My Child Was so Disappointed: How Can I Help?

As parents, more than anything else, we want our kids to be happy. When something happens that causes them to be sad or disappointed, I think we suffer even more than they do. Our first impulse its to try to find a way to fix the situation and make them feel better.  This is not always the best response.

Disappointment is a part of life that we all experience. It’s important that we allow children to begin to develop the understanding and healthy emotional skills that will support them throughout a lifetime.  

Most of our disappointment or feelings of failure come from an expectation of something we wanted to happen that didn’t happen.  It’s no different for adults than it is for children.  We didn’t get the job, we didn’t get invited to the birthday party, we didn’t get the toy we wanted (could be a new car or a tricycle) it’s really all the same thing.  

Support and encouragement is the best approach.  it’s OK for kids to feel disappointed but you don’t have to be disappointed with them – it just adds more of a burden. Learning to handle small failures or disappointments paves the way for confidence in solving bigger challenges. 

Children with no experience solving life’s disappointments have a much harder time as adults when faced with a difficult situation.  A big part of our job as parents is to guide our children to become self-sustaining adults. This includes allowing them to develop the emotional skills that will help them navigate the good times and the bumpy times we all encounter along the way. 

What can you do to help your children through these growing pains? 

  • Allow your children to feel disappointment and talk about why they are feeling bad and what they could do to feel better;
  • Present a healthy outlook on disappointment, it’s a part of growing up;
  • Help your children find ways to overcome the causes of their disappointment.  What part of it do they have control over? 
  • Make sure they know you love them regardless of whether they got an A on their math test or you have to say no to something they want. 

I still remember, with a little ache in my heart, the summer my son went to practices every day so he could try out for his school’s swim team .He didn’t get picked.  It was a huge disappointment. It’s been fifteen years since that happened and I think I’m finally I working through it.  He on the other hand, got over it in a couple of days and joined another local swim team. 

When it is Time to Unplug

Setting Limits on Screentime

There is an enormous amount of digital interaction available to kids of all ages.
A lot of what is being offered is really great; it’s educational, has positive messages and gives parents a little break. The challenge is to figure when too much of a good thing becomes detrimental.

The US Department of Health and Human Services estimates that American children spend up to seven hours a day in front of electronic media. So why is too much time screen time not good for children, what kind of effect does this have on them?

A number of studies have been have been done to around this question and what I found most concerning in these studies was the effect this has on brain development. For example, between birth and age three, our brains develop quickly. The influences in the first few years of a child’s development are extremely important because it builds a foundation for later development. Too much screen time can impede the ability to focus, develop social skills, and build vocabulary.

Even beyond the first 3 years, in order for normal brain development to continue children need stimuli from the outside environment and personal interactions. Reading a story to your child, is far more enriching then a story being told from an electronic device. No matter the age, one on one conversation is not just about words; it’s also how we develop the ability to understand social cues, facial expressions, voice inflections, and make meaningful connections. Siri can be really helpful but no replacement for humans.

So – what is a healthy amount of time for kids to spend on digital media?
There is no magic number but here are some guidelines presented by the American Academy of Pediatrics:

Infants 18 months and younger: No screen time
Banning screen time for babies is so important for brain development and healthy parent-child connections.
Children 2 to 5 years: One hour per day
Prioritize creative, unplugged playtime for infants and toddlers
Children 6 years and older: Limit digital media
An average day includes “school, homework time, at least one hour of physical activity, social contact and sleep, whatever’s left over can be screen time.”

However, there are exceptions, I remember when my son was young, I had the flu and there wasn’t anyone available to come over and help me look after him. Well, that day we watched Lady and the Tramp about 10 times in a row. I still know all the songs. What really matters is that screen time be monitored at any age.

Don’t Miss the Moments…

I’m a list maker – everyday I add to and cross things off my lists, but the lists never seem to get any shorter. At the end of the day I can look at my list and feel really productive because I’ve crossed so many things of it.

Not being measurably productive is hard for me. I have actually completed a task that was not originally on my list and gone back and put it on my list – just so I could cross it off! (I can’t believe I’m admitting that).

Everyday life has a lot of moving parts and the better we are at managing all the pieces, the smoother the ride. But sometimes we can miss some amazing moments because we are too busy doing rather than just being… in the moment.

