by Elaine Stone
Happens every year around this time children attend assemblies, ceremonies, banquets, etc., to watch “winners” be awarded. Many children will never hear
their name called.
It’s a sure bet someone will leave unhappy and disappointed. Rewarding children is not all bad, but how do parents help their children who haven’t won, who thought they would, or who wanted to, so badly? Teaching children to cope with disappointment and failure is a life lesson.
We are a nation of awarders; Grammys, Emmys, Olympic, American Idol, Survivor, music, sports, dance/theatre/speech/writing competitions, spelling bees, trophies, plaques, certificates, stickers, ad infinitum… ad nauseam. There is an award for practically everything. Every time children turn around, a reward dangles in front of them. It can be a dizzying array of unattainable expectations; a constant bombardment of trying to “win”. Everyone wants to win the prize, make their parents proud and have actions recognized. It doesn’t take long for children to understand the system. The “winners” are rewarded and those who lose are the “losers”. It just may be, however, that “losers” learn early what “winners” may struggle with; to cope. After all, the best way to recognize success is to have known defeat.
Humans cannot escape failure. It will happen. Dealing with small disappointments of childhood fosters coping with adult sized ones later. Susan Carney, a middle school counselor, states, “At some point, we became a society that felt children were better served if we shielded them from upsetting situations. But the reality is that by preventing kids from facing and dealing with these issues, we are depriving them of the opportunity to practice coping skills and develop attitudes/beliefs that will help them deal with problems in the adult world.” Carney further explains, “Many people erroneously believe that for children, disappointment should be avoided at all costs. Everybody makes the team, gets the same grade, and is included. There are several problems with this attempt to make everyone “feel good about themselves”. First of all, it isn’t fooling anyone. Telling someone they’ve done a great job when they clearly haven’t is not only insulting, but it sets a tone of low expectations. Self-esteem is built through mastery, not through pretense. Second, it isn’t grounded in reality. Giving kids false expectations about their abilities and skills is not only dishonest, but unethical. Lastly, letting kids face the letdowns of childhood, however painful, is necessary for emotional growth. Kids who haven’t had practice developing coping skills for disappointment fall apart later on when no one is standing there to rescue them. Though pains are heartbreaking, they are learning experiences that, when faced with the loving support of a trusted adult, help prepare kids to deal with life.” (http://youthdevelopment.suite101.com/article.cfm/frustration_and_disappointment, accessed March 2010)
Robert Brooks, PhD, coauthor of Raising Resilient Children, writes, "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. If you bend over backwards to shield them from disappointment, you're keeping them from developing some important skills. 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." (http://www.parents.com/toddlers-preschoolers/development/social/helping-kids-deal-with-disappointment/, accessed March 2010) So, what are some tools parents can give their children to cope?
Susan Carney warns, “Avoid Fixing. When children experience messy feelings, our natural response is to try to make the pain go away as quickly as possible. We rush to downplay the experience (“Lots of kids didn’t win.”) or offer false reassurance (“You’ll win next time.”). Parents attempt the quick fix by offering solutions, or worse, taking on the problem and solving it for them. These responses make things worse. They give kids the message that they are overreacting, their experience is trivial, and they are incapable of solving their own problems. Instead, the goal should be to validate a young person’s experience by helping them to recognize, express, and cope with all of the feelings they experience. The first step is helping kids develop the skills to identify and express their feelings. Kids often lack the verbal skills to label what they are experiencing. Help them develop a rich vocabulary of feeling words to label the type and intensity of their feelings.” (http://youthdevelopment.suite101.com/article.cfm/helping_teens_express_feelings, accessed March 2010)
“Listen to him,” advises Dr. Carl Arinoldo, Ph.D., psychologist from
Acknowledge children’s feelings and then help them put them into perspective. Let them know disappointments come. Tell a few parental stories; “I remember when I didn’t make the baseball team…” Remind them that past failures do not dictate future experiences; “All of us can improve at…”, “No one is perfect…” Offer children love and support despite their imperfections, “Would a hug help?”, “I love you no matter what.” After the emotions have calmed, help them problem solve for different outcomes in the future: “If this is what you want, how can we approach it differently, so we get different results?” “Lots of people don’t get what they want the first time, don’t give up.”, “There is always more than one way to achieve a goal, let’s brainstorm.” Help children look at different angles of the problem. Help them see it rarely has to do with intelligence or abilities; it has more to do with their resolve in figuring out the best way to approach the problem, with their unique set of skills/talents.
There will always be the child who longs to be an Olympic gymnast born with a long/lean dancer’s body or the hopeful Pro-Basketball player who is 5 ft. 2 inches, but even those children can achieve levels of success, if they choose. They learn to try, try, try, and not give up, which is a life skill worth its weight in gold. They learn small successes are huge and life’s dreams are not handed out at ceremonies or banquets. Parent’s support, with optimistic realism, teaches children that all things may not seem possible, but nothing should stand in the way of trying. They learn from experience what Beverly Sills spoke, “You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don't try.” (http://www.quotesdaddy.com/tag/Disappointment/2, accessed March 2010)
Accentuate the positive: Teach your child how to acknowledge his strengths and accept his weaknesses. By Christine Langlois
What tapes do your children play in their heads? How do they talk to themselves? Does your son give himself credit and take pride in his accomplishments? Or does he downplay his successes and dismiss them by saying that he was just lucky? Does your daughter get totally discouraged when she receives low marks on a test or is rejected by a friend? Or does she quickly bounce back and tell herself that she can do better next time? How does she talk to herself when she's facing a new challenge?
The messages that children repeat to themselves influence how they feel and how they perform in school, in social situations, or in sports -- in all aspects of life.
The way that your son talks to himself is influenced by many factors: his self-image, his self-esteem, his temperament, his ability to meet challenges and do things well in life, and the way that you praise and criticize him or his behavior. You have an important effect, too, on how your daughter talks to herself by the way you respond to her views about herself. If your six-year-old has difficulty with steps in her ballet class and says, "I'll never be a good dancer," don't tell her she's the best dancer in the whole class, but don't just say to try harder. Instead, practice with her to encourage her. Praise her when she improves. She may soon say that she's having fun and has become so good at practice that she wants to take a more advanced class.
One child who, by objective standards, does several things well but whose parents constantly criticize him and tell him to do even better may become highly self-critical, riddled with doubts, and constantly put himself down. Another child who has less natural ability but whose parents praise his successes and encourage him to learn from his mistakes might continue to try hard, and he may enjoy lots of successes and learn from his failures. That child is likely to create an internal audiotape (positive self-talk) on which he talks to himself as a coach and cheerleader, repeating the comments of his parents.
(http://www.canadianliving.com/family/toddlers_and_preschoolers/accentuate_the_positive.php, accessed March 2010)
How resilient is your child?
1. Bounce back when things go wrong? Yes 2 No 0
2. Rationalize disappointment and rejection rather than take it personally? Yes 2 No 0
3. Take a positive view when challenges come his way? Yes 2 No 0
4. Pat himself on the back when he does something well? Yes 2 No 0
5. Let little things spill over and spoil other parts of his life. Yes 0 No 2
10: A resilient child. He bounces back up when things don't go his way.
6-8: A hardy soul.
0-4: Probably too hard on himself. Need some help to lighten the load.
(http://ezinearticles.com/?Helping-Kids-Handle-Rejection-and-Disappointment&id=152827, accessed March 2010)