All This Disappointment, But Our Kids Have Handled It — Here’s How
By Paula Schuck
PHOTO © 5m3photos/Twenty20
May 21, 2020
The day I've chosen to write this happens to be the day my oldest daughter and I were supposed to fly to Greece.
Our mother-daughter trip was part work and part celebration of her high school graduation and acceptance to university. But the pandemic put an end to our travel plans — postponed indefinitely as travel and everything else stopped.
"But I figured that for nine days in Greece, time would stand still with my 18-year-old daughter."
Our adventure together was planned meticulously to take advantage of a sweet spot before final exams in her last year of high school. She’d booked time off her part-time job teaching martial arts and had started buying a few things for the beach in Thessaloniki.
We talked about it for months. By September, she’d be in university moving ever closer to becoming her adult self. But I figured that for nine days in Greece, time would stand still with my 18-year-old daughter.
I was sad and disappointed myself when I realized we wouldn’t be going on this epic adventure together. But it’s normal to feel disappointment, especially right now during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many families in Canada have gone through rapid-fire change and anxiety. Here in my home we’ve all gone through a range of emotions from anger, sadness, irritation, frustration and despair as school and sports and work ground to a halt — replaced with physical distancing.
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I figured that the disappointment of cancelling a dream trip together, layered on top of anxiety and all the other emotions, would lead to a huge mess of emotional outbursts here. Actually, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Truthfully, my daughter’s reaction surprised me. In fact, she handled the disappointment pretty well. “I am super disappointed,” we both told each other. “But this is a delay, not the end of a dream trip. Health and safety are most important right now.”
So What's Changed?
Not so long ago, disappointment, imperfection or change could flatten either of my girls. When one was small, every day with her was the best, or the worst, day ever. I’ll never forget one Halloween night when, dressed as a princess in a long pink gown at roughly seven years old, she tripped and got a dime-sized spot of mud on her dress. She collapsed in tears, despite the fact that her tiny Halloween bag was full to the brim and it had been a fun, memorable day to that point. “Everything is ruined,” she declared.
"Not so long ago, disappointment, imperfection or change could flatten either of my girls."
Same reaction came every time she lost at a family board game. Her sister also coped poorly when faced with disappointment and at least one of my nephews seemed to follow the same pattern.
But she was not despondent in this moment. She didn’t freak out or collapse in tears, and has been doing pretty well at expressing how she’s feeling throughout the last few weeks.
So, how did we get to a place where disappointment is manageable and no longer a huge drama? We practiced losing as much as winning, and we managed emotions along the way.
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5 Ways To Help Your Kids Deal With Disappointment
Here are a few things that have always helped us cope with disappointment. These days, in the midst of a life changing pandemic, I am grateful we spent years working on this one.
- Celebrate the losses as much as the wins. No trophies from the martial arts tournament? I am a huge fan of showing up and giving it your best. Nobody wins all the time. No trophies, no problem.
- Show them how to manage disappointment. I have worked as a freelance journalist for over 20 years. I pitch stories often and sometimes a pitch lands its mark. I celebrate those times that a pitch works, and I let them know I am happy, and I also talk about the ones that got away, showing them sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. When they are disappointed, I remind them not everything I write is published and not every project you do will succeed.
- Try something new together. Maybe we master a new skill and maybe we don’t. The important thing is I’ve shown them they tried and that it’s OK to fail.
- Manage expectations. You know those Christmas lists where they ask for a list of 10 of the latest and greatest? It’s OK to leave some things off the list of things they want. They will eventually bring up one of the items I didn’t get, and that’s an opportunity to talk about any feelings they may have. I can’t prevent their feelings or helicopter through their lives fixing everything.
- Give them chances to fail, occasionally, in a safe space. I let my kids try sports that they aren’t naturally gifted at. Soccer was a total fail for both of my girls, but they tried. And they enjoyed the social part of the sport when they were small.
Both of my teens have had moments during the pandemic. I have heard plenty of: “I’m sad and I miss my friends. COVID stinks and it feels like we are being punished!” But mostly we keep talking, experiencing all the emotions and moving through them.
These days, as we make note of a few more milestone moments passing by, we will acknowledge them, give disappointment its time and space and recognize that we need to show ourselves some kindness, too. They're not easy days, but children who learn how to grow from disappointment are also ones who dare to dream, try, expect and hope.
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