The Gift of Unhappiness

Posted February 12, 2016 by

The Gift of Unhappiness

When I was eight years old, my friend was invited to a neighborhood birthday party and I wasn’t. There was ice cream cake and the promise of a piñata. I was devastated.

My parents could have asked the neighbors to invite me. They could have sent me along to the party uninvited. They could have come up with a special afternoon so that I would be distracted during the party.

But they didn’t do any of these things. My parents let me experience this disappointment without intervening. That night before bedtime, my mother sat down and talked with me about my hard afternoon, but that was it.

What my parents did that day was very important. Here’s why.

I speak with many parents who go to great lengths to help their children avoid disappointment, stress, and adversity. I understand this instinct.

But by doing so, they are unintentionally shielding their child from learning opportunities. A child who has been protected from unhappiness may have trouble dealing with disappointment as a child and as an adult. Coping with disappointment is key to a successful, balanced life.

As a parent, take the time to teach your child how to deal with disappointment. It’s an incredible gift.

Instead of trying to prevent or “fix” difficulties for your child, be with them in their disappointment. Allow them to feel sad, left out, or angry. Let the moment happen and then talk to them about how to move forward. Resiliency is a valuable skill that will serve them well in childhood and adulthood.

“In order for children to learn how to do hard things, you have to let them go through hard times. There is no way to truly master something without experiencing it.” – Sara Bean, M.Ed., Elementary School Counselor

The Sara Bean quote above is from a great article, one that many parents have found helpful: Why Fixing Things for Your Child Doesn’t Help.

If you are working through similar experiences, feel free to share with the Empowering Parents community below. Or be in touch with our coaches if you need extra support.

Be well,

Darlene, Empowering Parents Coach


Darlene Beaulieu is a parent to two teenage daughters, ages 13 and 16. She has been an Empowering Parents Coach since 2009 and has helped thousands of families in that time. She earned her Master’s Degree in Counseling and has worked in school and community settings helping children and families with academic, social, and behavioral issues.

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  1. rwolfenden Report

    Tawandak I hear how much you’re struggling with your daughter’s behavior right now.  I’m glad that you are reaching out for support, both here as well as in your community.  Due to your involvement with the courts, as well as your daughter’s placement in a group home, I encourage you to continue working with local supports, such as your counselor and staff at the group home, to help you improve your relationship with your daughter as well as setting clear boundaries for yourself and your safety.  For help locating additional supports in your community, try contacting the at 1-800-273-6222.  I recognize what a challenging situation this must be for you, and I wish you all the best moving forward.  Take care.

  2. Florence1977 Report

    Dear all
    I have 3 boys of 12, 11 and 6 . My middle child is a gentle soul in the sense that is not boyish and physical but artistic and sensitive to a point that his world clashes with the real world out there. He forms like his peers because they say inappropriate things (expecially the boys ) and the girls don’t really want him with them.He often prefers staying alone and he often has moments of sadness which he explainsby by asking me why the world has so many bad things, why teenagers behave so inappropriately and so on… most of the time I don’t know how to help him of what to say to explain that he has to deal with disappointment and try to get on with it…
    Many thanks

  3. AmiyokoKemp Report

    I’m starting today with empowering parents I have a 14 year old daughter. She’s very smart strong wise loving stubern disredpectful at times. I’m looking for ways to understand her better so I can raise her to be a successful citizen young lady in the world.

  4. YoSiempre Report

    Love this article,
    especially in this time when we, parents, tend so much to shield our kids from disappointment,
    like if disappointment is something we can always prevent. Well, we can’t, we
    can’t fix it if they fall in love and the other person doesn’t love them back,
    we can’t be there all the time, all we can teach them is resilience, and now
    after all these years, I think the most important questions are “What do
    you want?” and “how do you feel?” and honour their feelings and
    their thoughts, that is what will make them stronger at the end.

  5. StruggleBus Report

    I have been divorced for over a year and am now dating a wonderful woman, with whom my daughter has rarely seen because of her refusal to do so.  Her typically response at the mention of my girlfriend’s name are tears of sadness.  I have been dating my girlfriend for a year now and have ran out of ways to teach my daughter to merely be ok in my girlfriend’s presence.  Our most recent conversation went something like this:  “I hope one day you will gave (girlfriend) a chance to get to know you – I bet you’ll really like her.”  My daughter’s response, “I wish you would stop making me sad” thus playing the victim (as if my dating is what is causing her sadness). This is something my ex has done most, if not her entire life.  If I could only find advice that would help me teach my 9 year old daughter to stop playing the victim.    Any advice would be incredibly helpful.

