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Saving Our Kids From Disappointment: Good Idea?

When my daughter was little, I remember hanging out with other mamas, and hearing people say things like:

“Thanks for the invitation.  I won’t tell little Molly that we’re coming until we’re knocking on the front door, because if it can’t happen for some reason, she’ll be so disappointed.”

Can anyone relate? Found yourself in that position?

It’s become such a common theme, I saw this on a Facebook page the other day:

meme on disappointment

The comment accompanying the meme was a parent saying “Yes! Totally us. Once we didn’t surprise our son with Disneyland until we were walking in the door.”

The post got quite a few likes.

But what’s happening here?

Is it really hard-earned parental wisdom or is it something else?

I’d argue it’s something else.street sign -- disappointment valley

Consider, if you will, what I think is actually going on:

  1. By refusing to share an upcoming event, might we actually be depriving our children of the joy of anticipation?  Of the fun of letting excitement and imagination build? I think yes.  Is that really what we want? Do we really only want our children to experience “normal life” and “surprises”?  Seems to me there’s a lot of nuance we’re missing there.
  2. For those kiddos who struggle sometimes with nervousness, anxiety, or need a little extra time to prepare for what’s coming up, we’re not giving their nervous system time to anticipate, adjust, and adapt. Sometimes events we have planned, whether it’s a playdate or a trip to an amusement park, can create some worry and stress.  By letting our children know in advance, we can walk them through it, give them space to plan, and feel ready.
  3. Most importantly, I think we are depriving our children of the opportunity to learn to live with disappointment. In order to save ourselves some tears and the need to support our kids through a tough emotion, we’re simply trying to skip the tough emotions altogether. But that’s not reality. Life is full of disappointments. It’s full of a lot of joy, too, but we don’t get the good without also dealing with the bad.

Look, we’re in the midst of a mental health crisis…and I don’t believe we’re making it better by sheltering our children from every difficult emotion that might come their way.

After all, who is going to fare better when they don’t pass the test, don’t get the job, or don’t get the girl?  The kid who has no experience with disappointment and feels wrecked by it? Or the kid who knows it’s a tricky emotion, but that they can handle it, because they’ve done it before.  I’d wager you know the answer.

So next time you’re inclined to protect your child from disappointment—or any other difficult emotion—what if, instead, you leaned into it?

What if you validated their feelings, helped them understand their emotions, and gave them some tools to manage them?

It might take some time and patience on your part, but on the other end of it, you’d have a kid who would survive if Disneyland fell through.

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Christy Keating is a certified parent coach,  positive discipline educator, and motivational speaker. She is the founder and CEO of The Heartful Parent Collective, which includes Heartful Parent Coaching, Savvy Parents Safe Kids, and Heartful Parent Academy.

The mother of two amazing daughters, Christy strives to build a happier, healthier world - one child, one parent, and one family at a time.