Since the arrival of Dr. Spock (the parenting author, not the ‘Star Trek' character), Americans have taken a strange view of child rearing. These days parents aren't so much concerned with raising well-rounded adults as they are making their children "feel good" about themselves. This has become the "everybody gets a prize" generation of parenthood. While our kids may be happy to be encouraged, praising them for nothing does them no justice in the long run. In showering affection on our children despite their poor performances, we're also shielding them from disappointment. Instead of letting our boys deal with a softball game loss, we praise them for effort and assure them that there are no losers. By parenting this way, however, we are doing our children a disservice. We are teaching them that there are no disappointments in life, that everyone gets what they want and is praised for how hard they tried. We're setting them up for a huge disappointment - the revelation that the real world is cruel, unsympathetic and unforgiving - and we're denying them the tools they need to deal with that disappointment. Letting our children fail is an essential parenting tactic. It allows them to experience disappointment and discover the skills needed to overcome those feelings. By the same token, however, we can't just throw them to the wolves. Disappointment and frustration are tough feelings to deal with, and without a healthy outlook and a sense of security they can be overwhelming. Remember, our kids are experiencing everything for the first time. As the parents, it's our job to show them the world and teach them how to deal with what they find.
- Make sure your child has realistic expectations. Having unrealistic expectations is the first step toward getting disappointed. If your child somehow believes that he'll be getting an ultra-expensive and hi-tech mp3 player for Christmas when you clearly can't afford it, he's on the road toward a meltdown. Talk with your child about his expectations whether they concern a birthday party, a vacation, a television show, a new toy or future goals. Find out what he thinks will come of the event or the item, and then talk to him about what he can realistically expect. It's better to tell him now than to let him find out when the spotlight is on him.
- Teach them to find the diamond in the rough. One of the most helpful attitudes you can have during disappointing times is curious optimism. It's simply a matter of digging through all the crap and finding one good thing-- just one thing that can somehow make it worthwhile. Teach your children to do this. Whenever either of you are beset by disappointment, make it a point to be optimistic. Search together for a reason to be happy in the face of such adversity. If it rains on the day you were going to the park, tell him the rain brings puddles, which are much more fun than just dry land. If you spend enough time hammering this attitude into his brain, it will become second nature for him.
- Foster their comforting skills. Children have to learn how to soothe themselves. It is an invaluable skill that most kids pick up at one point or another-- unless there is a parent in their life that constantly does the comforting. Learning to comfort himself prepares a child to overcome adversity later in life. When relationships go bad, when people at work make him angry, when everything seems to be going wrong, he should be able to center himself, be calm and deal with these issues internally. There's nothing wrong with reaching out once in a while, but you don't want him calling home every time someone hurts his feelings.
- Don't fill them with false praise. Filling children with false praise is a disservice. Although it may make them proud to be praised so much, there are a number of things wrong with this tactic. It's dishonest, for one. You're essentially lying to your child, and eventually he will realize it. Secondly, by doing so you also give your children false expectations of their abilities which honestly sets them up for a bigger disappointment down the line. Lastly, false praise is usually given to avoid disappointment in a poor performance, and disappointment, again, is something children NEED to experience. Your job isn't to shelter them from it but to teach them to step out from under it.
- Use mistakes as a way to teach lessons. When your child is disappointed because of something he did wrong, use it as an opportunity to teach him a life lesson. "The real world isn't fair," "Things happen," "Practice makes perfect" - take your pick. Disappointments, like traumatic events, have a way of burning into your child's memory, so immediately after a disappointing blow is the best time to do a little parenting. If nothing else, the proximity of the lesson to the disappointment will help make it stick in their minds for years to come.