    • dbeaulieu Report


      It is understandable you would
      like your daughter to be open and accepting of your girlfriend and see in her
      what you do. I am sure with time they will have a chance to get to know each
      other and hopefully develop a relationship like you would like. I know it has
      been over a year since your divorce and you have moved on, but your daughter
      has not. This does not mean that she is necessarily playing the victim, but
      that divorce for a young child is a different experience than it is for an
      adult. James Lehman offers some helpful advice for parents after a divorce in
      his article I hope you find this information
      useful for your situation. Thank you for writing in. Take care.

    • Suzannea Report

      StruggleBus Hi there, it is difficult to answer not knowing the whole situation, if you have family that perhaps you, your daughter and your girlfriend could have dinner with or a casual picnic, might be a good way to start.  All the support you can get would be really helpful for you all.  Your daughter, sounds like, is afraid of losing you even though you know she won’t.  I am sure she will come around in time, which is what it will take.  You do need to move on with your relationship with your girlfriend, she is being very patient which is wonderful.  Just know it will be difficult at first.  All the best, I’m sure it will work out.  Please remember you are the parent.  I dont know if you like Dr Phil or not, but he has some great advice also on these matters.  Kind regards, Suzie from Australia (mother of 2 and grandmother of 14 yr old twins)

    • YoSiempre Report

      StruggleBus My comment would be to just tell her that you feel bad that she feels that way, that you hope she gets to like her because you enjoy her company and leave it like that.

      You have to respect also the fact that she doesn’t want to hang around your girlfriend, she will eventually come around if she sees that your girlfriend is going to be a permanent part of her future

    • KidsAreAwesome Report

      StruggleBus Hi StruggleBus.  I hope my suggestion helps, if not then discard.  When one parent starts dating it can trigger the grief feelings of the child that are there.  They have lost 2 parents as they knew it, and a new love interest brings this pain to the surface – which in some ways is a good thing.  What can be seen and felt can be healed in time – but only if the parent can get into the ‘shoes’ of the child and imagine what it must be like for them and show them empathy and support.  It is important to have quality time with your daughter without your girlfriend and also with your girlfriend.  Make a date with your daughter and the two of you.  But make the date about your daughter.  I call it ‘Dating the Children’.  When a new person comes into your life they are not just dating you.  So having Family Dates outside of your own dates, where your girlfriend and you make it about your daughter and doing activities that are fun for her will slowly get her to experience your girlfriend in a different context. Even let her bring a friend so both you and your daughter have someone.  But leave the romance between you & your girlfriend for  “Alone” dates; until your daughter has been able to build trust, that you aren’t trying to replace her Mum, or make her have two Mums, or expect her to feel about your girlfriend the way you feel.  Also if she builds connection with your girlfriend, and then she disappears, that will be another loss which maybe an unconscious fear in here.  Grief after Divorce is very complicated for children, they don’t have adult minds and they don’t know how to handle the difficult feelings coming up.  And they can’t find ‘new love’ to move on.  They can only experience new Love from Mum and Dad, they Mum and Dad are prepared to build two new houses that focus on the child’s healing.  Use Dr. John Gottman’s emotion coaching to support her through her difficult feelings and over 6 months I think you might have a better situation.  But patience from Parents  is important with Kids who experience this kind of loss.  Their trust has been broken and their attachment to you feels very shaky at times.  Re-establishing attachment and giving them support and time to heal will help them adjust to new people and situations such as your girlfriend.  I hope there are some suggestions in here that you can use.  Good luck.

  6. Suzannea Report

    Hi Ladyhutch

    You have done a great job with your kids.  You may yourself have been brought up in the ‘old school’ way, as I was.  Personally, pain is a part of life, no matter how we try and protect them and they still get it.  I tried with my son (keeping him from pain) as well, however, he still saw a lot of it.  He is 23 now and has an apprenticeship and doing really well, not always the case.  I believe in letting each child grow at their own rate, my son’s friends always younger than he is and for instance, he didnt get his drivers licence until he wa nearly 19 (i pushed him then tho) because HE said he wasnt ready.  Who wants a teen on the road when they are not ready?  I know that all this is the new era on raising our kids, and yes i agree, however there is a lot to be said about the old way of doing things in my humble opinion.  We can only grow with the times in this world we now live in, but the legacy we have brought with us is valuable too.  Keep up the good work…. faith, hope and love…

  7. LadyHutch Report

    I am a mother of two teenage children, daughter age 17 and son age 15. I am finding that I’ve done a poor job parenting, especially after reading this article. I wish I would have read this years ago and maybe they would be better off than they are now. Don’t get me wrong, they are great kids that never get in trouble outside of the home. I don’t feel good about how I’ve raised them emotionally. Always keeping them from pain, never letting them learn the hard way. Is there anything I can do to make a difference this late, when they’re almost grown??

