I have an almost-three -year-old niece who doesn’t cope well with disappointment. She always wants her way because she believes it’s the best way. It’s particularly noticeable in group activities – if things don’t go her way. If she is paired up with an acceptable partner, doesn’t win or is told off, no matter how mildly – she’s likely to leave the activity and sit down on the sidelines
She throws a tantrum because she can’t find the purple shoes she “needs” to wear. You bought the “wrong” kind of cereal bar for her school snack. For example, she doesn’t get her turn earlier in a game. For these little problems, she goes from 0 to 60 — fast
This all makes her sound horribly spoiled and disagreeable and it’s certainly how the behavior looks. However, she is usually truly distressed about whatever it was and I don’t think is just doing it for attention, as suggested by friends and family. Her teachers say she is the same at school and describe her as ‘sensitive’, also saying it’s often hard to get her to explain why she is upset.
This behavior has left me wondering on how best to manage her. A friend (David an elementary teacher) advised us to say.
Tell her it’s normal
From his experience many parents have become a bit warped in their view that children can’t handle a little disappointment. That’s not true. They can.
It is perfectly normal for children to experience some degree of difficulty and frustration as they learn to execute new tasks. Toddlers can tantrum, school-aged children can yell and argue, and teenagers can ignore instruction.
“If your child chooses another snack — even with some crying or whining — that’s success. So praise the action. Say, “I can tell that was hard for you, but I’m proud that you found something else you like.” Focus on the end goal and give attention to that, not the tears”.
Refocus her energy
What they can’t handle is when we just keep trying to protect them from the disappointment (when they are young)…and un-intentionally lead them to ‘linger’ in the disappointment…
We do this by giving too much energy to the disappointment…and trying to ‘fix it’ when there is some disappointment.
Instead, if there is disappointment, take your child aside and express your regret but encourage them to focus on the blessings they have.
Implementation and Conclusion
Recently we have tried to act on David’s advice and my niece seems to be responding. Just the other day, she was wailing over trying to get her friend’s toys. I just reminded her of how many more toys she has and that if she got her friend’s toys, I would give her friend all her toys. Immediately she stopped crying and put back her friend’s toys.