patch in my life where everything was going wrong.  I was divorced, in foreclosure – it was the worst six months of my entire life.  What I do in moments like that is I pull these cards to give me reassurance that I’m going to be okay.  I always get this one with a picture of a tower on it.  There was this picture of a tower that was on fire with people falling out the windows to their fiery, smoky death (not a really positive card) but what that meant, or at least what I think it meant, was that things have to burn down before they can be rebuilt just right.  It’s almost if you’re living a good life, but there’s an amazing life out there, you have to burn down the good life before you can get to the amazing one.

Sometimes things are good enough and you just have to let them stay put until the world just shakes it all up and you ask yourself, “Who am I really?  What do I really want to be?  What am I doing here?”  Sometimes we need moments like that to recognize what really matters.

Finding Your Foundation

So, if you’re in one of those moments where you feel like your tower’s burning down, imagine when the rubble is gone, what’s left?  What’s the foundation that you’re going to build on?  Sometimes all it takes is just getting quiet and asking, “What is the door that’s opening here?  What is the good?  Something I’ve been trying to do recently is to actively seek out the goodness.  Obviously I wasn’t doing this yesterday or even this morning, but you don’t have to be perfect.  For me, if I’m feeling paralyzing anxiety in my chest and throat, instead of focusing on that, I find what feels good: my fingers feel good, my toes feel good, my stomach feels fine, my legs feel good.  There’s always something good in the moment that you can find.

Shifting Your Focus

I’ve noticed the anxiety or that the headache whatever is not working physically, is something that’s trying to prevent me from being happy.  If I take my focus off of it, let it be there, but shift my focus to what feels good, it often helps me to get into the moment where I realize, “Whoa, I’m so lucky that I have this family that I get to be with, that I have the flexibility in my hours that I can do this for my daughter.”  Just taking a moment to find the goodness, even if it’s just the tingle in your fingers, it can reset the mind in a way that allows the goodness to flow in.

7. Gratitude

Then there is gratitude.  Self-pity and gratitude are basically the opposite.  If I’m in this moment of, “Oh, this is not fair.  Kindergarten was not supposed to be like this,” and I’m going to throw a fit, I switch to gratitude.  When I’m able to switch to gratitude, it’s ridiculous how much I have that I can be grateful for – healthy children, healthy family, a home, this career that allows me to be a mom and do what I’ve loved more than anything.  If you can get to gratitude, the quicker you can get to it the better, honestly, but don’t rush it.  If you need to have your sad, okay.  Then learn from it.  You’re going to learn you’re not in charge and you probably need to lower your expectations.

Something I’ve learned is just to start laughing at it.  My daughter’s peeing on the floor?  I need to not take it so seriously.  I don’t need to be perfect, and I’m doing an excellent job of not trying to make my kid do things perfectly.  My daughter shows me her work.  “That’s the way you want to turn it in?  Okay.  Let’s turn it in.  Great, good job, kiddo.  Let’s go have a snack.”  I am so not worried about perfection, which is something that is huge for me.  To my daughter, “Hey, you seem like you need a break.  Let’s do it.  Don’t worry.  We don’t need to keep grinding at this.  It’s fine.  We’re going to do our best.  We’re just going to get a little better.”  I’m learning that I’m actually doing okay, and she’s doing fine.  Despite my meltdown, she’s fine.

Take Action

Once you have found the goodness and learned a lesson, then take some action.  We don’t want to get stuck wallowing in this disappointing place forever.  That action for you might mean asking for help, getting a therapist, helping somebody else, moving your body, calling somebody who can support you getting outside.  Sometimes pausing is action.  Sometimes when I’m thinking, “I don’t know what to do,” my problem-solving mind goes, “I need to get her into this type of thing.  I need to arrange this and I need to fix this, and I’m just going to pause and listen.  Let’s go with it and see what happens.  We’re just going to see what happens.  We’re going to see what doors open.  I’m going to be on the lookout for doors opening.”

Other times it’s taking action.  It’s making a phone call, sending an email, doing something that will help you to move forward.  In sport, it’s doing anything – any progression, any baby step that can get you rolling again.  If you’re the parent who has the disappointed child, who lost their season or your kid is scared they’re not going to get their scholarship because they missed so much critical training right when they were getting their skills back or right when they just got back from injury, here’s what they need from you…

Compassion vs. Advice

Listen.  Offer compassion, but not advice.  That can be really hard.  Don’t tell them how they should feel or that everything’s going to be fine.  Avoid telling them that it’s all going to work out in the end and everything happens for a reason.  Don’t tell them that because they might just be in that place where they just need to be sad.  Just hug them, pat them, say, “I love you.  There, there.  Tell me what you need.  Do you need ice cream?  Do you need Netflix?”  They don’t want a solution.  If they want a solution, they’re going to ask for it.

Be Present

Don’t make it about you.  A lot of people are saying, “We’re all in the same boat here,” but I also heard it explained differently.

We’re in the same ocean, different boats. 

Somebody’s boat might be anchored, great, feeling good.  Someone else’s boat is flipped upside down and cracked and falling apart.  We’re not all in the same boat.  We don’t know what everybody else is going through.  Don’t make it about you and what you’re going through.  That’s not helpful.  Ask them good questions when they’re ready, like, “How can I support you?”


Something you can do to prepare for this moment if your kid is not currently disappointed, is to say, “When you’re feeling low or you’re disappointed, or you’re feeling a loss, what do you need most?”  I’ve done this with teams where I say, “If you’re having a really bad day, what do you need from your teammates?”  They all pretty much say they need space, space to just have their moment.  So if you have that conversation before the big disappointment happens, you will be better equipped to know what she needs – space, hugs, a movie, inside jokes, etc.  You’ll know in advance what they need, and then be okay with them saying, “Mom, leave me alone.”

So for all you parents out there who are in this ocean with me in your own boat that feels similar to mine – solidarity.  We’re all going to get through this.  It’s not going to be like this forever.  That’s what I’m telling myself.  On the other side of this, when you climb out of the rubble of your fiery tower, you’re probably going to be able to stand up and go, “I’ve learned what’s important to me.  I’ve learned about what matters and I’m stronger than I thought I was.”

Thanks for hanging out with me today.  I will see you again soon.

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