Disappointment is one of the most difficult forms of emotional pain. It is also one of the most difficult to deal with in our children. What makes it so difficult is its intensity. We experience disappointment when we expect something to happen, but it doesn’t. The more we have anticipated enjoyment or relief from our expectations, the stronger the disappointment will be when it doesn’t happen. We often hold expectations that we don’t know about until we feel disappointed, so the surprise element also adds to the intensity. Children are less self-aware than adults and feel their emotions more intensely, so the surprise of disappointment and the intensity of the feeling produce extreme expressions and behaviors in our kids that are annoying to us as parents.
The biggest source of disappointment for my 10-year-old is changing plans. Sometimes, he makes plans for himself that he doesn’t think to let me in on – like riding bikes after school with his friend. Some time ago, I planned to run errands after picking him up from school, so imagine my bewilderment when my 10-year-old started panicking in the backseat, “Mom! Where are we going? Mom, Why are you turning this way? Mom! Aren’t we going home? MOM-YOU’RE-GOING-THE-WRONG-WAY!??”
“I have a couple of errands to run on the way home, dude,” I said.
“NOOOOhohohoho!! Nothing ever goes my way! Today sucks!” he whined.
At that point, I wanted to give him a stern conversation about not whining and being disrespectful because I felt hurt and frustrated by him questioning my actions with so much intensity and distress. Not to mention the overgeneralization of how negative he perceived his life and his use of an almost curse word he knows is not allowed in our family. While I took a few deep breaths to ensure I didn’t sin in my anger (Ephesians 4:26), I realized he was feeling intense disappointment. Almost instantly, I remembered my own experiences with disappointment, and my anger was mostly replaced with compassion for him. I also realized that he wasn’t aware of his disappointment; he was overwhelmed by it.
Disappointment in our kids usually shows up as rapid overreacting to a change. What seems like a minor bump in the road to us as adults is a huge deal to our kids who haven’t yet learned the mental flexibility to adapt expectations and feelings to the changes that life often requires. However, every disappointment is an opportunity for us to teach our kids flexibility and healthy expression and help them develop a feeling of agency in their own lives.
Author: Sara Hall
Sara Hall is a writer, teacher, volunteer ministry leader, #boymom, and wife of a phenomenal entrepreneur. She is the author of Tasting Dirt: When You’re Disappointed With God. Sara lives to help people overcome the emotional barriers preventing their best relationships with God and other people by vulnerably sharing her own mental health journey and teaching how to apply the Bible to everyday life and relationships.
You can connect with Sara by visiting her blog @EmotionCulture
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