The elves came!
On December 1st the Kindness Elves appeared at our doorstep. Or rather in our kids’ shoes, next to the doorstep. I believe that no one was really ready for their visit, the children weren’t sure what to expect and we didn’t know how to handle their expectations.
The elves were supposed to help the kids spread the magic of Xmas by being kind to each other and to other people. They were supposed to bring the best in our children, praising them for their thoughtfulness and encouraging them in their compassion and altruism. But, the elves came from Santa, and the kids obviously awaited presents. They read the messages, did everything the elves demanded, made Xmas cards for the grandparents, went around all day hugging people, selected their toys for charity, made special effort at being tolerant and congenial. They did not expect rewards in return, they truly did it out of the kindness of their hearts. But the elves came from Santa and there were these few things that the kids have been craving for quite a while now, and they whispered their wishes to the elves last night before going to bed, hoping the elves would do their part and bring them presents by the morning.
So, how come they didn’t bear any gifts?
You see, the elves can do magic, they can speak (or rather write in) the same language as my kids, although we live thousands of miles away from Norway. And magical elves don’t need shops to be open to bring gifts to the kids, of course. So my children woke up to disappointment. The saddest part for me is that they didn’t even ask for anything grand, not any Santa-style present, not even toys. The older one asked for a Frozen-themed pen and the younger one for a master Yoda mask. Seeing them rush out of their beds and hurry to the living room, searching with anticipation for a proof that the elves were the real deal, pretty much broke my heart. I really wasn’t ready for their take on the whole magic of Xmas thing. So as soon as they left for school I sat down and searched for articles on how to help your kids deal with disappointment.
Overcoming letdowns and setbacks in 6 not-so-easy steps
Now, most pieces I read addressed different ways of overcoming failure. But my kids didn’t exactly fail at anything, so that wasn’t too helpful, though it was a place to start. What all accounts have in common is that they characterize disappointment as a bad feeling, but a useful experience. If managed properly, it helps your kid develop in all sorts of ways, emotionally, socially, intellectually. Apparently, the trick is to guide your kid into dealing with it positively, and discourage her from giving up or reducing the effort. I laid out six steps of what I consider the most effective coping strategy.
- Acknowledge feeling without offering consolation or commonplace wisdom, which can only make them feel worse (the famous “Life is full of disappointments” should be avoided at all costs!) . A disappointment doesn’t go away easily, so it takes a real effort to deal with it. But, bear in mind that not all bad feelings are bad for your kid. Empowering them to deal with disappointment is as essential as reading, writing and arithmetics.
- Encourage seeking a solution, ask the child how she would deal with disappointment, whether she wants to talk about it or write it down, or draw it. Maybe she would like to speak directly to the person who upset her, or write them a letter. Try brainstorming how the situation can be altered the next time around, but make sure you don’t discourage her imagination and problem-solving skills by discarding goofy suggestions. This way your child will slowly start to feel in control again, which is the second step, after coming to terms with the emotion itself, in handling a disappointment.
- Talk about (positive) past experiences, point out to any example when your child managed to get over being let down, praise their ability to cope with failure. Or use other people’s examples as a guide for how you can successfully turn flops into positive outcomes. Mistakes can help us learn where our weakness lie, they signal us aspects on which we can improve.
- Analyse things that we can or cannot control in life: how we can manage our own feelings, expectations or behaviour, but cannot regulate those of other people (or other creatures, as the case might be).
- Reflect on your own response to disappointment. What message are you conveying to your kids about how to deal with unmet expectations?
- Do not stop encouraging and supporting them or showing your unshaken faith in them.
Equipped with this brand new knowledge, I set out to become a pillar of disappointment coping. But, to my great surprise, when they came back from school, the kids didn’t dwell too much on their failed expectations. Instead, they asked if I could help them sort out the clothes they were supposed to take the next day to school for the children from low income families. To my question about whether they were sad because the elves didn’t bring them presents, they expressed their firm belief that the order will be delivered on Christmas. So much for the whole morning I spent researching on how to handle letdowns.