when your child disappoints you

3 Things to Do When Your Child Disappoints You

I know you’re not supposed to say it, but let’s face it—sometimes your child disappoints you. You expected certain things of her and she just didn’t come through. Maybe it was her poor academic performance, or the time he lost his temper, or the fact that he is bullying someone at school. Sometimes our kids let us down.

What folks never tell you, though, is that this is just part of the gig. As a parent, no one knows your children like you do. You know how they’ve been taught and what you’ve modeled for them. You know them at their best and expect them to be at their best in most (if not all) situations. But, of course, your child is human. Inevitably, he or she will fall short of your expectations. So what do you do when your child disappoints you? Here are 3 suggestions.

1. Have boundaries, not expectations.

The only expectation we should have of our teens is that they will probably not meet our expectations.

Often, we have a vision for the ideal version of a child and it’s virtually impossible for a child to be that. It’s better to expect that your teen doesn’t know how to navigate the world and to set healthy boundaries to guide him or her. For example, rather than hoping for straight A’s and being disappointed when there are C’s on the report card, work with your child to establish healthy study habits that cultivate a strong work ethic and a willingness to ask for help. Include clear consequences for blowing off work or spending time gaming before homework is complete. The only expectation we should have of our teens is that they will probably not meet our expectations. So let’s stop being unrealistic. Instead, let’s create some healthy boundaries that help shape our kids into healthy adults.

2. Recognize what is yours—and what isn’t.

We often respond to our child’s poor showing with shame or anger. This comes from our own sense that somehow our child’s failure is our failure. Of course, this is both true and not true at the same time. It is true that no one has influenced your children to the degree that you have. They’ve learned so much about what it means to live life by living life with you. Perhaps you could’ve done things differently to set them up to succeed. At the same time, they aren’t robots. They’re people. Just like you made choices as a teen that really weren’t about your parents, your kids will, too. As much as possible, we need to guard against owning too many or too few of our kids’ failures. Sometimes kids just do dumb things. It’s that simple.

3. Don’t let disappointment define them.

All of us fall short at times. We fail. We disappoint ourselves and others. None of us ever wants to be defined by our worst moments. So don’t do that to your child. Use disappointment as a learning opportunity for your child and you. What could you do differently? What could she do differently? How might you paint a picture of a different future for him? Maybe you’ll learn something about him that helps you understand better what he’s dealing with (“I never wanted to be on the basketball team anyway.” Or “I have trouble sleeping at night, so I just surf the internet on my phone.”). You may even learn something about yourself that you need to shift (“It turns out my self-image is tied to how others view my child.”).

Sound off: How do you respond when your child disappoints you?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “Can you think of a time when you were disappointed with yourself?”