    • dbeaulieu Report


      I can understand your concern,
      but it is definitely not too late to create change with your kids. There is
      bound to be more opportunities where you can help them learn from their
      discomfort and unhappiness by allowing them to solve their problem for
      themselves.  Whether it be poor performance on a test or not having their
      uniform clean for a game, the truth is, life is full of learning opportunities.
      It’s just a matter of allowing it to happen. You certainly don’t have to make
      any major changes. It is just about being aware of situations that you may be
      solving for your children that they can solve for themselves, even if it is
      uncomfortable for them. Thank you for your question. Take care.

  8. Kellie Report

    This was helpful. I was just talking about this subject with a group of parents. Our sons and daughters all teenagers. We are learning about the teenage brain. The development of the brain and how to make attachments. Thank you for your article.

  9. Jyotismita Report

    I am a single mother of 2 sons aged 10 n 13—both difficult ages. What works for me is first showering unconditional love, secondly setting reasonable limits, 2 hours of free physical play with peers like soccer, cricket,volleyball, tt, badminton,etc, praying together daily and being around them all the short time they are at home. These tiny fellas need our time and love. Thats what I feel.

  10. pattyfountain Report

    Thank you so much for this article, it came in just in a time when I needed assurance that I am doing all I can. My son is in his last year of high school and wants to go to University but we do not have funds for him to attend the ones he has selected and has accepted him to attend. I have tried to suggest other options but he has, from the start, make me know that he knows what he is doing and he can handle it and he has a plan should the one he has do not work. As a mom, you do not want to see your children dreams crushed, but I know he will be ok and one way or another, things will work for him, maybe not just yet, or where he would, but he will start. I still feel a little guilty for not working on his future education better. Love the article.

  11. Battered Brits Report

    Thankyou for that advice, and although our grandson has many friends and loves team sport, I would just agree that sometimes therapy is a necessary augmentation of excellent websites like this. In England it is free on NHS if you are lucky enough to live in an area where family therapy is available and are able to wait for a place. Otherwise it is private and very expensive. That’s why I am grateful for this help from empowering parents.

  12. Paola Report

    I struggle to cope with seeing my kids hurt, due to my background. Nelida asks the right question; When is too much and when does it start to affect their confidence and self-esteem?

    • dbeaulieu Report

      Paola CFraser 

      I wish I had an easy answer to
      that, but it truly depends on the kid and the situations they have faced or are
      facing. If your child is starting to withdraw from normal activities, become
      socially isolated, or their grades drastically drop, I think that is a pretty
      good indicator they are experiencing more than they can manage by themselves.
      Generally, when a child faces a difficult situation, their struggle with the
      outcome is temporary and they are able to work through it and move past it. I
      hope this helps to answer your question. We appreciate you writing in.

  13. Battered Brits Report

    I just feel sad when I read these accounts of how we are all struggling with our children and grandchildren. I sometimes think “if only we didn’t love him so much it would all be a lot easier”
    My emotions get in the way of carrying through the suggestions from this website…..I feel uncertain of myself, sorry for him, guilty that I must be failing him etc. I think that my face shows everything I feel,…. all the confusion, disappointment, anger, frustration…the whole gamut! Then I think, “how awful for him, to be looking at my unhappy disappointed face all the time….because in turn, I feel so awful when he scowls at me….which is most of the time. I really miss his beautiful smile.
    A few years ago, my daughter told me that an important thing she remembers from her childhood is that I always smiled when we met after school. I was not even aware of that. Now I make a point of smiling at Laurence in the same way,even though I am bracing myself inside for what may come. I am trying to say, “whatever place we are in together, I love you” I hope it goes somewhere in his mind and it makes me feel better that at least I have set off on the right foot!
    As my granny used to say, it is a long road that has no turning. Keep going…you are not alone.

  14. Suzannea Report

    thank you for this post, I am 58 yrs old now with a 32 yr old daughter, 23 yr old son.  Unfortunately with my daughter, I was always the ‘fix’ it mum.  Now she is 32 I am still the ‘fix’ it mum and she has twins aged 14 now.  I have tried everything to get out of this cycle but nothing seems to work.  I believe in prayer, so will continue praying.  Seems to be a trait in our family as my mother was the same with me and when she passed away, I was in no way, shape or form ready to handle the world as an adult.

