Not too long ago I got a phone call from another parent. You see, the fifth grade classes at school had been in a stiff competition to get first choice of t-shirt color for the big end of the school year bash.
You might think that my child lost the competition, but that wasn’t the issue. Actually, his class won. And that was the problem.
Every single kid in our 11 year old’s class wanted to choose pink as their t-shirt color. Every single kid except for our child, that is. He does not enjoy wearing pink, so when the class mom asked if anyone was unhappy with the choice of pink, he rose his hand.
The class mother was kind enough to call me to offer our child his own personal t-shirt of a different color so that he wouldn’t be uncomfortable wearing pink. And that’s when I told her that our family policy is we don’t save our kids from disappointment.
I realize that a t-shirt color is a small thing, and that’s precisely why this was a great chance for our son to practice dealing with disappointment. It’s so important for kids to learn at a young age what to do with that emotion.
What do I do when I am disappointed?
As a Mom, it is amazingly hard to watch our children feel those tough emotions. Sadness, fear, and yes, disappointment. But when we swoop in and save our kids from emotions, we rob their chance to learn in a safe environment.
You see, this kid is going to face a lot of disappointment in his life. It’s my job to make sure that he knows how to recognize the emotion for what it is, and also that he has some tools to help him manage it.
Some day a girl will break his heart.
And no, dealing with wearing a pink t-shirt isn’t going to make that pain hurt any less. It isn’t going to stop him from feeling emotions.
But after he gets past the initial pain of the experience, he will slowly recognize the feeling of disappointment. And hopefully he will recall some of the ways he managed his disappointment when he had to wear that t-shirt.
It seems like a small thing, but it matters.
Lessons in Disappointment and Grace
The t-shirt story wasn’t Aaron’s first experience with disappointment. Throughout our children’s lives, we have chosen to allow them to experience disappointment when we can.
That doesn’t mean we don’t offer them grace.
Sometimes a child drops his ice cream cone, and we buy them another one. Sometimes it rains out the biggest ball game of the year and we have a sleepover instead. Because it’s also important to show them how to extend grace to others.
Sometimes that ice cream cone is a chance to learn that you should have been more careful (since Mom told you three times to stop trying to climb the fence while you were holding it!). Now it’s gone and I’m sorry that it happened, but no more ice cream.
And sometimes weather pops up and messes up your plans that you were so excited about. We can’t control the weather, and it can be upsetting when things don’t go your way.
This is a chance to learn how to feel that disappointment, and how to handle it.
A little guidance
Some kids handle disappointment by withdrawing from the family for a short time. This is fine! After they have had some time, pop your head in and ask if they want to talk about it. (If they withdraw for longer periods of time, you might want to discuss that with a family doctor.)
Some kids handle disappointment in anger. They can’t handle when things don’t go their way. We tend to give this child a time out, which is less about sitting in a chair and more about having that time to work things out without involving others in a negative way. After some time they are ready to discuss it or hug it out.
Some kids need extra cuddling time while they deal with their disappointment. They get lots of hugs! But then we try to move them into an activity before it becomes a complete pity party. (Bake cookies, go play together, tickle them like crazy!)
So that’s how we handle disappointment in our home. It isn’t pretty, but hopefully it will serve them well throughout their lives.
P.S. We were super proud of our son for standing up and admitting that he disagreed with the rest of the class. The fact that he stands up for himself and doesn’t go along with the popular ideas in the crowd is another important life lesson. Hopefully he will apply that same attitude to the tougher situations to come.
How do you handle disappointment in your family?