It’s OK to feel disappointed in your child. But knowing how to manage this feeling may help you build a deeper and more supportive relationship.
When your child doesn’t meet your expectations, you may feel disappointed. If so, you’re not alone.
You might feel disappointed because you believe your child’s unexpected behavior might mean that you’re not parenting well. Or you might be worried that this behavior could get worse.
Denying disappointment won’t help it go away. But you can learn to understand and manage your own disappointment while successfully supporting your child.
Children can sometimes misbehave at school, at home, or even when they’re out in public. It’s OK to be disappointed in their behavior, but there are ways to manage this feeling in a helpful way.
Keep your disappointment behavior-specific
Heidi Caruso, a special education teacher in Morris, New Jersey, and owner of Success in Learning LLC, notes that she meets with disappointed parents often.
She suggests talking with a trusted teacher or counselor first to vent your disappointed feelings before talking with your child.
When you talk with your child, Caruso recommends trying to:
- calmly state how you feel about their specific action and why
- work with them to develop a clear set of goals to address the behavior going forward
- avoid globalizing or maligning (i.e., avoid using statements such as “you always” or “you never”)
Get perspective on your child
If you’re concerned about your child’s behavior or it seems to be getting worse, consider having a diagnostic assessment or educational profile of your child.
This may help provide more insight and help you to:
- understand your child’s strengths and challenges
- set realistic expectations
- see progress and avoid unhelpful comparisons
Stay engaged but detached
Researchers in a
Results clarified which parental behaviors contributed to disappointment for all and which were beneficial.
According to the results, when parents were uninvolved and appeared uninterested in their kids’ activities, the kids tended to skip sports practices.
Parents who were overinvolved got heated during games, blaming coaches for their children’s losses. These kids felt overpressured and were likely to burn out.
Moderately involved parents offered guidance and practical help but were mindful to let their children make decisions about how competitive to be. These children felt the most invested in their sport.
Find a supportive group
Support groups can help parents manage chronic disappointment and address unique parenting challenges. Peer-to-peer groups allow you to:
- share feelings anonymously
- learn from others in your shoes
- foster self-compassion
If you’re not sure where to start, you can check out these organizations:
- Child Welfare Information Gateway has a list of parent support groups.
- Parents Helping Parents provides information on virtual support groups that might be helpful.
Situations like a school-resistant child in an academic family or a nonathletic bookworm in a family of athletes can sometimes spark disappointment.
Talking with a therapist can help you explore your own expectations and disappointments and clarify your parenting goals.
If you’re unsure where to start looking for a mental health professional, you can try Psych Central’s hub for finding mental health support.
A 2019 study suggests that shaming your child in an effort to control their disappointing behaviors may contribute to negative mental health consequences, such as:
- poor self-regulation
- decreased persistence
- increased depression
Researchers in a 2021 study used well-known assessment scales to analyze the effect of three parenting styles — parental rejection, parental warmth, and parental overprotection — on a child’s mental health. Researchers found:
- Parental rejection resulted in low self-esteem, psychological inflexibility, overcompliance, and conflict avoidance.
- Parental warmth contributed to feelings of high self-esteem, psychological flexibility, and improved decision making.
- Parental overprotection led to decreased self-evaluation, poor decision making, and relationship insecurity.
When your child misbehaves at a restaurant or at school, it’s natural to feel disappointed in their behavior.
Learning to reframe your response from “I’m disappointed in you” to “I’m disappointed in this behavior because…” leaves room for positive change.
Remember, it’s not a reflection on you or your parenting style.
You can work with your child to make goals more reasonable and future actions more satisfying for both of you.
Support groups that foster self-compassion and mindful parenting may help keep disappointment manageable.
If you’re in crisis and need immediate help, you can call the Parent Stress Line 24/7 at 800-632-8188 for free, confidential support.