This week we’ve had Little Miss here and she is sulking, or throwing a little fit (and it is only little) when she doesn’t get her own way. I’ve been thinking about this and reflecting on different ways I’ve handle this, and not too sure I’m happy with myself. I’ve started to see that when she goes through these motions (and they are almost predictable) that she is communicating – something.
Little kids can’t communicate their emotions very well – big kids struggle at times too! They either don’t fully understand what is going on in their bodies or they don’t have the vocab to explain – but that doesn’t mean they don’t have the emotion! It is our job as parent to help them know themselves, communicate to life’s circumstances and people appropriately, and make wise choices. So how do we handle our kids struggling with disappointment?
— First we need to check our own response.
How am I handling the way they are handling their disappointment? Am I disappointed and reacting out of frustration, anger, embarrassment? I need to have love, patience and kindness – my role here is going to be one to help my child. It isn’t about me – it is about them.
when we understand that they are trying to communicate disappointment – we can empathise; we all know what it is like not to get what we were expecting, or what we wanted. But there are ways to communicate that and a fit isn’t going to help! By telling our child we understand their disappointment – we make opportunity to connect with them, and as they get older this is important before we speak into their heart, or help them change. It is okay to be sad, but what do we do now?
— Give them time to sort out their heart
to be resilient we need to accept disappointment and move on. This of course is maturity – but our kids are only just learning this; it can take time. We need to have patience – we cannot demand them to snap out of it (and this is where I was going wrong!) They need time to sort out their hearts and be okay with things not going their way. Reflect on how long you have taken – even as an adult – to sort out your heart when your hopes have been dashed.
— Find an appropriate response
They don’t have to be happy about the circumstance, but they have to accept it if they can’t change it, and find ways to try if it is a situation they can change. We need to teach our kids (probably not at this moment, but as a general thing) that there are things they can change, and there are things that they can’t change.
— Offer the choices they have
When their hearts are ready to deal with the situation – they’ve calmed down, they are ready to look at their options they may need your help to see what those options are. They may not – this depends on their age and maturity, but be available. Ask: What would be the best thing to do now? I know you are sad, but what can you do now, instead of sulking?
When I started thinking about these things I was thinking of sulking, being despondent, pouting, whining, withdrawing – kind of small expressions but it is really the same with tantrums. Tantrums are large expressions of disappointment.
When a child throws a tantrum, we cannot communicate with words to them at all. We need to keep them safe (especially if it is a physical tantrum) and give them time to be receptive. I personally found putting my children in the cot when they were throwing a wobbly, or holding them on my lap (their back to my front) to be the most effective way of handling physical tantrums. This way they were safe – and I was safe from their flailing arms and legs – but we always dealt with it afterwards. I’d offer them love and assurance. I’d help them, prompt them or teach them to find an appropriate response for the situation they were in. Really sulking, pouting and whining is just a small tantrum. I need to have the same strategies. I need to love them, keep them safe and wait till we can sort it out.
When our kids throw big tantrums we know what is going on. They are upset about something. We get that! But when it is just a small tantrum (like sulking, pouting, whining) we tend to take it as pure rebellion. And often it is a case of not wanting to do what the adult has said – and I’m not masking that at all but the idea of not wanting too – it is a disappointment. They thought they were the boss, and they found out they weren’t. Disappointment. They thought they were going to get dessert, and they found out they weren’t. Disappointment. They thought they were going to go with Mummy, and they found out they weren’t. Disappointment. They simply have chosen the wrong form of communication to express themselves!
Parenting Big Kids with their Disappointment
I think this is helpful for big kids too. Hopefully they won’t be throwing themselves on the ground and banging their heads but when disappointments get too big for them, they too struggle to find the right way to communicate their emotions. Have things not gone the way they expected? Have friends let them down? Have they let themselves down?
In order to help them, we need to be aware of the same things (I’ll repeat them, but with ‘teenage’ context in mind) –
- Check our response: be loving and kind with their well-being in mind
- Empathise: acknowledge their feelings of disappointment
- Give them space and time: not to ignore their inappropriate response, but time to get themselves sorted, to become receptive. My big kids take themselves off when they know they need to get things sorted, and then they come out looking for help, or restitution. (as should we as adults!)
- Help them to know there are some things they can change and some things they need to accept
- Help them find the appropriate responses to go forward.
Each situation that our children – big kids and little kids – go through will differ. But as a parent we need to be there for them, see what is really going on, and choose the best way to help them.