One of the most common things that I hear parents' say is that they don't want their children to be sad or disappointed.
"I tell her not to get her hopes up and that way she won't be too disappointed."
"I'm recommending that he not try out for that team because the chances of him making it are slim and I don't think he can handle the disappointment."
"We've gotten someone to write her a note so that she can have extra time on her ACT test because we don't want her to be sad with a lower score."
"We are going to hire private coaches for him to be sure that he gets a starting position on the team. It would be tragic for him if he had to sit on the bench."
Doing any of the above for your children isn't necessarily wrong but the assumption that your child can't handle sadness or disappointment is. Disappointment and failure are part of life and handling them is crucial to healthy emotional development. When you do your best to make sure that your child never struggles with these, you are essentially telling them that you don't believe that they can handle struggles. Your child will hear, "You can't handle disappointment" and thus possibly avoid it for much of their lives.
Imagine your child as an adult not reaching for a promotion, or a new job that they've always wanted, or the relationship of their dreams, or exciting adventures. Is that what you want for them? Now is the time to assist them in taking risks and teaching them that disappointment isn't really the end of the world. Trying out for that athletic team even if they might not be good enough or stretching themselves in a class that is challenging but interesting for them are risks that are just fine for them to take as children or teens.
Instead of telling your children not to get their hopes up because then they won't be too disappointed, how about telling them to try their hardest and then if they fail, helping them manage their feelings? Resiliency and perseverance are the qualities that will get them through life. Disappointment isn't fatal for you or for them. Can you handle your child's disappointment? If not, ask yourself what you need to do to manage your feelings so that you don't handicap them for future endeavors.
It also might not be so beneficial if your child does fail for you to say things such as, "That team stinks anyway" or "You were always smarter than her" or anything else to that effect. Those things may be true yet teaching our children to handle disappointment with grace and calm will be far more beneficial to their future. You might want to consider saying, "I'm sorry you didn't make that team. You tried hard. Would you like to talk about it?" Empathizing with your child's feelings without trying to fix it is how you will teach them to internalize that empathy and to summon it up for themselves.
Seeing our children suffer emotionally is truly terrible. Yet, keeping ourselves calm and allowing them their feelings is an important part of both parenting and healthy adulthood. Shielding your children from disappointment is simply shielding them from a full life of highs and lows. We teach our children many important skills but teaching them how to manage disappointment might be the most important skill of all.
Lisa Kaplin is a psychologist and life coach at www.smartwomeninspiredlives.com She is also a married mother of 3. Get her free Stress free class here.
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