Teaching Disappointment and Experiencing The Unthinkable!

Today I entered a classroom to coach.  I’ve been coaching in this classroom for over a year; a Head Start classroom full of four year olds!  It’s typical to coach children through disappointment but today was different.  It took my breath away.  

It’s Monday.  It’s raining!  

I met up with the classroom in the cafeteria as they finished breakfast and right away C is crying;  big tears that literally roll down her beautiful round brown cheeks.  Her disappointment is real.  She was the line leader last week but not this week.  That’s rough!  

I do my thing of coaching disappointment.  

“You were hoping that you were going to be the line leader this week.”
Breathe with me.
You can handle it. I am with you.
You have a choice.  You can get behind the line leader or you can choose another place.  What’s best for you?” 

It’s the usual coaching stuff. I call attention to the children that their friend C is having a hard time because she isn’t the line leader this week.  I coach the children to put their hands on their heart, take a deep breath and silently wish her well.
C continues to cry as the classroom walks down two long hallways to their classroom.  They are the Owl Class.  They are a School Family.™  It is hard for everyone.  I am breathing and wishing her well and thinking about solutions.  

C  fell apart over lots of things this morning; missing her Mommy, her right leg hurts, she can’t play in the center that she wants.  Everything is a really big deal.  Big tears!  It’s loud and long. Then K announces to C and E that they are going to fix my hair and makeup.  I comply.  There are great moments of connections and playfulness with all three girls. C has turned the corner or so I thought.  

It’s time to line up to go back to the cafeteria for lunch and it’s happening again.
C thinks that she is the line leader.  There is no amount of empathy and choices that will make this go away quickly.  Sitting with disappointment, sad’s first cousin, is hard and can take time.  She needs lots of connections and I am noting this so I can feed this back to the teacher. 

 And then it happens!  

E says to me, “ Why is C crying so much.  She cries all the time.”  

I say, “C cries a lot because she doesn’t know how to handle disappointment.  It’s hard for her.”  

E:  “I can make her feel happy.”  

Me: “So you can help her to feel happy again?”  

E:  “Yes!”  

Me:  “How can you do that?”  

E:   “I can wish her well and breathe with her.”

And down two long hallways to the cafeteria E puts her arm around C’s waist all the while telling C to breathe and she could handle it.  It didn’t take long for C to stop crying.  She was breathing and smiling.  E literally was taking in deep breaths and exhaling with the most loving face that one can imagine.  

It took a child and not an adult to make the difference.  She’s been coached how to do this.  



Disappointment is a part of everyday life.  I wasn’t taught by my Mom how to handle disappointment in a healthy way.  Were you?  I was taught to just stuff it, avoid it, ignore it!  This works for a while but believe me it will come knocking on your door in the long run.  I have stories and they aren’t pretty.  

Most adults approach this situation with information.  “You’ll be the line leader again.  I promise. Let’s count how many days.”  Or “You were the line leader last week and now it is Malik’s turn.” On and on the information goes.  The intention is meant to be helpful but their intention misses the mark and doesn’t help the child.  

So what’s missing when an adult has an encounter with a child that is feeling disappointment and sad.  Empathy is missing!  Empathy is the skill of the Power of Love in Conscious Discipline; helping children to accept the moment which integrates the brain for personal responsibility and self-control. This is a really big deal.  I have witnessed this over and over again as I coach in classes across South Carolina and Vero Beach, FL.  Most adults will respond with a “you’re okay” or with some kind of information.  We’ve got to do it differently.

So let’s make a commitment to our children to meet them where they are and coach them to welcome their feelings and find the solution.


It might sound like this.

“Your eyes are like this.”  Pause
“Your mouth is like this.” Pause
Make eye contact and breathe while opening your heart and holding a place for this child with no judgments.  It’s called “wishing well.”
“You seem sad.  You were hoping Mommy could stay all day and play with you.  You have a choice.  You can blow Mommy kisses good bye or you can wave your hand to say good bye.”

I’m thinking about E.  I’ve memorized her face.  I have engraved this memory on my heart forever and I send her well wishes and the great hope that this tool was packed forever in her tool box of life.  Maybe one day I will meet her again as a teacher or a professor in a university or the president of the United States?


3 Replies to “Teaching Disappointment and Experiencing The Unthinkable!”

  1. What a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing. You’re a great coach and I’m happy to hear that another child helped her get through this. The breathing and wishing well technique are great keys.

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