It goes without saying as a parent that our kids will disappoint us at some stage and that is OK. What matters is how we deal with it and get to the other side.

When I was a child, my dad made a point of never saying that he was disappointed in us. He would happily say, ‘I am angry at you’, or ‘I am sad because’, but never that we had disappointed him. He had learned the hard way from his own childhood that being told so really hurt and therefore he refused to use it. When I had kids myself, he told me not to use it either and it is something that stuck with me and that I feel really strongly about.

When we tell a child that they have disappointed us or we are disappointed in them – it really hurts the child. They might feel that they have failed, that there is no way out, that they are not good enough for us. They might even feel, or think, that we don’t love them anymore. Because all they want is for us to be proud of them and have our acceptance. Therefore, it can be a huge confidence breaker when we tell the opposite.

The other day my son told me that he didn’t think he was made for school. I thought about what he said and was quiet for a moment since I want to think about what to say. He took it that I was disappointed in him, ‘you don’t like what I just said’. I asked him why he thought that. ‘Because you are giving me the silent treatment.’ I wasn’t, I was just thinking and actually wanted to agree with him in a productive way.

The point is that there are ways we can make our child feel they have disappointed us other than just saying it. We give them the ‘silent treatment’, look at them in a different way, walk away or ignore them, when they have done something we are not in agreement with or have displeased us. In a way, this is even worse since they have to guess how we feel and what they have done to us.

So what can we do instead: 

  • Check in with yourself: STOP and take a deep BREATH before you do or say anything. Step into the feeling and accept it, this is the way you feel right now but make a decision to respond in a way that sits well with you and still respects the child. But for now just STOP and BREATHE and don’t say it….You can think it – but don’t say it. for now just accept that this is the way you feel, don’t act on it.
  • Awareness: of WHY you are feeling disappointed. Often disappointment is a sign that YOU have had unrealistic expectations from the beginning. i.e. I want my child to get an A in maths. He didn’t, so I was disappointed. But he doesn’t like maths, he likes history. I want my child to go to bed on time when I tell her: maybe the child is not tired and ready to stay up longer or lie and read. So you expectations were your hopes for the child, not their own. So next time you are feeling disappointed, turn it on yourself. Did you start out with unrealistic hopes? Do you need to adjust them, make them more ‘real? Also, do you need to change something? Is the the homework when tired and hence can’t do proper work? Does the child eat too much energy snack in the afternoon and evening and hence to hyper to sleep? Can you change anything that will improve the situation?
  • Stay connected: they need to know that you love them no matter what they have done, said or not done or said. So it is important that we don’t walk away and give them the ‘silent treatment’. Stay physically and mentally connected, where our mind is full of what we are doing right now, feeling right now and what is going on between you and the child/ Don’t get distracted by other things. You can say, ‘I want you to know that I am angry at you right now because you XX, but I still love you’. We can also ‘show’ our love by staying calm, measured and assertive instead of aggressive and impulsive. When we are mindful of what we are doing and act in a conscious way we are predictable and safe company to be with. We show them that we do care about them, that they matter to us – even when they are exhibiting unwanted behaviour or breaking agreements.
  • Create boundaries not expectations: instead of ‘I expect you to get As’, try to talk to your child about boundaries with homework, study time & school organisation. Instead of expecting a child to go to bed on time, have agreed boundaries around bedtime. The main thing is to set these boundaries together where you both agree and see them as realistic. It is something to refer back to, ‘We agreed that XX’.
  • Give them a way out, give them hope: they need to know that we still believe in them, that there is a way to get ‘good again’ or do what is agreed. Don’t give up, show them that you are willing to move forward and offer the support and time they need. ‘I know you found maths hard, what can I do to support you?’ The worst thing we can do is give up on them.. ‘well then let’s leave it if that is how you feel’. Then they really feel like a failure and all hope gone .
  • Forgive and move on: give them a chance to show that they can live up to the agreements. Don’t label them when they get it wrong. Show them that you have faith in them and trust them to do right and good. My son said to me that what really stuck with him was when I said, ‘I believe in you’….he felt he could breathe again.

I would like to ask you in what situations, or parts of the day, do you find yourself disappointed in your child?

Maybe you need to lower your expectations here and sit down with your child and agree to some boundaries and rules?

Let’s quickly talk about what NOT to do:

  • DON’T tell them that they disappointed you: you can tell them that you are angry right now because they didn’t tidy their room as agreed. You can tell them that you are sad because they called you names etc. but there is no need to use that word or the silent treatment.
  • Shame, blame and criticise: you have not tried hard enough, you are lazy, ‘you always get bad grades’, ‘you never tidy your room’, ‘you are always so loud’… as you’re now in danger of labelling the child. We need to make sure that it doesn’t define our child so they feel like a disappointment all the time.
  • Compare: why don’t you try as hard as Tom, he studies every day? Jenny has no problem helping around the house. By constantly comparing our child to other children, we increase their anxiety and stress levels. Children want to please their parents and not being able to do so can make them anxious. It may also foster resentment towards their parents, siblings or the other children they are being compared to.
  • Use force to meet your expectations: from now on we are going to work hard and there will be no play dates until you have got an A. If we do this we are in danger of making our child achieve out of fear, not because they know it is the right thing to do or good for them
  • Say nothing: this is worse than getting angry, when we give our child the ‘silent treatment’ if they disappoint Children get confused, feel lonely, abandoned and lots more.

So in summary: don’t use the D word, have realistic expectations and work on agreed boundaries.

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