Recently, I was visiting with my grandchildren and we were sitting outside when a flock of ladybugs arrived on a windy day, (I say “flock” because it sounds so much nicer than infestation). There were ladybugs everywhere and my granddaughter was both thrilled and fascinated with all of them. She spent about 30 minutes absorbed in everything these little bugs were doing. She watched them crawl around, land on different pieces of furniture, got super excited when they would fly, or land on her and was clearly enjoying every minute of it.

It was such a sweet experience to watch her lying on the deck completely happy doing nothing but watching the ladybugs. This was a great opportunity for me to be with her in her moment. It was so wonderful to be completely engaged and participating in the fun my granddaughter was having. (I had a brief urge to pick up toys or show her how to tie her shoes – but thankfully, I resisted!) I’ll have that lovely memory long after she loses her fascination with bugs (unless, of course, she becomes an entomologist).

Not every moment of our day needs to be filled with a measurable outcomes or a task completed on the never-ending To Do List we all have.

We need to remind ourselves that sometimes doing nothing can be priceless. Take advantage of those unscheduled moments when something delightful presents itself and just be fully present. Moments make memories.

I smile every time I see a ladybug.

Encouraging Mindfulness in Children

I would describe mindfulness as “being in the present moment” the practice of focusing on what is happening right now and nothing more. It’s a timeout from being in the past or future and an opportunity to take a break from over thinking, a time to quiet your mind and body. 

So how is this helpful for children? Practicing mindfulness throughout the day can benefit children (and adults) by helping them focus, calm their thoughts, and become better at soothing themselves and managing stress.

I remember when my son was young and after a day of too many things to do he would become a little hyper and really cranky.  Nothing I did or suggested seemed to have any impact on changing his mood.  My solution back then was to remove all stimuli and let my son sit quietly in his room or in the yard for a short period of time and focus on just that.  It didn’t take long before he was calmer, more focused and transformed back to my adorable child.  

I think we were practicing mindfulness and not even knowing it, so ahead of the times, not really, the practice of mindfulness has been around for centuries in many countries worldwide.  In India children are taught how to meditate in elementary school.  I would have liked to have more information back when I was raising my son about the value of teaching mindful behaviors to children.  I think it would have benefited everyone’s well being and especially mine. 

This may sound good but where do you start?  I think it’s best to start with what is already familiar and can be added to what is currently part of your daily activities. There is a time for watching TV or using electronic devices, all of which can have great value as learning tools or just give moms a little time to them selves. The idea is to balance these kinds of activities with a other more mindful activities.

Start with taking a walk where you consciously practice mindfulness.  Only talk about what you experiencing in that moment, not about any future plans or schedules. Ask questions about what your kids are seeing and hearing around them.  Notice the different plants, flowers, and the sky and cloud formations.  Take time to look for pretty rocks, see how many different birds you can spot along the way.  Notice something you have not seen before. This will be a much different experience than just walking around the block and arriving back home again.   

Another great opportunity to practice mindfulness is during meals.  It’s easy to fall into the habit of eating in the car, in front of the TV, or while doing some other activity.  I found myself eating my lunch most days while working or during meetings and realized that I was barely aware of what I ate or how much I ate during these times.  I certainly didn’t get much enjoyment or satisfaction from the meal. This would be the definition of “mindless eating” and a major factor in overeating and weight gain for both children and adults. 

The Joy of Doing Nothing

The next time someone asks you what you are doing tomorrow or over the weekend, tell him or her you are doing nothing. The baffled look on their face will give you an insight into how confusing and uncommon it is to do nothing. To make no specific plans, have no obligations, no “To Do List” to get through, in other words no scheduled activities.

We tend to live in constant motion both physically and mentally. Even if we are sitting still we are looking at our electronic devises, talking on our cell phones or planning some future event. This constant activity can negatively impact our emotional and physical well-being. Your brain needs a rest as much as your body.

In reality – we are never actually doing nothing – if we are breathing we are doing something. The nothing I’m talking about is carving out some space in your life to just enjoy the world around you and step away from the need to be productive and engaged all the time. A rejuvenation for the mind, body and spirit.

Doing nothing for me could be sitting for 15 minutes every morning and enjoying the quiet. An undisturbed bath with lots of bubbles is also a wonderful way to do nothing. A peaceful walk without conversation, even if it’s just around the neighborhood, is calming and restorative.

Your initial reaction to the thought of doing nothing is probably that you don’t have time “to do nothing”. It may not take as much effort as you think to work this into your daily routine. How much time do you spend watching television, looking at Facebook, Emails or over extending yourself for outside social activities?

