My husband told me a poignant story that he heard from another father. The dad has a son who runs high school track, and when there is a track meet, all the parents gather at the finish line to watch the end of the race. But this particular father never stands with the other parents, he stands somewhere out in the middle of the course. One day, a parent asked him why he doesn’t stand with all the other parents at the finish line. He responded that his son knows exactly what to do at the finish line, but where his son might need him is in the middle of the race out on the field when it’s toughest to keep going.
As parents we are often trying to figure out the right place to be for our children. Should we help get them into the race in the first place? Do we encourage them along the way? Celebrate their victories at the finish line and/or help support them if they are not getting the results they want?
I think of parent involvement as a continuum; from un-involvement to over-involvement. (By the way, un-involvement might be an issue of time, not lack of interest). We have all seen each end of the spectrum; the kid who is dropped off for the soccer game, while everyone else’s parents are there. Or the parent who interferes with the game, yells at the referee and gets the game thrown out. We find ourselves muddling along the continuum, looking for the right place to support our children at various points in time.
Generally the winning part is pretty easy. If our child is winning, it is easy to be happy for our child, for the team, and for ourselves that our child is having success. We can teach what it means to be a gracious winner, and the value of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes to help you be a gracious winner.
Of course, the harder part is dealing with disappointment. There seems to be two levels to this…..helping our children deal with their disappointment, and then perhaps, dealing with our own feelings.
Unfortunately, but maybe fortunately too, there are many examples of disappointments that our kids face. A bad grade on a test that they really studied for. Trying out for a team, a part in a play, or a musical group and not making it. Not being invited or included on some social event. The list goes on.
What is the value of experiencing these disappointments? Well, chances are that we have all had disappointments of varying degrees. Did we weather and persevere through these events? Spend some time mourning the loss, and then figure out what to do next? Engage our friends and family to talk when we needed to? Yes, we did all these things. Maybe not immediately, maybe it took some time to get started. Clearly the learning from the event didn’t come right away. Perhaps 6 or 12 months later, or maybe even years later, we started to get an idea of why this event might have had a good outcome for us. How it led to something new that was unexpected, but maybe even better! People said things like “when one window shuts, another one opens.” Cliché, but absolutely true.
We feel our kids’ successes and disappointments, sometimes to our core, but our job as parents is to teach our kids that “stuff” happens, life is not always just or fair, and you have the strengths to weather and learn from this. These are coping skills and our kids have to develop them in order to handle things that don’t go their way.
So I asked some parents…..how do you help your kids deal with disappointment?
- Just be available, create a “space” in your home or car where your child can talk if they want to. Don’t ask them about it continually. Just say “I know you’re upset.”
- Ask your child if he/she wants to talk to the coach/director/teacher to see if they can get some feedback on areas to work on.
- Look for another venue to do that activity. If they didn’t make the play at school, maybe they can be in a play in another community organization.
- Give them time to process the loss. But also keep an eye out for too much isolating, moping, or TV watching.
And how do you help yourself deal with your kids’ disappointments?
- Go out to dinner or for a walk to talk to your spouse or another supportive person. It’s fine for your kids to see that you are empathic with their disappointment, but they should not see that their disappointment is creating a problem for you.
- If something happens with a coach or teacher and you want to go in and talk to them, sleep on it. Wait a few days or a week until you are calm and see if you still want to do it, and if it will ultimately help your child.
- Try to remember that your child will learn lifelong lessons from persevering in the face of disappointment, and will develop skills to handle situations in the future. These are very important life skills.