Between promises of Santa visiting, treats galore, and the anticipation of presents, Christmas can be a big deal to kids. But what if your child is disappointed? Here are 3 Traps Parents Fall Into When a Child is Disappointed At Christmas – and my tips on how to help your child cope with disappointment:
Sign up for our free monthly newsletter stuffed full of ideas, competitions and offers. PS Did we mention it’s free?
Christmas morning. The fun and flurry of gift wrap torn open. Squeals of delight – “Look what I got!” But when Jamie opens his present he puts it quietly down and stares at the floor. His mum glances anxiously towards him.
Perhaps, like Jamie’s mum, you’re also feeling worried about how to help your child cope with disappointment at Christmas – whether it’s about an anticipated present or a bigger issue, like a parent not with them at Christmas. In the scenario described below, see if you can spot the 3 traps parents might fall into when a child is disappointed at Christmas. Then we’ll reflect on what you can do to help your child cope with disappointment.
Recommended reading: Smart Ways to Help Your Children after Divorce
Spot the Traps A Parent Can Fall Into:
“I didn’t want a stupid jigsaw puzzle. I wanted a Nintendo.”
“You should be grateful for what you get!” snorts Grandad. “When I was little I would have loved a jigsaw like that.’
The attention is too much for Jamie. He bursts into tears.
We should have warned him he wouldn’t be getting it!
“Come on Jamie”, Dad says, trying to soothe. “Big boys don’t cry. The Nintendo was more money than we can afford.”
Jamie throws the jigsaw to the floor and storms out the room.
The other children stare glumly at the slammed door. Grandad shakes his head, his frown knotting his shaggy eyebrows together …
Notice what didn’t help in Jamie’s situation. In these few seconds there are several things that trapped the family into a downward spiral.
3 Traps Parents Fall Into When a Child is Disappointed At Christmas
TRAP #1 Putting the spotlight on a child when he’s battling to contain a challenging emotion.
Jamie was struggling to contain himself. If the focus had been kept off him the strong wave of emotion would have washed over him and he might even have regained his composure by himself.
TRAP #2 Telling a child he should be grateful.
If a child is disappointed, he’s disappointed. He can’t choose his feelings. What he needs is support to learn to handle his emotional reaction.
TRAP #3 Shaming a child for his reaction
Whether this is comparing him to others or telling him his tears (or other signs of upset) are not okay.
Sometimes our best plans go wrong, especially over the festive season, and it’s easy for strong emotions to bubble over. But when we think ahead we can often create a different outcome to a difficult situation.
Recommended reading: 15 Positive Parenting Techniques Every Parent Should Know
How to Help Your Child Cope With Disappointment
TIP #1 Wait for a quiet opportunity
If your child is disappointed, it will probably be more helpful to wait for a quiet opportunity later in the day to talk through his disappointment. When you have the opportunity, focus on listening to his experience and his disappointment. What matters is that he senses you’re trying to understand and connect with his experience. For helpful tips on how to have this conversation see my blog, “Dealing With Your Child’s Disappointment”.
TIP #2 Check in with your intuition before you open your mouth.
Does my child need support at this very moment or do I let him ‘ride this wave of emotion’? (This will often depend on the age of your child and also on his temperament). If you sense he needs your support now, it will probably be more helpful to come close to him. If there are other people present perhaps make some physical connection, like a hand on his shoulder, that lets him know you see his upset, without calling attention to him directly.
TIP #3 Warn a child ahead of time.
A child’s disappointment will be far greater if he’s built up that expectation. If a child is letting you know what he would love for Christmas, and that is not possible, it will be easier for your child to handle the disappointment if they know this ahead of time.
It could have been easy for Jamie’s parents to run up debt to get him the expensive toy he wanted. But they didn’t fall into that trap. We can’t protect our children from sometimes experiencing disappointment. That’s part of life. But we can help them learn to handle difficult emotions.
An accredited Parent Coach can give you the support, help you discover key insights and relationship skills to help your children learn to interact respectfully and to fight fairly. For more about Val Mullally’s work as a Parent Coach click here.
Over to you now. Have you had a situation when a child was disappointed? How did you deal with it? We’d love your comments.