Feeling disappointment is a normal part of life.
Children, parents and carers, grandparents - we all feel let down or disappointed sometimes.
But in the midst of a pandemic, disappointment is a lot more prevalent in our children’s lives than usual.
Family trips are being postponed, birthdays or other celebrations are being disrupted and relatives are being missed.
As adults this can be hard enough to handle, so how do we help the youngest members of our families work through disappointments in a constructive way?
University of Queensland Occupational Therapy Lecturer Dr Cathy McBryde says in this current world of more frequent disappointments and changes to plans, a good strategy to help your children stay emotionally strong is your time and attention.
“There is a lot of disappointment around at the moment and that can be so tricky, but one of the key things that can help your children build good self-regulation and the ability to manage their emotions is a loving, safe and secure environment,” she says.
“So, putting away your phone and your work and really quarantining that time to have one-on-one interactions that are led by your child and what they like to do, can help them to learn to take risks, get reassurance and build their confidence.”
Learning to name emotions and forewarning
Raising Children Network Director Derek McCormack says we can’t, nor should we remove disappointment or adversity from our children’s lives, but there are things we can do to help them deal with disappointments and build their resilience, especially during a pandemic.
“One thing we can do is to help our children develop problem solving skills around disappointment,” he says.
“This can start by helping your child recognise and give names to those emotions they might feel, like disappointment, or sadness.”
Communication and forewarning are also important to help your children understand that plans might change.
Setting a child’s expectations early so they know what to expect, can go a long way to helping them manage their emotions and bounce back when something they have been looking forward to has to be changed, postponed or cancelled.
Some concrete examples might include letting your child know that a potential lockdown is looming and it could interfere with an upcoming birthday party or another event.
Or if you suspect an interstate visit with Grandma and Grandpa will need to be postponed, forewarning your children can help them process and prepare for a change of plans.
“Talking about potential problems, or changes to plans gives parents the opportunity to give names to feelings like disappointment or sadness and this kind of conversation can be a really good insurance policy for what we call emotional regulation,” Mr McCormack says.
“Your child then learns that ‘I’m able to talk about my feelings as they occur,’ and also ‘I have names for them,’ so when you’re looking ahead at possible changes to plans then you can be somewhat prepared.”
Helping your child build resilience
So how do you help your children build their own resilience to potential disappointments when you as the parent are also feeling let down by sudden changes to your plans?
According to Mr McCormack, seeing the way you react to disappointing changes is a great way for children to learn to manage their own emotions, so it is important to avoid masking your disappointing.
“When you are teaching something like resilience, which is a little more abstract, often it is done through role modelling, so explaining to your child how you are feeling and letting them see you name your emotions, is certainly a good way to start helping them to build their resilience over time.”
“It provides you with a good opportunity to talk to your child about what it feels like to be disappointed and how you are feeling in that moment, while staying emotionally stable,” he says.