If you use snowplow parenting, chances are your kids don’t know how to handle disappointment. Here’s how to fix it.
The phone rang, and I glanced at the number.
It was from another mom in our town. Our kids went to school together…but I didn’t know her well.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I answered. And then I was surprised at what she said.
Turns out that 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 nope. Actually, his class won.
And that was the problem.
Every single kid in our 11 year old’s class chose pink as their t-shirt color. Every single kid except for our child, that is.
He’s not the kind of boy that’s going to wear pink, even ironically. So when the class mom asked if anyone was unhappy with the choice of pink, he raised 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.
I’m guessing that she’s dealt with a lot of snowplow parenting and that was the reason for her call.
What’s snowplow parenting?
You know those parents who clear the road for their kids, no matter the circumstances? They make sure their kids have no obstacles in their path.
Let’s say your child gets a bad grade. Snowplow parents call the teacher (or even the principal) to demand the grade gets changed.
They might call you to find out why their child wasn’t invited to your son’s birthday party. (And what can we do to get my kid included in the party?)
…they might demand that their child be excused from wearing a shirt color they don’t like.
Well, in our family, snowplow parenting isn’t really a thing. We don’t save our kids from disappointment.
That might sound harsh, but read on to find out why it’s more kind than it seems.
Why Snowplow Parenting Isn’t For Us
A t-shirt color is such a small thing. I probably sound like a real jerk of a Mom when it would be so easy to just let him wear a different shirt.
But this is actually the perfect time to step back and let them figure out how to handle the situation themselves.
How Do I Let Them Handle Disappointment?
Mama, I know how hard it is to watch our children deal with 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, your kid is going to face a lot of disappointment in his life.
Someday a girl will break his heart.
A good friend might betray his trust.
He may get laid off from a job or find out someone’s nasty lie has made important people think less of him.
And you’re right. Dealing with wearing a pink shirt when he’s in fifth grade isn’t going to make the pain of those things any less.
But it will help him deal with the emotions he’s going to be slapped in the face with.
Because part of his brain is going to remember the times he’s had to deal with disappointment before.
And that will give him the tools he needs to get through harder problems later.
It seems like a small thing, but it matters.
Lessons in Disappointment and Grace
If you cringe at the thought of watching your child be disappointed over and over, don’t worry. No one expects you to step back and watch them be hurt all the time.
In fact, it’s also important to teach them grace.
Sometimes she’ll drop her ice cream cone, and you’ll buy another one. Sometimes it rains out the biggest ball game of the year and you’ll have a sleepover instead.
Show them how to extend grace to others by being that resource for them.
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!).
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.
Give Them Guidance
If you’ve been a parent for longer than 10 minutes, you know how demanding the job is. It’s a constant balancing act.
I’m not telling you to make them wear the pink shirt and tell them to deal with it.
As a parent, it’s our job to guide them through new situations, right?
Some kids handle disappointment by withdrawing from the family for a short time. This is fine!
Not everyone is lovey dovey, and some of us need a little time to process what’s happening.
After they’ve had some quiet time, pop your head in and ask if they want to talk about it. (If they withdraw for longer periods of time, you’ll definitely want to discuss that with a family doctor.)
Some kids deal with disappointment in anger. They can’t handle when things don’t go their way.
If they react by screaming or throwing fits, a time out is in order. It’s less about sitting in a chair until a buzzer goes off, and more about giving them time to work things out without involving others in a negative way.
Basically, you’re giving them time to cool off.
After some time they are usually ready to talk or hug it out.
Some kids need extra cuddling time while they deal with their disappointment.
Give lots of hugs!
But move them into an activity before it becomes a complete pity party. (Bake cookies, go play together, tickle them like crazy!)
That’s how you quit that life as a snowplow parent.
It isn’t pretty, but we hope 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. We hope he will apply that same attitude to the tougher situations to come.
Next up, are you fighting the sense of entitlement?
How do you handle disappointment in your family?