Updated: Sep 24, 2022
By Dr. Joanne Foster
This year, we will celebrate a COVID kind of Halloween. In the same way that school protocols are very different, and playing involves more physically distanced interactions, so, too, does Halloween take on a new countenance. For many young children, this October 31 st –and the days leading up to it—could be disappointing.
And, that’s just one example of a potential disappointment. Add to this other upsets or let-downs that children might be experiencing at home or elsewhere during the pandemic, and it’s not hard to see that it might be increasingly difficult for them to manage their feelings.
Parents can help little ones understand and learn to cope with disappointment—now and going forward—and they can be instrumental in turning frowns upside-down.
HOW IS DISAPPOINTMENT EXPRESSED?
Young children manifest their disappointment in different ways. For example, they may complain of a tummy ache; whimper or whine; have a temper tantrum, or withdraw and refuse to eat or talk. Disappointment can lead to sadness, anger, or frustration. It may be profound (as when a child seems inconsolable) or relatively manageable (as when it’s brief and then the child moves on).
Parents who are familiar with the cause, frequency, and intensity of their child’s disappointment are better equipped to help that child deal with it. For example, if a child is deeply disappointed it may be due to feeling vulnerable or grief-stricken. A child who is less affected may be feeling impatient, uncertain, or inconvenienced. A cause may seem minor to an adult (no Halloween—sigh) but major to a child (NO HALLOWEEN!) It helps if parents respect the child’s disappointment, but also understand the source and magnitude of it, because then they can more effectively address it.
HOW CAN PARENTS HELP CHILDREN GO FROM DISAPPOINTMENT TO JOY?
A child who is disappointed may not ask for help or consolation so there can be an interval from when feelings set in, to when they are finally reconciled.
Parents who recognize that their child is having a rough time can offer reassurance, comfort, and coping strategies. Here are some suggestions:
ALLOW TIME TO DECOMPRESS. A period of crying, stillness, stomping, venting, or even pillow-punching can be cathartic. It gives the child an outlet for pent-up feelings, and a chance to reflect, and come to terms with the disappointment—and perhaps also think of ways to get over or around it. (Get creative! How else might the family celebrate Halloween this year? Make colorful decorations? Create original costumes? Watch a themed movie? Have a pumpkin painting contest? Build a “haunted” indoor fort? Bake scary-looking treats?)
CHAT. Parents can offer their own thoughts about how they deal with disappointing situations and regulate their emotions, perhaps by using specific coping mechanisms such as connecting with others, decelerating, or being resourceful. Parents can also talk about creative possibilities for mitigating circumstances or offer fresh and informed perspectives about how things are unfolding. The best way forward involves respectful, empathetic dialogue—while still giving children enough space unto themselves. (For more suggestions, see the chapter “H is for Health and Happiness” in ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids.)
CHANGE FOCUS. Consider how to help the child look toward something positive. Changing focus can be advantageous. For example, emphasize pleasures, point out upcoming fun (such as other holidays on the horizon), demonstrate a “growth mindset” (this involves overcoming challenges using effort and sound strategies), or comment on a child’s specific strengths. These are starting points for transitioning from negativity to positivity.
CONVEY RELATABLE MESSAGES. The adage, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” reflects the concept of going from sour to sweet. Even young children can grasp sayings like that. Music can also be really uplifting, and many song lyrics convey powerful messages about getting over disappointment. For example, “Put on a Happy Face” (by Charles Strouse], “Tomorrow” (by Alicia Morton), and one of my favorite songs, “What a Wonderful World” (by Bob Thiele and George David Weiss). Stories are full of gems, too. For instance, these relevant statements are from A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh: “When life throws you a rainy day, play in the puddles.” And, “The sun still shines, even when it’s hiding.” What helpful sayings, lyrics, or quotes can you think of or find together?
BE THERE. Availability means being present and attentive. Here are fifteen suggestions:
Listen—intentionally and from your heart.
Value your child’s thoughts, sadness, and opinions.
Show your child that you believe in possibilities, hope, and adaptability.
Share ways of managing BIG feelings.
Laugh when the time is right.
Be safe together.
“Children benefit from connectivity that is attuned to their particular needs, and that is supportive of their particular challenges.” ~ ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids, p.55
Disappointment may be fleeting, or relatively short-lived (like a missed or re-imagined Halloween), or more impactful. As children begin to move on from disappointment, continue to reinforce their progress, honor their feelings, and help them realize and accept that although disappointments are inevitable, they are not insurmountable. Today children will learn to prevail and gain confidence (hooray!)—and tomorrow will be a brand-new day.
For additional information about ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids and Dr. Foster’s other award-winning books—and for access to many articles and timely resources on children’s well-being, creativity, productivity, and learning—go to www.joannefoster.ca. (COVID-related material is marked with a red asterisk.)