In my last article, I listed three situations where parents could consider how to help their children deal with setbacks. The adage “live and learn” is a popular saying, but it is important to address how parents can communicate this message to their children. Teaching children to deal with setbacks by increasing positive thinking, reducing negative thinking and managing their emotions can help children deal with disappointment.
As children become more aware of their emotions, they become more capable of emotional regulation. The ability for children to manage their emotions will go a long away in helping them deal with disappointing events. Alternatively, the inability of children to manage their emotions may lead to difficulties with anger, impulse control and peer related conflicts.
How do parents use modeling to assist their children develop emotional control? Consider the example of Mrs. Rudant, who received a phone call from school that her 10-year-old son, John, has refused to participate in gym for the past two weeks:
Mrs. Rudant: Hi, John! Today I received a call from school that you have not participated in gym for the past two weeks. The school sounded very concerned that something is bothering you because you always love going to gym and being with the other kids. Is there something happening that we can talk about?
John: I am a little embarrassed by the fact that I was sitting on the side over the past week during the games. The other boys did not pick me in the game so I didn’t play at all for three straight games. The teacher didn’t notice, so I just got up and left.
Mrs. Rudant: That must have been so frustrating and disappointing for you!
In the above example, Mrs. Rudant remained calm. She didn’t “sound the panic button,” nor did she demand to know exactly why John could possibly have not attended gym for the past two weeks. By remaining calm, she allowed John the time and space to express his concerns. By providing feeling words, Mrs. Rudant also teaches John that it is okay to feel disappointed. John will then feel increasingly confident that there is potential to resolving this issue.
When it is difficult for children to remain calm, parents need to provide them with the tools to manage their emotions. A parent can help a child do all of the following:
Remain calm by taking deep breaths.
Develop some coping thoughts to reduce any negative feelings.
Help the child develop solutions to the problem.
Parents can also prepare their children for how to deal with disappointment or potential disappointment. Returning to our original example of sports competition, a parent can remind a child (prior to the sporting season or during the initial weeks) that,
He may not be on a team with many of his friends since the teams are divided in different ways.
Unlike last year, this year he may not be the best athlete on the team and may need to work really hard to “prove himself.”
Although he may have a goal to win every game, that goal may be difficult to reach.
For the student who can’t seem to ever do well on a Mrs. Smith Math test, a parent can remind a child that,
Teachers are different and Mrs. Smith may have different expectations on examinations.
Last year, he got off to a “rocky start” with Mrs. Greenwald and performed great after two months.
You are happy to work with him on strategies to help him feel more relaxed while taking these tests.
For the camper who wants to go home because he has no friends in his bunk, the child can be reminded that,
Adjustments to a new environment and schedule can be difficult.
Meeting new kids can be challenging, but it was always one of his strengths in school.
He did great last summer when he went away to the three-day overnight program.
In all of the above examples, parents are helping their children deal with setbacks (or potential setbacks) through the internal framework that has been cultivated through parent/child communication and dialogue.
Mark Staum, LCSW is the school therapist for the PTACH program _ MTA. He maintains a local private practice in Teaneck, NJ, where he sees children, adolescents, young adults and families. For questions or comments about this article, please contact mstaumlcsw_gmail.com . To learn more about Mark, please look at his web site, www.markstaum.com.
By Mark Staum, LCSW