  15. nelidadelpilar1973 Report

    Hi,My son is 8 yrs old and has had several traumatizing experiences in his short years 1 his father is not active in his life he is an acquaintance at best two and a half years ago my oldest son was arrested for felony murder the absence of his brother has changed him and then if that wasn’t bad enough his godfather whom which he was extremely close with passed away a year ago three days before Christmas he was a little old Jewish man that was feisty and took my son to parks Broadway shows breakfast is sleepovers at his house etc in fact he was there when my son was born he was the first person to see him and they loved each other very much since all of these things my gentle giant has changed my son is showing signs of anger sadness defiant disrespectful his grades are failing his behavior at home is very difficult to deal with talking back not following directions showing signs of anger in school he bangs on his desks talks back to the teacher does not complete classwork hide his homework and his behavior is horrible with his peers due to all of these things I have him in the counseling outside of school in school and recently have called the Child Study Team to have him evaluated and I am at my wits end I am a single handicap mother and I am on a budget I tried to get him some after school care and basically I do not approve for the program and I can’t afford $105 a week I look to this online program parenting heaven sent because I don’t have another outlet or advice to guide me through I am grateful for this site please help

  16. abev Report

    So, my son tried out for soccer at his school last year and made the team.  He was goalie for the first 3 or so games.  Then he was replaced by the coach’s son and hardly got any playing time.  He was devastated and I was angry.  I felt a lot of resentment in my heart for that coach for hurting my baby.  He wants to try out this year.  I told him I would let him but if that same coach is his coach again I had reservations about letting him play and be on the team.  This is not the appropriate response, is it?  I know disappointment is good for him but at the same time I don’t want him to beat himself up to the point where he has a low self esteem like I did.  But, on the flipside I also don’t want to instill in him that when the going gets tough, you can just run the other direction.  Parenting is so hard.  any thoughts???  I welcome suggestions.

    • dbeaulieu Report


      It is very hard to see your
      child devastated, there is no question about that. What I am hearing though is
      your son has worked through that difficult experience and wants to try out
      again. He is learning valuable life lessons about things not always being fair
      and resiliency. I would follow your son’s lead on this one. It sounds like he
      can handle disappointment and move on from it. Thank you for writing in.

    • YoSiempre Report

      abev I think the most important thing is how you face the events, he says he wants to try again, then you can say, yes, what would you like to do if it is the same coach again?, or what are your thoughts if you get the same coach/ if he does the same as last year, etc??, he might say, I would like to then drop out of the course, or keep on trying or whatever his response, you are there to support his decisions, not to “solve” his problems, whatever the outcome, he will be content that he was the one taking ownership of his actions, not you. Hope this helps 🙂

  17. Tammy G Pectold Report

    I can relate! As a mother I often fall in to the trap of protecting or better, overprotecting my children! It comes out as an instint! Its something that takes over and drives me, but as a responsible adult and parent I have to work on controling the urge to “protect” and turn it in to a teaching moment! Children as well as adults need to learn to feel and be with the intense enotions that we often expierience due to disspointment, sadnes, humiliation, anger, frustration amd so on… Only when we can look at this emotions eye to eye will we be able to work with them and help them push us forward! I have to work on it every day!

  18. tiapalmer123 Report

    I have struggled with this my sons whole life he is now 12 and the struggle is getting stronger and i know my decisions are influencing him even more. My husband and i have recently been discussing this. We want our son to be able to do hard things because we all know life is hard. But what do you do when you have a child where everything is hard – when you are dealing with severe defiance- asking your son to brush his teeth is hard for him. Where is the balance of forcing him to do something or allowing him to give up when things are tough. For instance my son never sticks with one activity or sport he gets bored he gets sick of it and he quits. We fight so many fights we give in and allow it. I feel like my situation is different than others where there children are not quite as defiant and they can be forced to stay with things. Those with these types of children will understand your sanity is not worth the fight. I feel like we are setting him up to fail but it truly is a daily battle. Any thoughts??

    • FatherOf4 Report

      tiapalmer123  Establish consequences for unacceptable behaviors and follow through. If you don’t brush your teeth, then no video games or tv or whatever his favorite thing is. I have a 9-year old son that displays most of the behaviors you describe. The approach to learning how to deal with disappointment can be applied to any emotional learning – sadness, guilt, happiness, etc. When my 9-year old son was defiant and disrespectful to his teacher, he didn’t get to attend the family dinner out that night. I paid for a sitter and he completed his homework, wrote sentences, showered then brushed his teeth and was ready for bed by the time we returned. I brought his dinner, leftovers, to him and he ate in his room. Hope this helps.

    • Gigi Report

      Omg. Don’t feel alone! I can totally relate. I am having very similar issues w my 10 yr old son. He doesn’t want to do anything except for what he wants to do and he fights to the death! I have tried so hard to involve him in different activities. He almost always ends up quitting before it’s done. Now he practically won’t try anything!
      Electronics rule. That is another thing, trying to come up w strategies for that….

