Do not quote from this draft.
Quote only from the published book
Who’s responsible for happiness?
I can clearly remember the day I learned who was responsible for
children’s happiness. My husband and I got a
babysitter for our six-month-old daughter and took our 6-year-old
son Kevin to a special museum display he wanted very much to see.
The outing took six hours. And, except for one incident, we all had
a grand time. As we drove up to our house, I asked him how he
liked the trip. I fully expected him to say he was delighted since he
had both parents’ attention for more than six hours
— doing something he wanted to do. However, he
focused on the only five minutes in the trip that did not go exactly
as he wished.
It was then I realized that my son was responsible for his
happiness. Although I could provide wonderful experiences,
ultimately I could not make him happy — only he
could do that.
Who’s responsible for children’s happiness?
Matthew’s having a fit because Mom
won’t give him a cookie now! Sara’s
whining because you won’t let her watch more TV.
And, Paul’s upset because his homework is
“too hard.” What is a parent to do?
Try to console your child, or shut yourself up in a soundproof
I don’t know the answer for sure, but there is one
thing that I am convinced of — you
can’t make another person happy. Ultimately that is
his or her decision, as you see in the opening example above.
If you change activities to prevent or reduce your
child’s unhappiness, you encourage him to let
another person (you) be responsible for his happiness. And if you
rush to make life pleasant, you do not give your child the chance to
develop the skills she needs to deal with her frustration and
Parents’ role. Although you
cannot “make” your children happy,
you do have an important role in making it possible for your
children to choose happiness. You can help your children by
modeling ways to deal with their feelings appropriately, by teaching
you children the information and skills they need to choose
happiness, and by backing out and letting children be responsible
for their own feelings.
Children’s role. The
children’s role is to notice their feelings, learn the
skills they need to manage their feelings and the situations they
face, to experiment to find what works for them, and to be active in
Helping children learn to deal with disappointment not only makes
it easier for them to choose happiness, but also helps protect them
against some of the costs of emotional illiteracy.
Cost of emotional illiteracy. When children do
not have the ability to soothe themselves, resolve their problems,
and understand others’ feelings, they are vulnerable
to a host of problems – academic trouble,
aggression, alcohol and drug addiction, depression, and eating
disorders. These are briefly discussed in Appendix A.
The solution to emotional distress and illiteracy is not for the parent
or teacher to make these children’s lives emotionally
smooth, but to give these children the skills they need to choose
happiness and emotional competence.
What this book is about
This book is about the tools and techniques that children need to
cope with everyday issues. The focus is how you can teach your
children to avoid, reduce, and eliminate the irritation from common
Dealing with Disappointment is a practical guide, not a research
treatise or therapy. When your child acts angry, frustrated, and
disappointed, you don’t need to know exactly why
he or she is upset to help, particularly since most of your
child’s learning occurs when your child is not upset.
We begin by looking at “what to do when your child
is upset” because that is usually the first thing
parents, teachers, and caregivers want to know. However, the bulk
of the book is about what you do between upsets, because that is
where change will happen – where you teach your
child useful skills and strategies. Dealing with Disappointment
offers you step-by-step directions for teaching skills and shows you
how to change the way you interact with your child as he or she
grows older. Finally, we look at how to cope with parental anger
and conclude by answering a few common questions.
Each chapter offers you information, examples, and exercises. The
information and examples help you understand what to do. The
exercises let you practice using the ideas on your own before you
try them with the kids.
Although the bulk of this book focuses on self-calming strategies
and dealing with the situation, it is important to remember that
anger and fear are sometimes warning signs that the person, child or
adult, needs to leave the situation as fast as possible.
The more strategies you give your children today, the better
prepared they will be for frustrations at home and in school, and for
the more serious challenges they will confront later in life.
What kids need to manage their feelings
Recently parents have begun to acknowledge their
children’s feelings and are surprised that their
children sometimes remain upset. Acknowledging feelings is very
helpful, and children need more than that. They need information
about feelings, concrete tools and strategies to deal with their
feelings and the situation they face, and support as they experiment
and find what works for them.
