Kids need to learn how to deal with disappointment
I’ve heard this said time and time again, especially when my teenagers were younger. Most of the time, it was meant as general advice towards today’s generation of spoiled children but the advice has been directed towards me as well. I admit, I’ve been the kind of mom who wants to make life easier for her kids than my own has been. Why wouldn’t I?
Life isn’t void of disappointment. Overcoming set-backs is an important skill kids need to acquire. By solving their problems and contriving compensations, we take away learning opportunities. Personally, I thank my engineering diploma for my drive to overcome adversity and ability to fend for myself. Still, I find it difficult to accept distress in my own kids’ lives if I have the ability to avert it.
Making up for Loss
In the first months of COVID-19, counterbalancing disappointment seemed to be the go-to for many parents. Your birthday party was cancelled (again) due to COVID? OK, we’ll have to postpone it but we’ll treat you with an elaborate in-house birthday brunch ànd an extra present!
It’s an almost instinctive way to guide our kids through difficult times: compensate distress with fun and focus on the positive .
COVID provided our kids with plenty of learning opportunities. No matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t even begin to counterbalance it all. For me, that wasn’t a bad thing. I was forced to give up control and we learned not to take luxuries for granted.
From Disappointment to Apathy
In the second year of COVID however, I witnessed my kids’ improved ability to cope with disappointment gradually begin to evolve towards a sense of resignation, indifference and even apathy. Anticipating disappointment has become their default. We didn’t experience any COVID losses. We have been grateful for our jobs, our home office, our garden retreat, our health. I’ve always been aware of our many privileges, and COVID strongly enhanced that awareness. We really didn’t have any grounds for complaining. Still, my kids’ atypical apathy saddened me, deeply.
Shrugging off Conflict
When the conflict in Ukraine escalated, however, they weren’t even upset. They shrugged in the same way they shrugged when I announced a family holiday to Germany. In their acquired mood of apprehension, a close-by war was more readily accepted than the prospect of having a hamburger in Hamburg – the latter, one of their long-time bucket list items nonetheless.
Going on a holiday while another European country was at war, felt like betrayal. Cancelling the trip would mean betrayal on another level, to my kids. So it all happened. Russia invaded Ukraine. We enjoyed our Hamburg hamburger. Geographically, we had travelled closer to the war. Mentally, we couldn’t have been farther away.
It felt uncomfortably surreal. It was exactly what they had needed.
On the way home, we were able to discuss both world politics and the history of Bremen and its legendary town musicians. The kids’ even ventured to propose ideas for our next trip – Vienna or Venice? As we were getting closer to our home town, they quietly talked about how the Ukrainian refugeesl, who had partly been travelling the same way we did, might fee. Some of them would even be staying in our town but had no prospects of returning home soon. When my teens started to plan what they could do to make the refugees feel welcome and cared for, I felt proud. But most of all, I was relieved.
They finally were shedding their indifference; learning to let go of apathy.
Do you recognize this increased sense of indifference in your children or yourself? How is your family coping with the surreal sequence of world events?
This is an original post to World Moms Network from our contributor in Belgium, Katinka. The featured image used in this post is attributed to Khashayar Kouchpeydeh from the site Unsplash.
I have been teaching relaxation and meditation to young people in response to an ever-increasing problem of anxiety and stress among our youngsters. In the UK, this now affects many university and senior school children, however children as young as 5 are also showing signs of anxiety. In some school health questionnaires, the biggest fear which many teenagers report is that they will develop mental health problems.
The latest statistics from the UK charity Young Minds show the extent of the increase in mental health problems and depression in the UK:
- One in Four (26%) young people in the UK experience suicidal thoughts
- ChildLine (UK) held 34,517 counselling sessions in 2013/14 with children who talked about suicide – a 116% increase since 2010/11
- Among teenagers, rates of depression and anxiety have increased by 70% in the past 25 years, particularly since the mid 1980’s
- The number of children and young people who have presented to Accident &Emergency with a psychiatric condition have more than doubled since 2009. (8,358 in 10/11; 17,278 in 13/14)
- 55% of children who have been bullied later developed depression as adults
There are many possible factors involved in these statistics such as increases in exams and exam stress; substance abuse; peer pressure; bullying; and changes in family life and, perhaps more recently, an increased feeling of instability as countries and continents tumble into more uncertainty. An interesting study by the UK Nuffield Foundation outlines the dramatic increase in mental health problems in adolescents in the past 30 years and explains the key social trends which can affect young people’s wellbeing.
However, it seems unlikely that all the children and young people with symptoms of anxiety are exposed of these problems (which it could be argued are no worse than what children experienced in the world wars). Pinpointing the exact cause of anxiety in younger children can be difficult and some people are questioning whether, in a substantial number of cases, it relates to the fact that many of them, especially in the developed world, are no longer allowed to take even small risks. In the UK, this is the case as we live in time where children are often under constant supervision and where a culture of risk assessment exists, even for the most mundane outing or event. School activities have been curbed and playgrounds lie unused if no adult supervision is available. In addition, many children are being ‘overparented’ by so-called ‘helicopter parents’. This might be a response to fears for their child’s safety fuelled by 24 hour media horror stories, despite statistics which show that there is no greater danger nowadays than in the past.