      • VenusIsAMommy Report

        Kidsmom  removal of electronics as a discipline.  constant reminding that electronics are a privilege that can be removed if needed.  it is very effective

    • dbeaulieu Report


      It is true, some kids are
      naturally more compliant than others. When you have a strong willed or defiant
      child, you have to have a different skill set to parent them effectively. You
      are going to have to decide what battles are worth picking and what battles you
      have to let go of for the sake of maintaining your sanity. A couple of articles
       you might find helpful in deciding what battles to pick are and
      I hope this helps to answer your questions. Thank you for writing in.

  19. Susan Balogh Report

    The notion of letting children experience disappointment is, generally, very sound advice. However, as a 7th grade teacher with hindsight of a 25 year career with thousands of middle schoolers, and as a parent of two teens, I would add the following caveat: if your child is often experiencing social isolation, unkindness from his or her peer group, and a mediocre school experience, it may be time to seek talk therapy, a social skills group, and/or, a new after-school activity that lets your child shine in a totally new social arena. It’s like a jump-start for that child’s emotional battery. No child needs to be invited to every party, but life is very challenging for kids who are not popular, whose skills are weaker than their typically-developing peers, and for anxious or naturally introverted children. Every child needs a best friend and every child needs an activity (dance, swim team, Boy Scouts, a dog-walking job, anything they’re passionate about and successful at) in which she or he excels and feels at the top of the world. Otherwise, the emotional depletion endured on a daily basis often simply wears the kid out, even if that kid has well-meaning, involved parents and caring teachers. It’s like the old saying, nothing succeeds like success!

  20. Battered Brits Report

    As I read this article, I wondered about our own disappointment as grandparents, in not having a compliant grandson and the ways in which we have let our disappointment show. I think that I wasn’t supported in managing the hurt and upset in my own past, (all of which is inevitable in any child’s life )and so I continue to struggle with it in my own parenting style. Your articles have been incredibly supportive, constructive and compassionate to child and parent alike. I think if we can learn to manage our own disappointment, Laurence will be able to bear his hurt and vulnerability much better.

  21. blaht91 Report

    Thank you for saying this!  I am an older parent who believes you cannot protect your children from everything.  I have a 7 year old boy who is involved in dodge ball and basketball.  His weakness is dealing with his emotions/frustrations.  But learning to get through them is the key.  Many activities and schools are shielding from kids getting hurt emotionally and physically, and I STRUGGLE with that.  I talked with the facility that my son plays at and at first they were letting him get away with doing whatever he wants ( because he is the youngest with older kids) and not listening to directions.  And I told them NO dont do that!  You are letting him getaway with it..  You either play by the rules or sit out.  After that they wouldn’t take NO for an answer from my son and talked with him,  then he started listening and doing great.  Schools are different.  I know they have their hands tied with getting sued but I feel it is making it more difficult for teachers and their classrooms.   I know ignoring the negative and praising the positive does work in some situations.  But their comes a point where children have to learn there are consequences!

  22. Mnurse93 Report

    There is a lovely story that applies here. Once there was a butterfly emerging from it’s cacoon. A kind well meaning person saw the butterfly struggling to be free from the cacoon and thought they would help the butterfly by helping open the cacoon so the butterfly wouldn’t have to struggle. When the butterfly emerged it didn’t seem to act right. The person who had helped noticed the butterfly didn’t look quite right. 

    What this person didn’t know was that part of the reason the butterfly has to push it’s way out of the cacoon is also to push out fluid from the butterfly’s wings and help them dry and become light enough to fly. By helping the butterfly and remove what the person thought was a struggle, this person unfortunately caused the butterfly to be unable to fly and it died. 

    Sometimes what seems to be a struggle for someone is really God’s way of putting someone in a place and situation He wants them to experience because He is preparing them for a greater struggle to come. I love the story of the butterfly and I hope you all do too. I also like the quote “Letting go takes more strength than holding on.” (author unknown) As a parent, I have learned this to be very true!

  23. Dolores Hernandez Report

    Well its said that our lord answers our prays in many diffrent ways!, Thank you lord!, for sending Darlene to me with the answer to my questions.
    Yes Darlene, i have been going through some problems with my 16 year old daughter, an even though we as mothers/father try an do the best that we can, with what we have experienced, there will still be questions that we cannot answer……Thanks to our lord, iam so very greatful for mothers like yourself!, i can now contuine to go forward with the knowledge i have just been given, with confindence! Sincerely, Dolores



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