Information about feelings. Kids need a
feelings vocabulary, they need to know that feelings change, and
that feelings are different from actions. This, and more, will be
covered in chapter 3.
Tool and strategies. Some children discover
how to stay calm by themselves, and others grow into adulthood
without the ability to truly calm themselves. These people can
“put the lid” on their feelings.
However, when things get stressful they often explode. In chapters
4 and 5 we will look at strategies or tools children can use to calm
themselves and to deal with the situation, so they
don’t need to put the lid on their feelings.
Support. Children need different levels of
parental support depending on their age and stage of learning.
Sometimes support involves helping; other times support means
giving the child time to use the tools and information he or she
knows. We will address this in several chapters.
Support can also involve remaining calm when kids are upset and
modeling appropriate ways to deal with your own feelings. We will
look at things parents can do to keep calm in Chapter 8.
Some parents by their nature, experience, or temperament are more
prepared to teach children about emotions. Other parents may
handle their feelings well, but do it inside themselves so their
children do not know how their parents deal with their feelings.
Once these parents learn what children need, they can easily adapt.
Still other parents may need information or support themselves
before they can address their children’s needs. In the
next section you can look at how parents typically respond to
How do you handle kids’ feelings?
One way you can help your children choose happiness is to provide
the information and support they need. To do that, it is helpful to
understand how you commonly respond to kids’
Some parents grew up in caring households; others in critical
households. Some people hope to emulate their parents; others vow
never to repeat their parents’ mistakes. Exercise 1-1:
“What is your parenting EQ (emotional quotient)
style?” is intended to help you identify how you
handle children’s feelings. Exercise 1-2 explains how
to interpret your responses. That exercise also suggests what your
child may need.
As you read this book, you may find ways you could do things
differently. It is my intention to increase your options rather than to
burden you. I hope that you think about the material you find
relevant. You can take one or two ideas and try them. If they work,
or even if they don’t work, you can come back and
try something else.
In this chapter we have looked at who is responsible for happiness,
some things children need, and how you handle
kids’ feelings. The key to helping your child deal
with disappointment is to provide information, skills, and support.
However, one of the first questions many parents ask is,
“What do I do when my child is
upset?” In the next chapter we will look at what you
can do when your child has a meltdown.
|Exercise 1-1: What is your parenting EQ style?
|Read the situation and circle the letter of the answer
that most closely resembles how you would respond. (Explanation in
|1. You are walking down the street with 2-year-old Allie. As you
approach a fenced yard, the dog starts to bark loudly. Allie begins to cry
and you —
- Immediately pick her up and comfort her, saying,
“Mommy won’t let that mean dog get
- Speak firmly, “Stop crying! The dog can’t
hurt you. He’s behind the fence.”
- Say, “Come, let’s walk on the other side ofthe street.”
- Say, “Wow, that dog sounds scary. Would you feel safer
if I hold your hand or carry you?
|2. Blake (age 4) was building a block tower. Charlie (age 2) tried
to put a block on top and accidently knocked the tower over. Blake was
furious. He yelled at Charlie. Before Blake does anything more,
- Say, “I’m so sorry Charlie knocked over
your tower. You must be really disappointed. You worked so hard.
Come, I’ll read you a story.”
- Tell him to be quiet, “Blake, silence!
You’re making a mountain out of a mole hill. There is
no need to get upset about every little thing that
- Say quietly, “Charlie didn’t mean to knockthe tower down. Come, I’ll help you rebuild
- Say “It looks like you’re angry Charlie knocked your
tower down.Would you like to tell me about it or run around the yard to calm
|3. Dawn (age 5) was absently licking an ice cream cone as she
watched the monkeys at the zoo. When the scoop of ice cream fell on the
ground, Dawn began to cry. You say —
- “Oh, dear. You’re upset your ice cream
fell on the ground. Strawberry is your favorite flavor. (You look
around.) Oh, look, Dawn, that monkey is swinging by his tail.
