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Most recent posting below. See other articles in the column to the right.

Disappointment by Mr. Richard Johnson, Headmaster, Chapin School

Years ago in my prior school, I knew a senior who seemed to have it all. She was attractive, engaging and funny. Her entire high school academic record was blemished only by a single A-, all the rest were A’s. She was also a gifted musician and a good athlete. 

To no one’s surprise, she received acceptances from some of the country’s finest colleges and universities. She headed off to college with high hopes and great promise. Four months later she dropped out of college, discouraged and depressed. Although I suspect that many factors led to her early and precipitous melt-down, the most significant was the difficulty she had in facing failure and disappointment. Buoyed by untarnished success in high school, she simply was not mentally prepared to deal with the academic rigors of a first-rate college that did not allow her to get straight A’s. She had not learned how to handle the inevitable disappointments and vicissitudes of life. 

Sometimes, because we love our children dearly, we want to do all that we can to shield them from upsetting or disappointing experiences. The problem is, in our understandable desire to protect our children from disappointment and failure, we end up handicapping them in the future. So, it is not a crisis that we need to fix if our child does poorly on a test, or even fails it, nor is it a catastrophe if our child doesn’t get along with a teacher. It is not a crisis if our child doesn’t get the deeply desired lead role in the play or a starting position on the athletic team. Yes, these are disappointments, and we all hate to see our children disappointed, but they are also valuable learning experiences. As F. Washington Jarvis suggests in his wonderful book With Love and Prayers, “it may well be that the most valuable experiences we have in adolescence are not our triumphs or our successes or our popularity, but rather our disappointments and rejections. We grow more through our suffering than through our successes.”

Although it is very difficult to see our children disappointed and upset, our role as parents is to lovingly support them as they learn how to deal with life’s inevitable disappointing moments. In learning how to face them and to deal with them, our children gain the strength and confidence to successfully meet the challenges of life.

 

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