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Facing Tough Times Together

What are parents to do when their child faces adversity and disappointment?

By Dr. Dean Beckloff | Contributor

Dreams are great! Many times as parents, we see our kids pursuing dreams with great vigor and enthusiasm. We can feel so proud of them, as they begin to chase something that they want to accomplish. I remember when my daughter decided in junior high to become a cheerleader. She worked at it and then tried out. And she made the team! It was exciting and thrilling and, of course, she was to be congratulated for making the team. But more, congratulated for being so determined and for her strong work ethic.

But what do we do when they don’t make the cut? When the project they worked so hard on doesn’t get the grade they wanted? What about when the student tries and tries and comes up with another failed attempt? Then what?

How do we rear our kids to face adversity with dignity and self-respect in the face of humiliation? How do we help them to have the courage to get up, dust themselves off and keep going?

There are no easy answers and there are usually extremes. One of those extremes is to ignore it. As parents, we know there’s hurt. We know there’s sadness and perhaps grief. We don’t want to make it worse, and we are disappointed ourselves. Or maybe we just don’t know what to say. And so we say nothing, hoping for the best for our kids.

The other extreme of this equation is to helicopter. The parent tries to shield the child from any negative feelings and negative consequences. The parent affixes the blame on someone else, another student perhaps, a teacher involved, and “hovers” over the child’s feelings, refusing to acknowledge the failed attempt and the requisite feelings that come with it. The child becomes confused and doesn’t take any responsibility. As the parent tries to shield the child from any devastating feelings, the child is learning: I must never lose. I must never fail. Failure is too devastating and difficult to handle or endure.

My daughter tried out for high school cheerleader at the end of 8th grade. She worked hard, she was positive, she was enthusiastic, and yet she didn’t make it. Later that night at a school event, she had to endure the looks and seeing the other girls getting flowers for making the team. She was hurting, and of course, her parents were hurting for her.

So what are parents to do when their child faces devastating disappointment?

First, don’t ignore it. Say something and acknowledge the pain and disappointment. Don’t ignore it.

Second, don’t try to take it away, and of course, don’t minimize it. Don’t assign responsibility on another source. Don’t be the helicopter parent.

Disappointments are sure to come. Someone once called parents “journeymates” in this process of failure. To be on the journey with them. Now’s our chance to be with them. Here are some guiding principles:

1 | Don’t do for children what they can do for themselves. You show your confidence in your children and their ability when you choose not to helicopter. Your belief in their strength helps them to find it.

2 | Acknowledge the hurt and disappointment. Give understanding about how it hurts. Don’t be silent.

3 | Let your child know the reality. It’s a time that anyone is going to question themselves and their competence. The disappointment does not mean the end has come, and there can never be any other future opportunities. Help the child to grieve within the range of reality.

4 | Help them to stand up again and continue moving forward. They can keep going in the face of disappointment and perhaps even humiliation.

My daughter? It was a painful time, but I know she learned some things from it. She learned about her inner strength. She learned how equipped she was. She learned who her friends were. She learned she could face down adversity and humiliation and rise above it. It took some time, of course. But time is not important. What is important is the learning of one’s own inner strength and beauty of character. That is what can’t be taken away during these times of personal crisis. Be a journeymate for your child and walk these times alongside them.

 

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