“I know you wanted to do ________, but we can’t right now.” Sound familiar? I’m sure you’ve said it to your kids many, many times since March. If you’re anything like me, you’ve said it to yourself many times as well. My latest submersion in the pool of disappointment was Saturday. After coming in contact with someone that tested positive for COVID-19, my family went from limiting people interaction, to eliminating the interactions.
Celebrating a holiday in a more subdued manner is so sad. I love to celebrate and have a reason to do fun things that make a day special and different than an ordinary day. I decided, even if the day couldn’t be the hanging out at the pool and jumping into a large crowd to watch fireworks, at least I would treat myself to a milkshake. Of course, the shake machine was down at Sonic! I mean, come on! Disappointment radiated through my fourth of July.
As this pandemic continues, everyone is a little too acquainted with disappointment. How do we cope with this disappointment, and how do we help our kids navigate this emotion? It is especially difficult when you are disappointed for them. Your child was supposed to graduate, visit a theme park for the first time, have a birthday party, see the beach, or merely finish out the school year with their friends. Our hearts hurt when our children do not get to have the childhood we dream for them. Our hearts hurt even more when they express disappointment and we cannot change the circumstances. Here are a few points to consider:
RECOGNIZE DISAPPOINTMENT AS A PRIMARY EMOTION
When people, especially kids, experience disappointment, they often express it through anger. After all, it is more socially acceptable, and seen less as weakness, to explode in anger rather than dissolve into tears. When a child isn’t able to do something they prefer and they throw a tantrum, recognize the primary emotion.
Call attention to their feeling of disappointment, validate their sadness and their original desire. Recognize their anger as a protective reaction to a hope that went unfulfilled. We can all relate. Even small disappointments seem monumental to a child, even a teenager.
Those without their frontal lobe fully developed (anyone under 25) have some trouble regulating their impulses. They forget to utilize coping skills, and often do not want to regulate their emotions. When a feeling is validated and empathized with, the intensity often dissipates. Sometimes it is tempting to belittle the experience, or tell a child that they are over reacting. This moves us to the next point:
VALIDATE, VALIDATE, VALIDATE
Just because you cannot understand the intensity does not mean it is an overreaction. They may not respond in a respectful manner, and that can be given consequences. However, the intensity they feel is partially due to age. Disappointment is new to them. In some ways, that is a positive reality. Some young people become desensitized to disappointment because it is their constant reality.
Being able to experience disappointment, means you allowed yourself to dream. Recognize the hopes, expectations and dreams that must have been held before the disappointment. Validate the emotion, discuss what was expected or hoped for and give them room to feel. This is a great way to model empathy. The same needs to be done for you as well. Acknowledge and feel your disappointment. Validate your own emotions and seek out those empathetic friends that will validate them as well.
Crying over disappointment can seem immature or being “overly sensitive.” But experiencing that depth of emotion can merely mean that you give yourself freedom to hope and plan and dream – something that adults often do not allow themselves to do. Teach your kids that having that freedom to experience disappointment is okay and actually a mark of healthy emotional expression.
MODEL AND TEACH HEALTHY COPING
When you give yourself permission to experience disappointment, you give your children an example of healthy emotional regulation. But you also give them a front row seat to witness healthy coping. If you had great hopes for a birthday and it does not happen, it is okay to express the disappointment. This may include a few tears, or just a glum expression. When they ask for an explanation, tell them how you feel. However, it is key not to stay there.
Feeling emotions are crucial for a healthy emotional life, but so is coping. We would not allow a teenager to mope for an entire weekend over a cancelled date, so neither can we. Express the emotion, process the emotion and cope with the emotion. This can be putting on some music, choosing a different task or merely engaging in some physical activity.
Some people cope best by processing the emotion with a safe person and as a result they are able to continue on with their day. Others people struggle to move past the emotion. That is where the distraction technique we utilize with toddlers can come into play. Distract yourself with something this is possible and will make your heart a little lighter. You favorite song, facetiming with a friend, listening to a comedian, watching a good movie, going on a walk, creating something or taking a bubble bath. Find something that helps you cope, allow your child to recognize that you are engaging in these coping activities. Work with them to find a few methods that help them as well. Having a list of helpful coping skills on the refrigerator might be very helpful during this time that is filled with more than normal disappointments.
This feeling of loss, of sadness, of missing something, is uncomfortable. However, if we suppress it and ignore it, it will come out in a maladaptive manner. More importantly is that we can teach our children to handle it the same way. Refusing to acknowledge disappointment may result in no more dreaming, only expressing anger or a temptation to belittle others that express disappointment themselves.
Remember, feelings aren’t wrong, they are valid. Feel them, express them, but also be intentional about coping with them as well. You can do this!
Moving through disappointment to the other side,
Someone please find me a milkshake!
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