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Dealing with disappointment

Posted on: 24 Nov 2017 by Headteacher

Disappointment is, according to the Oxford dictionary, ‘the sadness or displeasure caused by the non-fulfilment of one’s hopes or expectations’ and is, without doubt, one of the most immediate emotions a child will experience when they feel they have not achieved as they believe they should have. Whilst disappointment is a natural response to failure, how we, as adults around them react, can potentially lead to a child reaping great rewards or, unfortunately, breeding more disappointment.

The intensity of disappointment varies from child to child and age and stage, from not being first in the line when going to lunch when they are five years old, to failing to be selected to play in the A team or, in the latter years of their schooling, securing a place at the university of choice. What is important, however, is ensuring that a child’s ability to scale further hurdles is not hindered nor that disappointment becomes more excruciating in the future; it is a fine balance.

At Wandsworth Prep, we allow children to realise that setbacks are a part of life. Sometimes setbacks test children’s abilities, sometimes their character, sometimes their motivation; what we focus on, however, is thinking about finding the best way to move forward.

We teach children to think about what they could have done differently and always, always, always learn from the experience. Once we have helped a child through one disappointment, we ensure that they use the experience to brainstorm ways to tackle the next one. Very recently, a child was not chosen to play in the football team; an understandable disappointment. Instead of accepting defeat, the child in question talked at great length with their teacher and together they worked through strengths and areas for improvement with a view to increase their chances of being chosen to play in the next match, or the next one.

We are aware that children need to be mentally tough. Like a small power ball, our children need to be able to bounce back time and time again and learn that disappointment is not always a bad thing. Without the ability to bounce back repeatedly, children cannot develop resilience. We have a responsibility to celebrate mistakes and show them how these can inform future learning in a positive way, whilst maintaining there is always light at the end of the tunnel. Knowing how to effectively react to disappointments is what will determine, in part, their future success.

Bridget Saul - Headteacher at Wandsworth Prep School

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