Life is full of disappointments whether it’s a trip to the beach that is ruined by rain or a trip to the ice cream store that yields no more chocolate chunk ice cream. Our first instinct as parents is to shield our children from life’s letdowns. However, in doing so, we are keeping our children from developing some important skills and coping mechanisms.
When a curveball comes your child’s way, rather than guard him from disappointment, you should be ready to lend support in the aftermath. I use this as an opportunity to teach my own children how to ask for help by communicating effectively and remaining optimistic.
Children are ticking time bombs. What would your child do if you ran out of her favorite juice? Would she burst into tears? Or worse yet, would she throw herself on the floor in a full-blown tantrum? One of these two scenarios is very likely as most children respond to dissatisfaction in these manners. I’ve seen it all too often with my preschooler. The tantrum comes first, and is quickly followed by a tendency to dwell on her disappointment.
To counteract her behavior, I’ve implemented some basic strategies.
· Teach the difference between what can and can’t be changed. Children do not understand that the problem is out of your control or that a tantrum won’t alter the outcome of a situation. If you are missing a planned beach day due to rain, explain to your child how you are not responsible for weather conditions. Although we cannot change the situation, we can validate our child’s stress by discussing solutions.
· Don’t punish for a negative reaction. Adults, like children, have negative reactions to discouragement and disappointment. Recall a situation in which you reacted to disappointment negatively and bear in mind that a child is likely to do the same. It’s natural behavior.
· When the unexpected occurs, give your child a choice. An opportunity to make a decision can be empowering for a child. When a child feels as if she has no control, giving her a little can easily turn a situation from bad to good. For example, when rain recently put a damper on a beach day that I had planned with my daughters, I allowed them to choose an alternate activity. They chose to have lunch at their favorite restaurant followed by a visit to our local library. They quickly forgot about the rain and the spoiled beach day.
· Empathize with your child. When my daughter’s play date was unexpectedly cancelled minutes before it was to take place, I shared one of my own similar disappointments when a friend cancelled lunch plans due to illness. By sharing my own example of disappointment, I illustrated to my daughter that it’s okay to feel bummed about unexpected situations.
Children are incredibly resilient. They will bounce back from disappointment rather quickly. The keys to dealing with disappointment are to let it run its course and to allow your child to learn and grow from it.