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Why Kids NEED To Experience Childhood Disappointment

As parents, our instinct is always to protect and shield our children from harm. We tend to bruises and cuts, we wipe away tears and we try to make their lives as happy as possible. But by protecting them from childhood disappointment, are we actually setting them up for harm further down the road?

dad comforting crying daughter

The drawbacks of coddling

Completely preventing your children (from tiny tots to teens) from experiencing any form of disappointment means you are hindering the development of vital life skills. Resilience (the ability to ‘bounce back’ and manage disappointment) and coping skills are vital for life – both in childhood but particularly in adulthood.

Imagine if you wrapped your children in cotton wool so much that they were never told “no” or that they needed to try harder. While it might seem like the easier, more protective option at the time, it will manifest in them not being able to learn from their mistakes or understand the true values of hard work and develop a sense of diligence. Childhood disappointment does not mean that you’re a bad parent – it means that you’re arming your beloveds with a range of abilities and skills that they’ll be able to call on well into adulthood. It’s not a pleasant emotion by any means but it should be present in order to promote growth.

Childhood disappointment to help kids learn

One of the biggest learning curves for us as humans is how we deal with anger and disappointment. Again, imagine a work environment. You complete a project and are then told that your entire work needs changing.

A resilient adult will take constructive criticism on board and work hard to lift the standards of their project to an acceptable level. They will deal pleasantly with their colleagues and be able to control their anger (and manage those disappointed feelings) to shape the experience into something positive.

Now imagine the mindset of the adult who was never permitted to experience childhood disappointment. Their response to feedback from management on this project could be vastly different. They may lash out with anger, take feedback personally and will potentially have a distinct lack of ability when it comes to learning from their mistakes.

young girl crying and experiencing childhood disappointment

Promoting coping skills in children

So how is this done?

It’s easier to always say yes. Yes to the toy, yes to the chocolates at the supermarket, yes to the parties, yes to the phone at a young age, yes yes yes. You’re the favourite, you’re their friend and you’re never arguing with your child.

This is certainly the easier path of least resistance in childhood but it’s not one that will arm your child with the tools they will need to succeed. The dramatic rise of anxiety disorders in teenagers means that something needs to give when it comes to the way that we parent. Children need boundaries in order to safely practice the skills that they need to navigate adulthood and it is our responsibility to ensure that this begins in the home.

Managing childhood disappointment

Acknowledge the feelings that your child has when they are disappointed. “I understand you wanted that toy but we can’t have that right now.” “I understand that you worked hard on that assignment but maybe you didn’t correctly follow the criteria”. “I know you want that toy but your brother had it first, you have to wait”. Rather than swooping in and fighting all their battles for them, let your child develop their resilience and coping skills in a safe space by seeing the value in childhood disappointment and respecting it as a valuable life lesson.

mum and daughter having a conversation

Got any tips?

How do you navigate childhood disappointment in your home? Let us know in the comments.



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3 Comments

  1. 03/06/2019 / 7:45 am

    Great post. Not sure if it’s the cause of anxiety but one thing I will say, my youngest has anxiety (and it embarrassingly took me over a year to work it out) and half her class has anxiety (in primary) and yet I seem to be the only parent seeking treatment. I think the reason it becomes more noted inteens is it is left undealt with in primary school. I keep telling parents their child’s behaviour isn’t normal and they can help them manage it and they keep pretending it isn’t an ongoing problem. I understand you can miss it – I did, but I don’t understand once you know, you still do nothing. Once in teens, it jumps to more serious levels. A talk I went to said ‘Anxiety never goes away or gets better by itself, It only gets worse’ so I’ve worked on that theory ever since.

  2. 03/06/2019 / 3:38 pm

    I wish in some ways I had been allowed to explore the range of emotions but as a child in 1950s and 60s that did not happen. Even as we parented we probably did not listen as well but we did better than our parents. There needs to be more conversations and dealing with the range of human emotions. But perhaps parents need to be able to express these safely first.
    Great topic.

    Denyse

  3. 04/06/2019 / 10:36 am

    Childhood disappointment definitely builds resilience, not very thing goes your way and children (as well as adults ) need to learn to adapt and move on. We talk a lot at home about doffs techniques we can implement to do build resilience.

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