Our parental instinct is to shield our kids from hardships we have experienced. It pains us to think of our kids going through any suffering, and we hate letting them down. But sometimes our overprotectiveness prevents us from preparing our kids to tackle the real world. We’ve talked about it some times on SmartParenting.com.ph: Learning to deal with disappointment is a life skill our kids will need, and they can only learn it from us.
Moms Christine Koh and Asha Dornfest, authors of Minimalist Parenting, a “practical guidebook for modern parents looking for an alternative to overparenting,” recently talked about handling disappointment in their podcast, “Edit Your Life.” They shared honest insights how disappointment is a good thing for both kids and their parents to work through. “Letting kids experience difficulty is part of parcel of helping them grow and learning what real life is all about,” says Asha. “Despite doing everything right, sometimes even the best-laid plans still fall through.”
We know children who experience disappointment grow stronger and gain self-confidence. The reality is it’s hard to watch them struggle as they experience it. “It’s very difficult to resist smoothing the road in front of them and trying to make it easier,” shares Asha.
It's hard to identify what’s a reasonable struggle (when you can let your kid handle it) or a need for help (when you really have to step in). To help fellow parents navigate these tricky situations, the two moms offer practical advice:
1. Reframe disappointments. Inconveniences and annoyances are part of our daily lives. When kids know that these things happen and everyone is experiencing them, it makes it easier to take the setbacks and then move on. “Disappointment lends balance to good times -- they make good times easier for kids to appreciate,” says Asha.
2. Do not feed the drama. There is a fine line between knowing when to step away and not talk about the frustration and addressing the elephant in the room. When it comes to dealing with kids, it’s sometimes better to take a step back and refuse to give in to their tantrums when something goes wrong.
3. Let empathy help you. Asha shared a story when her son, Sam, experienced failure over losing a summer job. She said that she was “overly chipper” about the whole situation, choosing to look at the bright side and encouraging him to do the same. She also offered Sam a shoulder to cry on. “His frustration and disappointment needed needed acknowledgment. What really helped was to sit with him, nod my head and say, ‘Yeah, that’s hard. That sucks.’” For younger kids, it helps to talk about their feelings because they need to know they can go to their parents and be soothed in times of emotional distress.
4. Share your own experiences. Let your children learn from what you went through. Did it lead to something better? Was it something that you just needed to ride out and then let go? “This is crucial for both sides because it’s helpful for kids to know that you’ve been there and it also serves as a good reminder for parents that if they could get over their disappointments, then their kids will be just fine, too,” says Christine.
5. Pause -- then brainstorm alternatives and solutions so your kid can lead. We’re older, wiser, and we feel that it is our responsibility to solve our children’s problems. But we also have to acknowledge that our kids may find solutions on their own. In fact, when you allow them to work through disappointments, they’ll realize there are no dead ends -- they might not have a solution now, but it doesn’t mean they won’t ever find it.
6. Believe your kids can handle the setback. Don’t let it hinder you from making them experience things on their own. “Our kids can take it,” Christine reassures. But also remember that different people have varying levels of “tolerance.” So it’s up to us parents to provide a supportive environment that can teach them how to rise above problems.
7. Sometimes kids just need something to distract them and move them toward something happy. Ultimately, it’s up to our kids to decide whether they will dwell on the problem or move past it. “You experience disappointment, but then you mindfully say, ‘Okay. I’m going to switch gears into something that makes me happy,” Asha shares. And our role is to nudge them in the right direction. “Empowering kids to make that choice is an incredible skill,” Christine says.
Learning how to handle disappointments does not happen overnight. Children will go through it over and over again in their lifetime, so while they are still young, it’s up to the parents to provide a solid support system while they figure out how to cope. Start by practicing how to acknowledge your kids’ feelings and try to echo that feeling with sympathy. A little goes a long way!