When They Sweat the ‘Small’ Stuff – Teaching Kids How to Deal With Disappointment

When They Sweat the 'Small' Stuff - Teaching Kids How to Deal With Disappointment

Life’s too short to sweat the small stuff isn’t it? It’s what adults often say to each other. But a child’s attitude to the ‘small stuff’ is often a different matter. This is an observation that a dad made on a course I ran a while ago: Children do ‘sweat the small stuff.’

One parent I worked with recently, just could not understand why her four-year-old son made such a huge fuss because his biscuit was broken. She offered him another biscuit, but he would have none of it. What could she do, she couldn’t exactly stick the broken biscuit back together could she?

This little story made me smile, it reminded me of the time when my son, then around the same age was inconsolable one day because his Batman pants were in the wash. You would have thought his little world had just ended.

There’s no doubt, children can get very emotional very quickly about seemingly unimportant things. It might not seem like a good idea to pander to this, and to bend over backwards to make everything right for them all the time, but it is important to listen. Patience and empathy on your part will help your child to feel that their emotions are valid, which they are, they really do feel upset/disappointed or whatever it is.

Most parents are not surprised when their two-year-old gets upset about small things, it is accepted that this behaviour is not at all unusual for a child of this age. But it is not uncommon for older children to get very emotional when something is not right. Being able to regulate our emotions, delay gratification, and respond appropriately to life’s ups and downs, are skills that take time to develop, and some children will need more support than others. But there is plenty you can do to encourage these skills in your child.

Teaching Kids How to Deal With Disappointment.

Here are a couple of simple, easy to remember ideas.

  1. Acknowledge emotions

    Try to follow these steps next time you have an emotional child on your hands:

    Name the problem: ‘Your sister has trodden on your Lego model again.’

    Acknowledge the feeling: ‘That must be upsetting.’

    Let your child talk or ‘rant’ if that is what they need to do.

    Keep on listening for as long as it takes, don’t feel you have to say much or ‘fix’ the problem.

    Validating your child’s feelings in this way will help your child to feel that you really care and understand what they are going through, and can help to prevent the emotional behaviour from escalating.

  2. Encourage problem-solving

    Ask your child if they can think of a solution, ‘What do you think you could do to stop this from happening?’

    Brainstorm some different solutions. Support your child to do this.

    Agree on the best solution: ‘So it’s agreed that you will play with your Lego at the other end of the sitting room, where no one is going to be walking past.’

    Try out the solution. Remind your child to put the plan into action.

    Review the plan at a later time. Talk to your child about whether the solution to the problem has worked, and if so why? If it has not worked, why is that, what could be done differently?

    Encouraging your child to come up with their own solution to a problem (with your support) is a more useful approach than just fixing the problem for them. When they walk out the door as a young adult, you want to know that they can deal with the problems that life throws at them.

  3. Be a Role Model

    Children learn a lot by watching others and it is a good idea to let them see you solving problems in this way: ‘Kid’s, the film is all booked up on the day we want to see it, shall we go another day, see a different film or do something else instead?

Be aware that children develop different skills at different rates. You may have a bright child who appears to be ahead when it comes to reading and learning, but that does not necessarily mean that they will be up to the same speed in their emotional development.

If there is not an answer to the problem, the biscuit really is broken, or the Batman pants really are in the wash, then your child will need to learn that sometimes there will be disappointment.

Just stay calm and be there for them while they ‘sweat the small stuff.’


About the Author: Jane Rogers

Jane Rogers is founder of The Cambridge Parent Coach. She is experienced in running a number of highly regarded parenting courses, and writes and runs her own workshops for parents. Jane is passionate about Positive Parenting and her aim is to share the ethos and ideas of this style of parenting in a way that is simple to understand, and easy to put into practice. Jane’s two parent workbooks: ‘How to Encourage Good Behaviour so You Can Enjoy You Children’ and ‘How to Use Positive Discipline to Improve Your Child’s Behaviour’ are available on Amazon

3 Comments

Ari Yares

Great article! We’ve found that teaching some self-calming strategies in advance can also help. Practicing strategies like counting to 3 or taking calming breaths can help children de-escalate themselves.

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

Ari thank you for sharing this! Yes – an upset brain is a busy brain and it can’t always remember what it needs to, unless the strategies have been well-practiced first. You’re so right about the helpfulness of teaching the strategies in advance.

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Tereza

Great article, thank you so much. My daughter does this often, mostly in the afternoon when she is exausted from the long day in kindergarden (where she does not sleep, beause she “doesnt want to miss something”- her words) and every little thing can make her “loose it”.

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How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting
Anxiety and courage always exist together. It can be no other way. Anxiety is a call to courage. It means you're about to do something brave, so when there is one the other will be there too. Their courage might feel so small and be whisper quiet, but it will always be there and always ready to show up when they need it to.
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But courage doesn’t always feel like courage, and it won't always show itself as a readiness. Instead, it might show as a rising - from fear, from uncertainty, from anger. None of these mean an absence of courage. They are the making of space, and the opportunity for courage to rise.
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When the noise from anxiety is loud and obtuse, we’ll have to gently add our voices to usher their courage into the light. We can do this speaking of it and to it, and by shifting the focus from their anxiety to their brave. The one we focus on is ultimately what will become powerful. It will be the one we energise. Anxiety will already have their focus, so we’ll need to make sure their courage has ours.
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But we have to speak to their fear as well, in a way that makes space for it to be held and soothed, with strength. Their fear has an important job to do - to recruit the support of someone who can help them feel safe. Only when their fear has been heard will it rest and make way for their brave.
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What does this look like? Tell them their stories of brave, but acknowledge the fear that made it tough. Stories help them process their emotional experiences in a safe way. It brings word to the feelings and helps those big feelings make sense and find containment. ‘You were really worried about that exam weren’t you. You couldn’t get to sleep the night before. It was tough going to school but you got up, you got dressed, you ... and you did it. Then you ...’
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In the moment, speak to their brave by first acknowledging their need to flee (or fight), then tell them what you know to be true - ‘This feels scary for you doesn’t it. I know you want to run. It makes so much sense that you would want to do that. I also know you can do hard things. My darling, I know it with everything in me.’
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#positiveparenting #parenting #childanxiety #anxietyinchildren #mindfulpare
Separation anxiety has an important job to do - it’s designed to keep children safe by driving them to stay close to their important adults. Gosh it can feel brutal sometimes though.

