Once upon a time there was a young girl.  She was maybe 11 or 12.  Nothing special about her, just an average girl.  Maybe a hint of a wave in her hair, and when she was tired her left eyelid tended to droop. But overall, nothing remarkable.

One day she was invited to a very special party.  The most popular girl in school had actually invited her.  She was thrilled and preparations began.

Party day finally arrived, and the young girl put on her favorite party dress, made sure her shoes were cleaned and polished.  She brushed her teeth twice and was now just brushing her hair, waiting for her mother to call her that it was time to go. The girl noticed the butterflies in her stomach were dancing up a storm.  She couldn’t wait to get to the party!

She looked at the clock on her dressing table.  It was time to go. What was her mother doing?  The girl paced a bit across her thick green carpet, wondering when mother would be ready.

Finally, she heard her mother call out for her and she went running so fast she almost tripped over her brother’s books left in the hallway.  “Isn’t it time to go?” she asked her mother, quite breathlessly.  Her mother didn’t have her coat on or her bag in hand.

“I’m afraid you can’t go to the party,” she said.

“Why not?  I’ve been planning this for weeks.  Do you know how important this party is?”

“Yes, dear, I know how important it is to you, but not as important as daddy having to work today.”

“But, mother, I’m all ready to go.”  The young girl could feel the tears pushing on her.  She didn’t know if she could hold them back.  “Please, I really need to go.  Isn’t there some other way.”

“We only have one car, there is no other way. You can’t go and that’s final!  Now, go change out of those clothes.”

“But mother, what will all the girls say if don’t show up?”  The tears came flooding out and she stomped her way back to her room, knowing there would be no answer.

 

If you’re like me, this was not an uncommon scene in the household.  Either growing up or raising a child, this kind of situation could come up from time to time.

The principle here, as I interpret it, is that children need to get used to disappointment.  It is a fact of life, the way of the world.  But what if there was another way to play this out?

Mother could start by calmly explaining the situation, but realizing that, to a young person, daddy having to work late doesn’t seem at all as important as going to a party.  And car issues are pretty remote for someone 11, going on 12. Trying to explain this at length is probably not worth the hassle.  But what if, instead of shoving the cold, hard truths down her throat, maybe we can try to ease her feelings and help her find some strategies to deal with disappointment in an effective way.

“Why don’t you and I have some fun instead?” sounds like a good opener.  What could the child do to get out of her disappointment and into something more constructive?  “Let’s work on that dress you wanted for the dance next month.  I’ve got some patterns we can look at . . .”  or maybe, “Why don’t we plan a party and invite everyone you missed at this party.  How about that?”

True, having suggestions on hand that may or may not distract is not easy. But did anyone ever say parenting was easy? 

My thinking is that the child needn’t spend hours feeling badly. If you can get to her early enough, before her anger and hurt have erupted, maybe you can find something agreeable to her. She can learn her lessons just as well – even better perhaps – by learning to cope with change and disappointment.  To find ways to shift the situation from wallowing in anger and sadness into doing something better.

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