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 Parenting Press®

Dealing With
Disappointment

by Elizabeth Crary, M.S.

Book Cover

Useful for 2–12 years
96 pages
$13.95 paper
$21.95 library

Book Description
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About the Author:
Elizabeth Crary, M.S.

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Chapter 1

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 room?

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 disappointment herself.

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 choosing happiness.

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 childhood situations.

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 children’s feelings.

*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’ feelings.

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 exercise 1-2)
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 —
  1. Immediately pick her up and comfort her, saying, “Mommy won’t let that mean dog get you.”
  2. Speak firmly, “Stop crying! The dog can’t hurt you. He’s behind the fence.”
  3. Say, “Come, let’s walk on the other side ofthe street.”
  4. 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, you —
  1. 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.”
  2. 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 happens.”
  3. Say quietly, “Charlie didn’t mean to knockthe tower down. Come, I’ll help you rebuild it.”
  4. 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 yourself?
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 —
  1. “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?”
  2. “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.”
  3. “Hush, Dawn. We can go get another ice cream cone. This time you can have two scoops.”
  4. “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 —
  1. 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?”
  2. Say, “Calm down, Ellen – it’s only a party. Tell me, what did you do to make her mad at you?”
  3. Say enthusiastically, “Let’s call Sierra right now and see if she can play Saturday. You two can do something really fun.”
  4. 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 —
  1. 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?”
  2. 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.”
  3. Say, “Forget about the class play, George. Acting classes start Saturday. Then you can be in a real play.”
  4. 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. You —
  1. 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.”
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.”
  4. 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 help?”

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 herself.
[ ]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.

Last updated May 31, 2014