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Managing Disappointment: When the Vote Doesn’t Go Our Way

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At-Home Learning is an early childhood education resource (for ages 2-8) providing families, educators and community partners with at-home learning activities, guides, and expert advice.

“Would you like cereal or eggs for breakfast?” I asked my kids one weekend morning. While one wanted eggs, my daughter shouted, “how about cookies!”  Rather than engaging in a power struggle with a 5-year-old, our family held a vote on healthy breakfast foods.

Like the characters from PBS KIDS’ “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood,” each family member decided to stop, think, and choose from a limited menu of two healthy options. Practicing our counting skills together, we tallied the results and announced the winning food.

Faced with the reality that the vote did not go her way, my preschooler was less than thrilled eating eggs for breakfast.

Upset looking little girl holds a teddy bear tightly and looks away at the camera as she sits on a couch.
Losing never gets easy, but grow-ups can help teach kids how to manage the feelings it brings.

Family votes are a way to develop civic decision-making skills for young children. Yet, as preschoolers are still learning to navigate their feelings, the voting process can also prompt big emotions ranging from disappointment to frustration. As was the case with my daughter, losing can be hard to process for young children.

Thankfully, with the guidance of a caring, trusted adult, children can practice empathy, understanding, and perspective when they lose.

Here are five considerations when helping your little one navigate the experience of losing:

  1. Respect the Results. Immediately after a vote, help your child practice civility as they respect the results of the poll.  Explain the voting process once again to reinforce the concept of a group decision.
  2. Practice Empathy. As PBS KIDS for Parents explains, kids are naturally compassionate. By the age of five, children can understand that their peers have different feelings and beliefs than their own. Point out the range of emotions others might feel after a vote, from disappointment and frustration to excitement and hope. Helping children find the right vocabulary to use can build stronger peer relationships. Model kindness and provide the meaning for the terms “congratulations” or “I understand your disappointment.”
    You might consider using “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” to spark a conversation about empathy. In the episode “The Neighborhood Votes,” Daniel and his friends are voting for new playground equipment, and he feels disappointed when the vote does not go his way.

    Cartoon of a smiling woman in front of a little boy and two childlike animals. One of the animals, a little tiger, looks angry.
    It's natural to feel disappointed and maybe angry when we lose a vote. Even Daniel Tiger gets upset when he loses! | PBS KIDS

  3. Be a role model. Children observe how adults react in challenging situations and often model our behavior. Allow yourself time to process the emotions that come along with difficult situations like losing. As seen in the PBS Parenting Minutes: “Expressing Emotions,” use this as a teaching moment to start a conversation on feelings. When we respond with politeness and respect, we help children model these appropriate reactions.
  4. Find the silver lining. While the vote did not go as they wished, we can guide children to new perspectives on the outcome. Are there aspects of the results that might be appealing? Use “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” as an example. While in one episode Daniel voted for a new slide, he realizes the swings are still fun, and he begins to feel less disappointed. Point out any silver lining and stay positive.
  5. Look to the future. Are there other available options or ways to compromise in the future? Perhaps you eat the runner-up dessert another night. Help your child realize that there will be other voting opportunities in the future.

The following weekend my family held another vote for family game night. This time, our preschooler’s selected choice did win the majority vote, and she was able to practice the civility, respect and empathy we modeled. Giving our children opportunities to practice these skills will help them grow into active and engaged community members.


PBS KIDS “Let’s Vote

“Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” “Stop, Think, and Choose

PBS Parenting Minutes: “Expressing Emotions” 

American Academy of Pediatrics. (2014) Bringing Out the Best In Your Children.

Ankowski, Amber, and Andy Ankowski. (2020) “How to Raise a Good Citizen” PBS KIDS for Parents.

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Stephanie Murray (Ed.D. candidate) is an education consultant, professor, mom of two lively girls and owner of Creativity in Learning Partners, an education firm with a mission of creating authentic learning experiences. She previously held positions at WNET, New York Public Media where she created award-winning curriculum for PBS KIDS properties, the Newark Museum of Art and was chair of the New York City Early Learning Network. She is a certified teacher and aims to bridge the gap between home and school learning for all children.

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