Whether it's a trip to the playground that gets ruined by rain or there are no more chocolate sprinkles at the ice cream shop, life is full of little and big disappointments. And as much as we'd like to spare our kids from letdowns, we can't -- and that's a good thing. "When children learn at an early age that they have the tools to get over a disappointing situation, they'll be able to rely on that throughout childhood and even as adults," says Robert Brooks, PhD, coauthor of Raising Resilient Children. "If you bend over backwards to shield them from disappointment, you're keeping them from developing some important skills."
That's not to say you shouldn't lend a hand. "If you help a child learn to ask for realistic support, lean on others, communicate well, and stay optimistic, you're assisting that child to handle what life throws at him," says Dr. Brooks. The most effective approach: Tailor your tactics to how your child currently reacts when a curveball comes his way.
Would your child burst into tears if you ran out of his favorite brand of apple juice? Or throw himself on the floor if another kid were playing with his favorite Thomas train? If the tiniest disruptions spell big-time trouble or if your child dwells on a disappointment for hours, then you have to begin with the basics.
Your child still gets upset easily, but it doesn't progress to a full-blown tantrum. In other words: She's halfway there. To continue to foster resilience, take these steps.
Maybe your kid takes most setbacks in stride and seems to realize that when disappointment strikes it's not necessarily someone's fault. So if he isn't tall enough to ride the cool-looking roller coaster, he immediately asks to go on a different ride. While experts agree that your little one might have been born with a better ability to function well in the face of adversity, they also say it's likely you've had something to do with it. Give yourself a pat on the back, then help him boost bounce-back skills even more.
You mean well, sure. But when your child cries, throws a tantrum, or talks back, it's easy to say the wrong thing. Richard Lerner, PhD, director of Tufts University's Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development, tells you how to get your foot out of your mouth.
A better response: "It's okay to feel disappointed. I'd be really upset in this situation too."Why? Relating to your child lets him know it's normal to feel upset, which will make letdowns feel less scary over time.
A better response: "Do you have any ideas for what we can do instead?"Why? Asking the right questions to help a child come up with her own solution not only helps her feel better in the moment but also shows her that she can find ways -- on her own -- to make a bad situation better.
A better response: "I know this is hard for you."Why? Odds are the disappointment is a big deal to your child, and dismissing it as unimportant conveys that you don't know what really matters to him.
Copyright © 2008. Used with permission from the March 2008 issue of Parents magazine.