Our lives have literally been put. on. hold.
That means disappointment is all around - we are all wanting things we simply just can’t have right now.
~ Grandparents have to wait to meet new grandchildren
~ Weddings have been postponed
~ Healthcare workers want to feel safe
And our kids… SO much disappointment for them and it can be so hard for them to understand. They are missing birthday parties, visits with parents who are separated, and graduations too! For parents, that probably means having to listen to a lot more crying, whining, and complaining than usual and that’s hard. It’s especially hard, I think, because our stress levels are already high and our own frustration and fear responses can be triggered by the sounds of crying and whining. This is very true for those of us with our own un-shed tears from childhood.
In this post, I am going to give you a simple 3 step strategy for helping your kids move from feeling disappointment to feeling like a confident problem-solver. These are important skills you can pass on to your child now that will stick with them for LIFE. They are important because whether it’s losing a game or losing a loved one, disappointment is a very real and very regular part of life. If our kids have the ability to handle disappointment they will exchange feelings of being stuck and helpless, for feelings of confidence and empowerment. So good!
Before I give you that strategy, though, I want to make sure you know something very, very important:
It is OK for your kids to experience disappointment. It is OK for them to want something they cannot have.
I need you to know this because in our society typically what we do to “help” others who are feeling disappointed is to downplay the situation or even try and convince them to change their mind about what they WANT.
The trouble with that is that then their WANTS and emotions become the problem – when the REAL problem is an unmet need. They get stuck, helpless in the way they feel, while the actual problem of that unmet need, remains unsolved.
Let’s instead send the message that the feelings are legit (because they are), and that the need CAN get met, somehow!
Here’s the 3-step strategy:
1) Use the first tool of Language of Listening® called SAY WHAT YOU SEE® to validate the disappointment. (To use this tool you reflect back to the child exactly what you see them doing, saying, thinking, or feeling with no judgments or opinions added. Make it all about them by always starting with the word YOU!)
2) Allow what you say to transition into noting what the child WANTS, even and especially if it’s something the child can’t have.
3) Use the 3rd tool of Language of Listening® called CAN DOs to turn the problem-solving over to the child and coach them through meeting the NEED.
Here’s an example… Let’s say your son comes home from school, upset, because he didn’t get invited to Bobby’s birthday party. The best thing to do is to ditch the typical parental attempt at making him feel better which probably sounds like this:
“You just went to Jonathan’s party last weekend and you don’t really even like Bobby. Don’t cry about something so silly it’s not that big of a deal.”
What I’m suggesting you do is a complete 180 --> Here’s what you can say instead:
“Oh no!! Bobby didn’t invite you to his birthday party and you are really upset! Even the tears are coming THAT’s how important this is to you!”
Then move into the WANTS:
“You really wanted to be invited. You don’t want to miss out on seeing your friends this weekend. You want to be included.”
And finally CAN DOs:
“You want to feel included. Must be something you CAN DO to make that happen!”
Now that your son knows that he can trust his feelings of disappointment, and that his WANTS are important too he will be free to problem solve. It may have looked like an overreaction to you, but it was merely an escalation of expressing what he wants. He was likely believing his WANTS were out of reach, not important enough, and that has the potential to make anyone sink into feelings of helplessness.
Don’t be surprised if something like this pops out of his mouth:
“Well, the party is on Saturday. Would it be ok if I have the guys over on Sunday to hang out??”
And also don’t be surprised if there is less whining in your house once you've started using this strategy. Next time he doesn’t get invited to a party the whining and complaining will likely not even show up! Instead you’ve now got a son who trusts in his ability to handle disappointment and who has experienced handling it. That means you might not even hear about the party at all – just get a calm request to have friends over.
Now, that was clearly NOT a corona virus example, but I’ve got a couple to share with you.
Here is some advice I passed on to a couple of families dealing with disappointment right now:
The first was a mom who wasn’t sure what to do about her son’s disappointment. You see, the week was almost over, and he was set to go to his dad’s as per usual for the next week. The problem was that the dad was still working with the public and he and the mom both agreed it would be safest for the son to just stay with his mom for the time being. The young fellow was quite upset and the mom wondered if she should just let him go. Here is the handling disappointment strategy for her situation:
SAY WHAT YOU SEE®: “You are going to miss seeing your dad SO MUCH!! You are so mad about this you just want to throw something!”
WANTS: “You really WANT to go to your dad’s! Of course you do!”
CAN DOs: “Hmmm, you are really going to miss out on the fun you have with your dad. Must be something you can do to still have fun this week/stay connected to him.”
Possible solutions: Mom does a fun activity with him similar to the types of things he gets to do with dad, he gets to eat food he usually only gets to eat at his dad’s house, daily video calls with dad.
The second situation was a mom who was trying to help her daughter through the heavy disappointment of missing graduation and prom, and not knowing what would happen with her plans for college in the Fall. Remember, with SAY WHAT YOU SEE® you reflect back ALL the feelings even if they seem extreme. It is so important to validate all of it!
SAY WHAT YOU SEE®: “This is incredibly disappointing!! You’ve been waiting for this for YEARS! You can’t believe this is happening right now. It feels like one of the worst things that could ever happen!”
WANTS: “You just want this whole thing to go away! You don’t want this or anything to set you back – you are SO READY to go to college in the Fall!”
CAN DOs: “Must be something you can do to keep up with your schoolwork/celebrate with your friends.”
Possible solutions: online courses, contacting colleges to see what can be done, renting a space after all this is over for a prom-like celebration with friends.
Our children are not stuck. They are not helpless. And neither are we. Coaching your kids through disappointment this way teaches them they can trust their feelings and they can work to get what they want and need - even when it is difficult. We are not rolling over and giving up here!
If YOU are struggling under the weight of disappointment use these tools with yourself! Speak them out loud or journal with them, and find your motivation to acknowledge disappointment, keep going, and get those needs met and those problems solved!
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