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Today On Babble – Preparing Kids for Disappointment

My daughter was three the first time her dad told her sympathetically “Sorry kid, that’s life” over some long-forgotten hurt.  I was taken aback.  Wasn’t it our job as her parents to fix her hurts?

It was one of those parenting moments when I was really grateful to have a partner.  My mother’s heart can’t bear to see my kids sad, but he gently reminded me that learning how to accept disappointment is a part of everyone’s life.  I won’t always be able to fix their hurts, but I can raise my girls to be strong enough to bear them.

Today on Babble, Harlyn Aizley writes about how we’re often reluctant to acknowledge our kids’ disappointment.  Aizley tells us about a birthday party thrown for a five-year-old friend, where over-sized cupcakes were served topped with princesses, crowns, and … squiggles.  The girls who got the squiggle cupcakes were visibly upset.  Aizley writes:

You could tell which girls got a squiggle because they were the ones with the quivering lower lips who silently held their cupcakes out to their mothers. That’s when I heard it, delivered in a firm hushed whisper into a morose child’s ear.

You get what you get and you don’t get upset.

It’s the thing we adults in charge are supposed to pronounce when what we really want to say is, “You wait here, honey, and I’ll go rip a princess cupcake out of Natasha’s hands and give it to you.”

You get what you get and you don’t get upset. I don’t use it often — usually only when my girls are fighting over who gets the pink cereal bowl for the thousandth time an I’m tired of hearing about it. (Why I don’t just go and buy a second pink bowl, I don’t know.) But Aizley is right — it might be a useful phrase to prevent arguments, but what it’s really saying is this: One of you is going to be disappointed, but you aren’t going to be allowed to say so. That hardly seems fair.

A few weeks ago, I noticed that my dream house — the one I’ve been watching for four years was back on the market, this time at a reduced price the my husband and I could afford. We called our realtor, and I could hardly sleep the night before the showing. When we walked in, however, it was clear that something was wrong. The entire house leaned to the south, so much so that it felt like walking through a fun house. In the years since I’d last looked at it, a large tree root had caused the foundation to sink in one corner.

You get what you get and you don’t get upset. Only sometimes, like Aizley writes, you do get upset. I went home and googled “raising sunk foundations.” I begged our realtor to look into what it would cost to repair, even as she sadly shook her head at me and pointed to the plaster walls that would surely crack if we tried. And finally I just sat down and cried about it.

We often tell kids that their little disappointments are “no big deal,” but to a five-year-old, a squiggly cupcake feels just as disappointing as a sinking dream home. It’s OK to be upset; our job is to teach them how to handle it with strength and grace.

At the birthday party that day, Aizley did just that:

At the risk of causing a scene, I did the unthinkable. Her little girl stuck with the squiggle was looking at me with big sad eyes, the untouched cupcake limp in her hands.

I leaned over and whispered, “You get what you get and sometimes you do get upset.”

Her mouth fell open.

“But you eat it anyway.”

How do you teach your kids about disappointment?

Photo: beelerspace, Flickr

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