Preparing for Disappointment…or in Other Words, Life!
Some things are completely out of our control. For example, this whole COVID-19 social distancing thing. Everything is closed. Sure you can go to the park, but when passing by the playground your child can not go on, how is that going to go? Do you feel like you are constantly walking on eggshells? What can you do to prepare your child for disappointment?
Plan and Practice
Practice, practice, practice! First, take an item they are indifferent about and make it off limits. If your child reads, write the name of the item on a piece of paper. For children who don’t read, then take a picture of the item and print it out. Are you an artist? Draw it! Either way you want the item depicted with an X or red line through it. This way it is very clear the item is off limits.
Once your child gets the concept with things he does not care about, practice with preferred items. Start small; if your child loves video games, make a game that isn’t his favorite (but plays once in a while) off limits. Then, slowly work up to the favorite video game. This way you know he understands the concept. Once you are comfortable he can handle the disappointment at home with his preferred items, practice in the community. Prior to leaving the house, tell him that a certain place he wants to go or is used to going is not available. Use the same visual and bring it with you so he can refer to it. If you are passing the playground and he is used to going on the swing, print out a picture of the playground ahead of time with the X over it. Then drive by and give him a chance to practice in the real world. If he tolerates the disappointment, reward it!
Prepare for the Unpredictable
The unpredictable times are the most difficult but still able to increase tolerance to. Even once playgrounds open up, there may be a time when you say you will take him to the playground, you get in the car, drive there, and all of a sudden you get a phone call and have to leave to pick up your other child. Stuff happens all the time that is out of our control, so we need to teach our children to handle these things. Same as the predictable situations, I recommend starting small, in a controlled, safe environment like your home with items and activities they are indifferent to and slowly shifting to highly preferred items and activities.
Instead of preparing the child for disappointment as mentioned above, you want to tell them they will get access to something they want then deny it. At home, you could say he could have one of his preferred snacks (knowing you ran out of the item). When practicing in the community, tell him you are going to take him to the playground with the plan to not go there. Do practices at a time when your schedule is open and there is nowhere else you need to go during the outing. This gives you time to focus on your child’s behavior and gives him ample time to access a reward for tolerating the disappointment.
Reward, reward, reward!
Always use a system to reward your child for appropriate behavior; something you can control and always have available. For example, phone, tablet, favorite book, or snack. Bring it with you on outings and if anything happens where something planned gets changed or you set up a practice situation, reward your child for tolerating the change and the disappointment.
I know the thought of sabotaging your child seems heartless. I recommend these practice situations to help your child feel ok when real disappointment happens in the future. It is solely with your child’s best interest at heart. Some children with language deficits have difficulty understanding the reasons why something is unavailable. Simply telling your child they can’t have something or explaining why, may be too much language for them to comprehend. Providing a visual and discretely teaching what it means can help the child understand when something is not available. Life can be disappointing, the more we can practice with our children, the more likely they will be able to handle disappointing situations without engaging in extreme behavior.
Check out my blog on promoting flexibility for more tips.