If you think about it, disappointment is just another transition for our kids to navigate. Unconsciously, they set expectations for themselves about what they think will happen – or what they want to happen – and when something changes that makes their expectation no longer reasonable, they are a bit freaked out or disappointed.
They are not really aware of why – they just know that they’re not happy.
It’s not that different, really, from when you ask them to stop playing a video game, or get ready to go to school. They’re in a groove; and then suddenly, there’s new information they have to deal with that is not what they want. It’s surprising, or otherwise anxiety-producing. And so they react.
So I want to encourage you to prepare for inevitable disappointments in much the same way you would a transition:
- Don’t make promises unless you know you can keep them – save the “p” word for when you’re absolutely certain you can follow through
- Set realistic expectations (“I hope that we can see your friend today, but we’ll have to see how things go.”)
- Offer warnings or notice in advance (“We’re running a little late today – it’s possible that that we may not be able to stop at the store like we’d hoped. Be prepared for some changes in schedule, okay buddy?”)
- Set up code words for incoming disappointments. (Elaine’s family uses “bubblegum” for “You might not like what I’m going to say.”)
When we wait to prepare our kids because we don’t want to deal with their disappointments, we may actually be contributing to meltdowns and upsets. Be proactive and help your kids prepare. After all, one of the greatest gifts you can teach them is to learn to handle life’s disappointments.