Whilst a certain amount of child supervision is necessary and prudent, perhaps we have reached a stage where too much ‘wrapping in cotton wool’ is having a seriously bad effect on many children?
Kids need to learn how to set their own boundaries and to develop a healthy sense of self-preservation but how can they do so if they’re never allowed to stretch their wings, even a little? Maybe such a constant drip feed of suggestions that their environment/the world is not a safe place is causing a subconscious increase in anxiety? This is certainly the view of some psychologists as Zoe Reyes explains in a ‘World of Psychology’ article .
I can’t help contrasting the UK approach with places like Finland where orienteering is taught through clubs and schools to children as young as eight. Children are given training, a map, and a compass and left to find their way through forests and countryside, without adult supervision. This might be a bit mind-blowing for many parents but it is a truly confidence-building sport which has produced people like nine-times world champion Minna Kauppi. She started the sport when she was only eight years old and became world champion by the age of 24. Now aged 34, she faces the new challenge of being a parent, having given birth to her first child last month.
So, how can overprotective parents change their approach? The first step is to recognise that they are being overprotective and then, perhaps, to join their children in more adventurous play such as can be found in places such as ‘The Land’ . This is an experimental playground in North Wales which lets children (and adults) experience he boundaries of ‘truly free’ play the idea of a ‘junk playground’ was pioneered in Denmark in 1943 by landscape architect Carl Theodor Sørensen after he witnessed children playing on bombsites. For those who are ready and willing to let their children off the leash completely and to go it alone, a similar scheme has also been started in New York City. Called ‘play:groundNYC’, no parents are allowed and children are encouraged to get dirty, to use tools and to let their imaginations run wild. It reminds me of my own childhood in the 60s and 70s where we could run wild and get up to all sorts of mischief!
And what about those children who have already developed anxiety and stress? This is where relaxation and meditation/contemplation fit in. These tools can be a great approach for children and there are numerous studies which support the use of relaxation, meditation and visualisation. Many of these studies can be accessed online but one woman, Dr Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, is heading this field. She has found that meditation not only reduces stress but it changes the brain in a positive way. The findings are fascinating and they show that the brain does not have to decline inevitably as we grow older!
In addition to these positive effects, relaxation and meditation can also help children and adults with their focus, confidence and self-esteem as they learn skills which draw on their inner resources. This has certainly been the case with the children (and adults!) who are using the system I teach which is called Heartfulness. It’s free and open to all, and you are welcome to check it out at http://en.heartfulness.org.
Have you or your kids ever tried meditation?
This is an original post written for World Moms Network by Judith Nelson.
I clearly remember (as a young first-time mother struggling with my son’s colic and projectile vomiting) being told by other mothers; “Oh, that’s nothing, just you wait until he hits the Terrible Twos!”
That colicky baby turned 21 last month, and I have learnt a few things along the way! First and foremost, children tend to live up to our expectations (even our subconscious expectations). If you’re sure that you will experience the “Terrible Twos” chances are better than fair that you will. The sad thing is that most parents don’t know that it doesn’t have to be that way!
Every child is unique, and every parent-child relationship is different, that’s why there are as many parenting styles and beliefs as there are parents. That said, most parenting sites and blogs tend to reinforce certain ideas (like that of the Terrible Toddler years and Terrible Teen years) so that new parents accept them as being inevitable stages of life.
“Robert Rosenthal brought to public attention a powerful type of self-fulfilling prophecy, in a classic experiment about the expectations of teachers (Rosenthal & Jacobson, 1968). In the experiment, all the students in a class were given a standard IQ test. After the results were scored, the researchers informed the teachers that five students in the class had unusually high IQ scores and would probably be “spurters” who leaped ahead of their classmates during the remainder of the year. In reality, the five children were picked at random. By the end of the year, all the children had gained in IQ, but the five “spurters” had gained much more than other students. Evidently the teachers treated them differently after being told to expect sudden improvement.”
Since 1968 many similar experiments to the one cited above have been carried out.
“Rosenthal notes that the expectancy effect has been documented in business management (where the biasing effect is the expectations of employers about their employees), in courtrooms (where the biasing effect is the expectations about the defendant’s guilt or innocence), and in nursing homes (where the biasing effect is the expectation that a patient will get better or worse).
In all cases, the expectations tend to come true, whether they are based on any objective evidence or not.
Apparently, as a general rule, people make their expectations come true. Rosenthal’s research shows the Pygmalion effect is not only important; it is robust. It is a strong effect that occurs in many situations.”
I believed in the “Terrible Twos” with my son (because I didn’t know any better) and we battled for 2 years! By the time my daughter was born, I’d learnt a lot, and I believed we wouldn’t have any trouble at all … guess what, we didn’t! We also haven’t experienced any of the unpleasantness that some believe is unavoidable during the pre-teen, teen and early adulthood years.
Given the above, I feel that the Terrible Twos and Terrible Teens are only fact if you believe them to be!
Can you think of ways in which your children have lived up to your expectations? Do you believe that by expecting a different result you can create a different result?
This is an original post for World Moms Blog by Mamma Simona from Cape Town, South Africa.