Isn’t he silly?”
- “Dawn, be quiet! How many times have I told you to
watch what you’re doing? If you had watched what
you were doing, this would not have happened.”
- “Hush, Dawn. We can go get another ice cream cone.
This time you can have two scoops.”
- “Oh, dear. You’re upset that your ice cream fell on the ground. Would you like to take a deep breath to
calm yourself or
would a hug help?
|4. Ellen came home from school crying, “Francie
didn’t invite me to her birthday party
Saturday.” You —
- Sit beside her and say, “You feel hurt Francie
didn’t invite you to her party. It’s okay,
Sweetie, you have other friends. Let’s think about
something else. Shall we bake some cookies?”
- Say, “Calm down, Ellen –
it’s only a party. Tell me, what did you do to make her
mad at you?”
- Say enthusiastically, “Let’s call Sierra
right now and see if she can play Saturday. You two can do
something really fun.”
- Comment, “It really hurts when a friend
doesn’t invite you to a party. It often helps to
remember that you are a good person, even when a friend is mean.
What do you think will help the pain pass? Drawing a picture of your
feelings? Reading a book? Or, making a silly dance?”
|5. George wanted to be the pirate in the class play. He has been
practicing the lines. You asked him if he got the part when he came home
today. He said, “No,” and then started to
tease his sister. You —
- Say, “You must be disappointed. You practiced and
practiced and you didn’t get the part.
I’ll tell you what, let’s go order pizza
for supper tonight. What kind would you like?”
- Say emphatically, “Leave Hanna alone! Just because you
didn’t get a part in the play doesn’t give
you a right to hurt her. You know better than that.”
- Say, “Forget about the class play, George. Acting classes
start Saturday. Then you can be in a real play.”
- Gently say, “It’s okay to be upset that you
didn’t get the part, and you may not tease your sister.
You need to find another way to feel better. Do you want help
thinking of ideas?”
|6. Isabel is a bright, articulate girl. To qualify for the school
math team, she had to get a 95% on the math test today. The minute she
walks in after school you know she didn’t make it.
- Open your arms to give her a hug. Say, “Isabel,
I’m so-o-o sad. You wanted to be on the math team
with Jenny. I have an idea, you can take gymnastics with her.
Let’s call her now.”
- Say, “Isabel, don’t sulk! There is no point
letting the world know your feelings. Beside, you should be happy you
didn’t make the team. Now you don’t
have all those practices.”
- Say, “Isabel, I read this interesting article on the debate
team. I think you should join the debate team. You’re
a natural for debate.”
- Say, “You look disappointed. Let me guess, you
didn’t make 95% on the math test, right? I know how
much it meant to you. Is there anything I can do to
|Exercise 1-2: Identifying your style
|Directions. Count the number of responses for each
letter and put them in the appropriate boxes below. Then read the
description of the response.
|A’s demonstrate a Sensitive
response. Parent notices the child’s
distress, acknowledges his or her feelings and often tries to distract
the child. However, the parent does not offer tools (or strategies) for
dealing with the feelings, and rarely sets limits on the
child’s behavior because the child will be more unhappy.
|B’s illustrate a Critical
response. Parent dismisses or discounts the
child’s feelings and may criticize the
child for exhibiting feelings. These parents may also blame the
child for the situation. They do not offer skills to handle the
feelings. These parents often dislike any display of feeling. They
may need to become more comfortable with overt feelings to
help their children.
|C’s show a Fixing
response. Parents solve the
child’s problem or avoid the situation so
the child won’t be upset. They rarely
acknowledge feelings, or offer tools to deal with the feeling
itself or encourage the child to solve the problem by himself or
|D’s demonstrate a Coaching
response. Parents acknowledge the
child’s feelings and offer strategies the
child can use to deal with the feelings. As children learn
the strategies, these parents remind them that they have choices
and that they (the parents) are available as a resource.