The summer is an easy-going slice of life with less pressure and fewer responsibilities--it is simple to have a sunny outlook. However, even during the summer, many kids become frustrated and angry when things don’t go exactly as hoped-a rainy day causes an outdoor activity to be canceled, or a friend’s decision to attend sleep-away camp thwarts carefully crafted plans to spend the summer together. “The summer is ruined”, a child will lament, as she struggles to cope with the disappointment of that moment. Then, as summer wears on, these feelings may become amplified as she worries about whether she will get the teacher she wants, or discover that all her friends are ‘in the other class.’ “I will have the worst year ever if...,” she proclaims, unable to see beyond the perceived crisis.
Even with our many years of life experience, parents often are sucked into the vortex of our child’s unhappiness or worry. We feel his pain and we want to protect him from disappointment or hurt, so we scramble to plan an even better rainy-day activity, or reassure him that we will do everything possible to make sure that he doesn’t get a teacher he doesn’t want, or a class devoid of friends. But, is this really the best response?
The answer, almost always, is ‘no’ because protecting your child from disappointment and minor hardships will prevent her from developing into a resilient and flexible adult. Each time we ‘rescue’ a child from feelings of disappointment, we interfere with her emotional growth. It might be hard to see right now, but within a child able to cope with emotional challenges are the seeds of an adult able to cope with life’s much greater and unavoidabledisappointments and losses.
Instead of trying to stem disappointment, it is far more instructive to teach your child that an external event does not have the capability of ruining his summer or his year. Rather, it is his response to the situation that counts. For example, you can explain that while he does not have control over the weather and its impact on an outdoor activity, he does have control over his response to the situation. Ask your child to suggest alternative plans and then encourage him to forget about what ‘could have been’ and focus his attention on making this a great day-regardless of the weather. As for the fear of having a bad teacher or a disappointing class-your child needs help to see that he will be able to get the most out of the class to which he is assigned, make new friends and enjoy whatever his teacher has to offer.
Every year I have students tell me they got the ‘worst’ teacher, only to find that by the end of the first semester they find this to be the ‘best’ teacher they have ever had. This isn’t usually because the teacher has drastically changed, but because the student’s (and parent’s) outlook is positive towards the teacher.
This philosophy can and should be applied to every disappointing situation. It is impossible to avoid the curve balls that life so often throws at us, so the sooner we learn to adapt, and make the best of it, the happier we will be. As a parent, it is your responsibility to give your child as much practice as possible perfecting this skill before she is too old to benefit from the lesson.
Dr. Susan Bartell is a nationally recognized child and parenting psychologist and author. You can learn more about her at www.drsusanbartell.com
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