Handling disappointment can be one of the most difficult lessons we learn as children. As infants we need to use crying and cooing to gain the attention and have our needs met, and in early childhood, we develop broader interests and if the knowing adult has insight, we may have our needs met through distraction, expected response, or starting to meet our own needs. Our developing Executive Functioning ultimately enables us to plan and organise our thinking, be flexible when things don’t go as expected, and manage our emotions. The more we grow and experience, the more we also develop our ability to put ourselves into someone else’s shoes – our Theory of Mind.
Disappointment will manifest when our pre-determined outcomes aren’t matched with actual outcomes. My daughter learnt to say “Please” at her Granny Sheila’s house when rewarded with a sweet. Every time she said “Please” for a short time thereafter, she expected a sweet, and was disappointed into tears and foot stomping when she didn’t receive the anticipated outcome. Luckily at that age, we were able to distract with the joy of cuddles, laughs, and wonderful feedback from “please”, so the word took shape and stuck. However, as the child develops her own mind, she may try all the pre-learned concepts, and may not be happy with the outcome or distraction. Here is an example:
Child: “Today I want to go to the park with my friend, please”.
Adult: “Such a lovely idea, however I’m unable to drive you in, and I need to do a bit around the house. I’ll play with you when I finish?”
Child: "a) You’re NOT my friend, b)I asked NICELY and c)You’re not REALLY going to play with me anyway, I’ve seen your ‘bit around the house’ – it lasts ALL DAY!"
Instead of explaining these feelings in response, it is likely that sulking, crying, running away (hopefully just out of the room) and most often the silent treatment may ensue. Well. It does in our house! Full meltdowns can also happen and if not recognised as a result of disappointment can be confusing and hurtful.
Children quote “You get what you get and you don’t get upset” but the emotional literacy component is lost and the child may stop opening up to you, or even trying to communicate. Determining how heavy the emotional back-pack has become may assist in how and when you deliver your responses to reduce disappointment.
Starting some responses with an acknowledgement of what was asked, then demonstrating a considered positive outcome that meets the needs, at an actionable time and in a way that suits, may help. If followed up throughout the day and honoured when appropriate, you have developed trust and affirmed the child’s idea. This may require timers, visual reminders, and routine boards, to reduce disappointment and show it WILL happen, and WHEN.
Verbally when trying it out:
Adult: “That idea is a really great one. It would be so great to have some time with your friend. Let’s have a look in the diary for a good day and time. I’m going to be in the house today, but let’s make this work and find a good day for a meet up. Let’s circle it on the calendar”.
This is a simple and simplistic outlook, and I have also put it to my children to come up with some ideas of their own for handling disappointment. I let them know how it can be really upsetting when things don’t go as expected, but we should also do a bit of a grateful analysis and fit that into our ‘handling disappointment’ pack.
For this week, try out the positive acknowledgements, affirming ideas, being honest and trustworthy in your responses. Demonstrate planning and use that calendar for visual reminders. I need this more than anyone in my home! I look forward to hearing how you get on! Sara Stockman @URPositivelyGrowing www.positivelygrowing.com.au