Whenever there is separation from an attachment person there will be anxiety unless there are two things: attachment with another trusted, loving adult; and a felt sense of you holding on, even when you aren't beside them. Putting these in place will help soften anxiety.

As long as children are are in the loving care of a trusted adult, there's no need to avoid separation. We'll need to remind ourselves of this so we can hold on to ourselves when our own anxiety is rising in response to theirs. 

If separation is the problem, connection has to be the solution. The connection can be with any loving adult, but it's more than an adult being present. It needs an adult who, through their strong, warm, loving presence, shows the child their abundant intention to care for that child, and their joy in doing so. This can be helped along by showing that you trust the adult to love that child big in our absence. 'I know [important adult] loves you and is going to take such good care of you.'

To help your young one feel held on to by you, even in absence, let them know you'll be thinking of them and can't wait to see them. Bolster this by giving them something of yours to hold while you're gone - a scarf, a note - anything that will be felt as 'you'.

They know you are the one who makes sure their world is safe, so they’ll be looking to you for signs of safety: 'Do you think we'll be okay if we aren't together?' First, validate: 'You really want to stay with me, don't you. I wish I could stay with you too! It's hard being away from your special people isn't it.' Then, be their brave. Let it be big enough to wrap around them so they can rest in the safety and strength of it: 'I know you can do this, love. We can do hard things can't we.'

Part of growing up brave is learning that the presence of anxiety doesn't always mean something is wrong. Sometimes it means they are on the edge of brave - and being away from you for a while counts as brave.
Even the most loving, emotionally available adult might feel frustration, anger, helplessness or distress in response to a child’s big feelings. This is how it’s meant to work. 

Their distress (fight/flight) will raise distress in us. The purpose is to move us to protect or support or them, but of course it doesn’t always work this way. When their big feelings recruit ours it can drive us more to fight (anger, blame), or to flee (avoid, ignore, separate them from us) which can steal our capacity to support them. It will happen to all of us from time to time. 

Kids and teens can’t learn to manage big feelings on their own until they’ve done it plenty of times with a calm, loving adult. This is where co-regulation comes in. It helps build the vital neural pathways between big feelings and calm. They can’t build those pathways on their own. 

It’s like driving a car. We can tell them how to drive as much as we like, but ‘talking about’ won’t mean they’re ready to hit the road by themselves. Instead we sit with them in the front seat for hours, driving ‘with’ until they can do it on their own. Feelings are the same. We feel ‘with’, over and over, until they can do it on their own. 

What can help is pausing for a moment to see the behaviour for what it is - a call for support. It’s NOT bad behaviour or bad parenting. It’s not that.

Our own feelings can give us a clue to what our children are feeling. It’s a normal, healthy, adaptive way for them to share an emotional load they weren’t meant to carry on their own. Self-regulation makes space for us to hold those feelings with them until those big feelings ease. 

Self-regulation can happen in micro moments. First, see the feelings or behaviour for what it is - a call for support. Then breathe. This will calm your nervous system, so you can calm theirs. In the same way we will catch their distress, they will also catch ours - but they can also catch our calm. Breathe, validate, and be ‘with’. And you don’t need to do more than that.
When things feel hard or the world feels big, children will be looking to their important adults for signs of safety. They will be asking, ‘Do you think I'm safe?' 'Do you think I can do this?' With everything in us, we have to send the message, ‘Yes! Yes love, this is hard and you are safe. You can do hard things.'

Even if we believe they are up to the challenge, it can be difficult to communicate this with absolute confidence. We love them, and when they're distressed, we're going to feel it. Inadvertently, we can align with their fear and send signals of danger, especially through nonverbals. 

What they need is for us to align with their 'brave' - that part of them that wants to do hard things and has the courage to do them. It might be small but it will be there. Like a muscle, courage strengthens with use - little by little, but the potential is always there.

First, let them feel you inside their world, not outside of it. This lets their anxious brain know that support is here - that you see what they see and you get it. This happens through validation. It doesn't mean you agree. It means that you see what they see, and feel what they feel. Meet the intensity of their emotion, so they can feel you with them. It can come off as insincere if your nonverbals are overly calm in the face of their distress. (Think a zen-like low, monotone voice and neutral face - both can be read as threat by an anxious brain). Try:

'This is big for you isn't it!' 
'It's awful having to do things you haven't done before. What you are feeling makes so much sense. I'd feel the same!

Once they really feel you there with them, then they can trust what comes next, which is your felt belief that they will be safe, and that they can do hard things. 

Even if things don't go to plan, you know they will cope. This can be hard, especially because it is so easy to 'catch' their anxiety. When it feels like anxiety is drawing you both in, take a moment, breathe, and ask, 'Do I believe in them, or their anxiety?' Let your answer guide you, because you know your young one was built for big, beautiful things. It's in them. Anxiety is part of their move towards brave, not the end of it.

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