As a parent or a grandparent there is nothing harder than dealing with a young child who is upset because things didn’t go their way. Why is this so? We want to make the child happy. We don’t want them to suffer. Unfortunately we may be setting them up for a lifetime of frustration if we shield them from life’s disappointments.
Renowned marriage and family therapist (MFT) Susan Stiffelman has posted an excellent article on grandparents.com titled “How to Deal With Frustrated Children.” Stiffelman discusses how it is appropriate to commiserate with a child or grandchild about a problem that is not going their way but it is not alright to remove the problem from their life. It is important to let a child know it is alright to be disappointed and even to cry about it but it is not alright to give in.
I would hasten to add although I am not a “parental professional” that as with any “rule” it has exceptions. Sometimes a kid deserves a break. After all, teachers and even policeman will occasionally give you a break. The idea I believe is not to allow children to rely on being let off the hook or getting their way. I have seen kids that have never been given a break and they can be very unhappy people.
I know that the author is right however from personal experience.
As I youngster I came from a broken home. I had to be self-reliant. I learned from the “college of hard knocks.” As a result I have been able over my life to overcome obstacles and endure disappointment. On the other hand I have a child who my wife and I protected from disappointment. We did them no favors because by their own admission they have a problem dealing with frustration.
One of the reasons that the military is an effective teacher for young people is that it is an unbending rule-maker. War is unforgiving so people must be taught to live with what may at some time be their surroundings.
I can recall in basic training we were running competitive mile runs. It was snowing and it was freezing. All of a sudden one of the runners fell to the ground holding his side and said he couldn’t go on. A drill sergeant went over to him and demanded he get up. He cried he was so upset, hurting and out of breath. Then the drill sergeant let him lie there. When the company fell into formation and began to leave the kid started to get up. All of the drill sergeants converged on him and told him to “Stay down!” We were shocked.
We were taken back to the barracks by our company commander. First he assured us that our fellow soldier was fine and would rejoin us soon (which he did). He said that the purpose of not allowing him to rejoin us before we left was to show him what would happen if he failed to keep up with his unit in a war. At that time Vietnam was going on and I ultimately ended up there.
This was an example of training an adult as a child should be trained. Is it easy? It is not easy! It hurts us to see our child cry when we have the power to take the frustration away. However, watching our child shed a few tears is easier than watching them pay a much larger emotional price when they are an adult.
Let a child cry and comfort them but don’t give in most of the time. That is the message from Susan Stiffelman, oh and me.
grandparents.com, Susan Stiffelman, “How To Deal With Frustated Children”
Personal Experience and Knowledge