Why Disappointment is a Good Experience For Kids

Why Disappointment is a Good Experience For Kids

As a children’s theatre director of 22 years, I have seen my fair share of disappointments. But as I always tell my students: “You will not be defined by the disappointments you experience, but rather, by how you handle them.”

Theatre is an excellent tool for teaching children how to manage disappointment.

If, for example, your child is not cast in the role he or she desired, it does not mean that your child is untalented, undeserving, or disliked. It simply means that someone else was a better fit for that particular role, this time around. Imagine if your child were running in a race; imagine that they trained very very hard, but still did not come in first place. This does not mean that your child is not a fast runner or a talented athlete. It does not mean that they are not well-trained. It does not mean that they are not a hard-worker. And it certainly does not mean that their coach does not like them. It simply means that someone else beat them to the finish line, this time, and maybe at the next race, the outcome will be different. It is not a reason to quit; it’s a reason to keep training and be that much more ready for the next race. Accepting the role that your child did earn and coming to rehearsal every day and learning as much as they possibly can from this experience is part of your child’s training. Children do not become better performers by dropping out of shows. They become better by seizing every opportunity. When this sentiment is taught and expected, your child’s disappointments will ultimately become the moments when their character is developed for the better.

One of the great things about theatre-related disappointments is that they are almost always temporary. It is easy to get disappointed when looking at a cast list, because it is all very abstract at that point. Children who are looking at a list of roles are not thinking about all of the other kinesthetic elements of putting a production together. They aren’t thinking about two months of music rehearsals and voice lessons and choreography. They are not thinking about singing and dancing in the front row with the lights shining on their beautiful faces. (This is why line-counting is a terrible idea; it’s abstract and provides a completely inaccurate picture of what the experience of being in a show is really about!) Students learn this through the rehearsal process, and as they learn more and more each week, their disappointment quickly starts to fade. Many times in the past, I have heard from parents who were upset because they felt that their child did not have enough lines, and then I heard from those same parents again a month later, saying their child felt overwhelmed because there was just so much to learn. These transformations are crucial to a child’s development, because they prove to the child that they can and will overcome disappointment on their own.

Of course, no parent likes to see their child hurt or sad, but as a teacher of 22 years, I can assure you that allowing children to feel disappointment is an important part of their growth and development. I have had former students go on to careers on Broadway, television, and in major motion pictures. I have had students go on to Yale, Harvard, Brown, and more. I have had former students enter career paths as doctors, lawyers, chefs, musicians, and just about every other amazing thing you can think of! And I assure you, the most successful and amazing kids I’ve ever taught who grew up to be the most successful and amazing adults are the ones whose parents allowed their kids to navigate their own challenges.

Don’t be a snow plow parent! A snow plow parent is the parent who races into everything ahead of their child, pushing every single obstacle out of their child’s way so that they never ever have to face any type of hardship.

Allowing children to struggle is crucial to their development. They will not always get what they want in life, whether that be a role in a play, a seat at their top choice college, or a job or a promotion in their future career path. Believe it or not, allowing your child to deal with casting disappointments is a good experience. Trust me – when your child takes that bow and hears that ovation on opening night, all of their casting disappointments will seem like a far distant memory. They will look back on the day they felt sad because they didn’t get the lead, or the day they got frustrated because the choreography seemed too hard, or the day when they thought they would never be able to memorize all this stuff, and they will know in their hearts that they got through these challenges on their own, and that will make their triumphs all the sweeter. That is part of the magic of theatre, and it is a truly affirming and life changing experience.