Monday, March 28, 2016

This is not fair! Tears are welling in my daughter's big blue eyes. Why is it happening to me? 
I sigh. It sounds like the world's most used cliche, but I am going to use it with her. Sometimes life is simply not fair.
When life is not fair: helping children cope with randomness of life

When We Are Not in Control

Here is the reason for Smarty's despair that I mentioned a couple of times in my "week in review" posts. We have a new Magnet STEM K-8 school opening in our district this fall, and Smarty really wanted to get in. There were several reasons she was so eager to go there. For once, our previous principal is now a principal of this new school. Secondly, this new school was heralded as the first school with more hands-on, project-based approach to learning in our district. Third, Smarty desperately wants more challenging curriculum, especially in math, despite a fair amount of differentiation she is already receiving at her current school. Last, and most important, all her best friend are applying too.

Well, due to the high amount of interest, admission to the school was done through a lottery, and... we did not get lucky. We are number #19 on the waiting list, which means that our chances to get in are practically zero. To add insult to injury, ALL Smarty's best friends got in, so her little school friendship bubble is going to go bust next year.

Try to Sort Out Your Own Feelings First

I was lucky to be able to find out the results of the lottery before my daughter did. I had at least some time to process my own feelings of denial, anger, and worry about what the next year might bring. I also have to admit that "conspiracy theory" sprung to my mind - how it is that all the children of stay-at-home mothers who contribute a lot more time to school got in while mine did not? My goal, however, was not to let my own disappointment and anger get in the way of helping my daughter deal with her own feelings.

Help Your Child Deal With Her Feelings

Do Not Minimize Disappointment

The worst thing that you can do to a disappointed child is to order him or her to "get over it". Acknowledge the feeling and do not judge its expression even if it is anger or tears, as long as your child is not hurting himself or others while expressing his frustration.

Ask If Your Child Wants To Talk

Sometimes your child might want to process her feelings on her own and not ready to talk. Just let her know that you are available to talk and listen. Smarty, however, did want to talk to me about her feelings. In fact, her immediate reaction was, I only go to school to be with my friends. If they all leave, then I want to be homeschooled. 

Put Disappointment in Perspective

Putting things in perspective is not the same as minimizing disappointment. It's more about helping your child see a bigger picture of his life and realize that while he is experiencing a setback, it's not the end of the world as he knows it... unless we are talking about a really serious issue as death or sickness of a loved one. I talked to Smarty how her friends are not moving away and she could still have playdates with them and reminded her that so far she had been mostly happy in her current school.

Look for the Silver Lining

I happen to believe that there is no silver lining in certain life situations, but one can find opportunities or learn life lessons from adversity. For example, Smarty expressed her frustration more than once that her current best friend "won't allow her" to play with other kids. They are extremely close and get each other, but their relationship is constantly rocked by arguments. Perhaps not being together every minute of a school day (and many hours on weekends) would allow Smarty to expand her circle of friendship and form closer ties to other kids who she has good relationship with and who are staying at her current school.

Explore "What If"

Spend some time with your child exploring possible future scenarios. In response to Smarty's request to be homeschooled I suggested that we would give our current school a chance and see how the first term would unfold. I promised that if she is truly miserable, we will "do something". What this "something" could be only the future will tell. As usual, we will have a conversation with our new principal about placing her with a teacher who is best able to provide differentiation for gifted learners, and, personally, I think that her mental flexibility will allow her to adjust. If not... well, perhaps this change is a sign that her education will need to take a somewhat different course that we are envisioning now. 

Did Our Intervention Work?

It's too early to say, but after a week of being somewhat gloomy, Smarty bounced back to her usual cheerful self. I think, as a child, she is better able to put matters beyond her control out of her mind and enjoy her present. I am hoping that she will enjoy her spring term with her friends and will continue to see them over summer and on weekends. I will also try my best to leave my worries about the next year until it actually starts :)

Your Turn

Have your kids have to deal with serious disappointment yet? How did you help them?
Helping children cope with disappointment

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JL said...

I am truly sorry about the setback. I know how disappointing it can be if you had your heart set on the school. But I do think this is a great opportunity to discuss having back-up plans. If Plan A doesn't work out, here is Plan B and so on. And one of the things I've learned from my own struggles is that when one door closes, another opens. There are multiple paths people can take and sometimes the one that is unexpected can be the one that is truly rewarding. Plus, it also allows one to grow in ways that having everything line up for you may not. Sorry for the poor wording.

maryanne @ mama smiles said...

This is hard! I find listening to be very helpful, and you are right that paying attention to our own feelings as parents is important. Sometimes sharing stories of similar upset from my own childhood seems to help.

I am still hoping that a spot opens up for Smarty - or that some amazing new friends appear for Smarty next year.

Ticia said...

Only tangentially on topic, but I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one who thinks of conspiracy theories in times like this.