As we prepare for Hallowe’en this year, there is no question that things will be different. Different in schools. Different in homes. Different in the communities in which we live. The current public health moment that we are all experiencing is upsetting plans and forcing modifications on familiar practices, while outright cancelling others. When it comes to Hallowe’en, one of the annual highwater events in North American childhood, the impact is plain to see: disappointment and frustration. To help ensure such feelings do not take on a life of their own, what can be done?
When we notice our kids starting to “sweat the small stuff” and obsessing over things beyond their control, we have an opportunity to help them learn positive ways to manage their disappointment and emotions. There’s no doubt, children can get emotional very quickly about seemingly unimportant things and it is certainly never a good idea to indulge this by always removing the obstacle (…and there are many obstacles we as parents won’t be able to budge anyway!).
So, while bending over backwards to make everything right for them can be a fool’s errand, it is important to listen. Patience and empathy on our part will help our kids feel that their emotions are valid, which they are of course.
But being able to regulate our emotions, delay gratification, and respond appropriately to life’s ups and downs are also important skills that take time to develop and require practice. Some kids need more support than others, but there are things we can do to help children learn not to “sweat the small stuff”.
To begin with, our own powerful example as adults is key. I remember years ago when my oldest child was in his highchair and I had just arrived home from work. He was sitting there babbling away with mashed banana when the phone rang. Before I could even process the sound, my son called out in a sing-song voice, “I’m not home!” Yikes! Did he learn that from me?! Our kids are sponges. They absorb many of their attitudes, emotional responses, and ways of coping from us, for good or for ill. When it comes to managing life’s disappointments, it’s no different. We are their barometers and our responses to let-downs set the temperature in our homes.
Back to my oldest child. When he went to preschool for the first time, I recall being struck by a large framed poster the teacher, Miss Donna, had outside the classroom. It was totally there for us parents because these kids were not readers yet. It said: “Prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child”. I’m not sure who said that first, but it is gold and should be the goal of all our work with kids.
When it comes to our old adversary, disappointment, we have an important opportunity as teachers and parents. We can either pave the road or make sure our kids and students have the proper tires!
We, as adults, are the ultimate role models for children. Every word, movement and action has an effect. No other person or outside force will have a greater influence on our children than us.
At Hallowe’en, that can be a humbling – and a scary – thought!