As a mother and teacher, I know that disappointments are a part of life and everyone, including children, needs to experience and work through them in order to develop valuable life skills. I often wish I had the power to keep a child from getting frustrated or upset, but I know this is not realistic. What I can do is act as a guide; nurturing and teaching my own children, and those who I am fortunate enough to care for, to accept and work through disappointment and come out feeling good about themselves. At the end of the day, children with a stronger sense of self and positive self-esteem will be better prepared to deal with and gain strength from whatever life throws at them.
It can sometimes seem like disappointment runs the lives of toddlers and preschoolers. They may be perfectly happy one minute and the next immediately throw themselves on the floor kicking and screaming and crying because something did not go their way. Anything from not wearing their favorite socks, to not wanting to brush their teeth, to not getting to watch a video can send a youngster into a tailspin. Most parents’ first instinct is to stop the noise and chaos – even if it means giving in and appeasing the child. This is a natural reaction, but disappointment can actually be good for a child. When things don’t go a child’s way, they must learn to adjust to the situation. They must try to cope, collaborate with others, and think creatively to find solutions. These are great skills for children to learn at a young age and ones that are important to carry with them into adulthood.
Over the many years that I have been working with children, I have found the following tips helpful when it comes to supporting and connecting with a little one who is frustrated and upset. None of these will make their tears instantly stop by any means, but I have found that they often help to shorten the tantrums and bring about a sense of calm which benefits everyone, especially the child.
1. Be Sympathetic: Speak calmly and let them know that you understand their frustration. You can put yourself in their shoes and tell them that you would be sad too if that happened to you. Sometimes children just want to know that someone is empathizing with them and that their feelings are important too.
2. Redirect and Empower: One of the best ways to help a child move on from a disappointing situation is to take their mind off of it. By redirecting them and getting them to focus on something else – another toy or activity of their choosing – they often quickly forget what got them upset in the first place. Children like to be empowered and giving them options to choose from will also help them feel good about themselves.
3. Create Perspective: It can be helpful to talk to a child and put their disappointment into perspective. You can use phrases like “big upsets” and “little upsets” to help a child understand that whatever they are unhappy about, it most likely is a little thing that can be easily worked through. “Big upsets” are generally when a child gets physically hurt in some way and “little upsets” tend to be when a child does not get his or her way. Sometimes creating some perspective around disappointments improves a child’s own perspective on the situation.
4. Laugh: Humor is a wonderful remedy for so many things, including dealing with children who are struggling with disappointment. Sometimes all it takes is a little tickle, a funny face or a squeaky voice to get a child back to their old self.
5. Embrace the Calm: There are a many calming techniques that can work really well, especially with young children. Taking a child outside for some fresh air, doing breathing exercises with them, playing music, or just giving them some water are calming methods that may help a child regroup and provide them with a feeling of safety and security that they need.
6. Hold them Close: Simple hugs can perform miracles. Giving a child a hug, kiss, or holding their hand makes them feel supported and loved, and may provide them with the strength and calm they need to overcome a disappointment of any size.
It can definitely be challenging to communicate with and calm a young child who is frustrated, and not getting his or her way. While it can be easier said than done, it is really important to be patient and present. Try your best to see these moments as teaching opportunities and chances to strengthen the bond between yourself and your child. It is this connection and your love that will stay with them as they get older and have to face any number of personal and professional disappointments that so often come along with adulthood.
About the Author:
Gladys Ruiz is the Director of Little Children Schoolhouse in Brookline, MA. After more than 10 years working in Early Childhood Education, Gladys opened the Little Children Schoolhouse to provide a nurturing, loving environment—an extension of her student’s home and family life—in Brookline. Pre-K, Preschool and Daycare programs for toddlers and infants include extra activities, such as weekly music, yoga, cooking, science activities, and field trips. Both full day and part-time enrollment are available.