Take a little time away from any or all of these engagements and put it aside for You. Don’t even think about feeling guilty, you are replenishing yourself and everyone around you will gain from your enhanced well being.

The next time you make your “To Do” list for the week don’t forget to include “Nothing” at the very top.

Helping Kids Through School Transitions

A new school year is right around the corner and I remember how much time and effort was spent getting ready for that first day of school. Long lists of what needed do be done, getting new clothes, lunch boxes, backpacks, and school supplies. Then moving on to logistics – car pool schedules, bus passes and after school arrangements.

This is the practical part of getting kids ready to go back to school. It’s also important to help prepare kids who are transitioning to a new school. This could be from kindergarten to first grade, elementary school to middle school, or middle school to high school. Transitioning to a new school can be difficult for kids of all ages. This can be especially challenging for middle school and high school students.

Each transition requires doing something different and being in an unfamiliar setting. Moving into first grade requires more attention, longer days and usually larger classrooms. Middle school is the beginning of having to figure things out for yourself. It can be a little scary just finding your way around, remembering locker combinations (I still have dreams about this one) and being in the youngest group again. High school can be challenging for many adolescents. They are no longer kids but not quite adults. This is the beginning of independence and a higher level of expectation and responsibility is required.

Here are a few tips to make the transition easier:

1.Talk to your kids about their concerns and expectations in their new environment and what you can do to help them feel better.

2.Visit the new school before classes begin and help them get familiar with the layout. For younger children, show them where they will be picked up, talk about their schedule and what might be different in their daily routine.

3.Help them get organized before the first day of school. Establish after school routines to get homework done. Create a balance between academics, social life and after school activities. Everyone handles change better when they are well rested.

4.If you have any concerns about how you child is coping talk with fellow parents and teachers. The teachers have been down this road before and other parents will certainly understand what you’re going through.

Growing pains are a part of growing up and cannot be avoided all together. Help your kids through their challenges but also allow them to develop their own coping skills and figure out solutions.

It’s Just a Toy

I recently attended an event, which was giving out little gift items to the participants. One of the items looked like a cute little doll action figure. I thought – great I’ll give this to my granddaughter. When I opened the packaging and looked closer at the doll (this time with my glasses on) I was unpleasantly surprised. It was a little girl doll with an angry expression holding a gun.

I looked further and discovered this little dolly was part of the Suicide Squad Comic Book series action figures. I felt better thinking this was not meant to be a toy for young children more of a collectible for young adults.

I was wrong – these action figures are sold in major toy stores and kids toy sites on line and were available when I selected an age group of 5-7. Is this really an appropriate toy for young children?

Another popular toy I’m not a fan of are Barbie Dolls. I had one as a child but fortunately I didn’t grow up to have a 16” waist, 39” bust and size 3 shoe-like Barbie if she was human. Which is a good thing – If I had those measurements I would have to crawl because my body wouldn’t be able to hold me up.

Children are very impressionable and experiences at a young age can have a significant impact. It’s important to choose toys that are educational, promote positive values, or stimulate creative play. I don’t see the value of any toy that encourages aggressive behavior, promotes fear or can negatively affect how children view themselves.

Be selective, it might just be a toy but consider whether the item is age appropriate and has educational or creative benefit. My final consideration in purchasing toys is whether that toy will end up in a landfill within a few weeks.

That usually helps narrow down my toy selections.

Encouraging Imagination

“Imagination is more important than knowledge”
Albert Einstein

It seems these days that there is a lot of emphasis on structured learning and at younger and younger ages. Are our children getting enough unstructured time to engage their imagination?

Much research has been done around the value of imagination for successful learning and found that children learn more and are more engaged in learning when they are using their imagination. It supports cognitive and social development and the ability to think outside the box. In all learning environments it’s important to be able imagine possible solutions whether it’s a math equation or when engaging critical thinking skills.

All new innovations started in some ones imagination – this is where creativity begins. It is a skill that our most accomplished scientists, innovators, artists and musicians possessed.
Children bring this wonderful ability into the world with them in great abundance. What’s important is that we allow them to hold on to this creative ability and expand it.

How do we support our children in using their imagination? Simply let them play. Children need free time to develop their imagination through play in all its forms. Wearing costumes, creative art, exploring, splashing in puddles and pretending to be anything they would like to be. Without a structured agenda, curriculum or too much direction. They can color outside the lines if they choose, be a bird, or take a trip to the moon.

Just the other day my granddaughter was catching butterflies in her hands and giving them to me.