As a parent you never want to see your child experience pain. Pain can occur both physically and emotionally—both are equally challenging. One of the most difficult experiences for a child is disappointment. Children can be very enthusiastic, looking forward to events, activities or achievements. When their hopes and wishes are unfulfilled, they can experience equally strong feelings of disappointment.
Is it possible to turn disappointment into a springboard for growth?
1. Acknowledge your child’s feelings.
Perhaps your son or daughter wasn’t cast as a principal in the school play or didn’t achieve the academic grade they wanted. Maybe he or she wasn’t invited to a party or the disappointment was about something very serious. The first and most important parental response is to listen and acknowledge:
Yes, you are disappointed. It’s okay to feel that, and okay to show it.
Yes, disappointment hurts. It’s a loss.
Tell me about it, as much or as little as you like.
2. Validate your child as a person
Disappointment is an emotional crisis for children. As they struggle with a setback or defeat, children look to their parents for validation.
Am I still okay?
Are my feelings acceptable to you?
Is there something wrong with me?
Disappointment is painful, but it is nothing to be ashamed of. It doesn’t make anyone a lesser person. Not getting something you want does not make you a ‘loser’. It’s very important to make that clear, both in words and actions, because very negative judgments are around everywhere. The reality of the society we live in is that there is constant grading and ranking in schools and in sports. The message that we always have to compete and ‘strive’, create the idea that you must be a ‘winner’, a ‘number one’ in order to be accepted. That is completely impossible in life, and your child has just experienced that. Nasty schoolyard comments can reinforce the feeling of being a ‘loser’. Keep an eye on public disappointments so that they don’t lead to bullying.
3. Walk your talk
Children learn a lot more through observation than by what you tell them. Show your kids how you deal with disappointment. Let them know how you cope. Then they will feel encouraged and hopefully try to imitate you.
4. Wishing versus having
Not all disappointments are forever. Maybe you were not able to take that trip right now, but you will next month. Talk to your kids. Discuss how to tolerate short-term disappointment and transfer their hopes into the future. Try to find out together how realistic that wish is. This is a particularly good learning opportunity if the disappointment is about not getting a desired object, a trip to Disneyland, etc…
Negotiating our hopes and dreams on the one hand and what life can deliver at any given point on the other is a very valuable lifelong skill. Now is the chance to teach it and help your child learn it.
5. Self-soothing skills for kids
Even babies practice some self-soothing skills early on such as rocking themselves, sucking on pacifiers, and cuddling up to their parents. Observe your children and note what self-soothing skills have worked for them. Suggest they try it when they are disappointed. Coming up with a list of coping skills that they find to be helpful or would be willing to try is another way to have them manage with disappointment.
6. Solutions (but no disapproval)
Some disappointments can only be accepted and worked through in time, but others can be revisited and their effects transformed. Try a brainstorming session to determine solutions to the problem with your child to see what you both can come up with. Be aware that it is really important not to give your child the impression that you blame them for the disappointment because they didn’t find a solution in the first place. Children can tell!
7. Unconditional love
When your child is disappointed, particularly when the disappointment is connected to achievements, you have a wonderful chance to show them that you love them as they are. Reinforce that they don’t have to fulfill any conditions to get or keep your love.
To find out more about Liz Morrison visit www.LizMorrisonTherapy.com
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