Many parents today feel that they must fulfill their child’s every desire in order to be a successful parent. At its extreme, they feel that child happiness at any cost is the proper goal of parenting and that any disappointment of the child will surely damage his or her self esteem. They are driven by a desire to indulge their child even when it goes against their better judgment. Keeping a smile on their child’s face supersedes all other measures of success. Once begun, however, it is difficult to turn this train around, since any effort to do otherwise is met with outrage, frustration and even panic from a child who rarely experiences disappointment, denial, or a requirement to submit to a parent’s leadership.
“Disappointment dodging” can emerge from any of the following parental perspectives.
- Parental Uncertainty: Having given little thought to the true goals of childrearing, this parent believes that the make the child happy is paramount to his success in life. Since denying a child his impulsive desires may lead to disappointment, this parent has “fallen” into a parenting style of permissiveness and indulgence. For instance, a parent who follows the toddler child’s lead as to when bedtime should occur (it’s different every night), as to what he should be fed (it’s macaroni and cheese most nights because that’s all he wants), and as to his personal hygiene (teeth are infrequently brushed because he doesn’t like it and he is bathed when he wants).
- Parental Guilt: This parent feels the need to compensate the child with gratification for the parent’s shortcomings in other areas. This gratification may come in the form of bending rules of behavior and postponing correction to meet a child’s desires, excessively overlooking a child’s offenses, overindulging a child with gifts, or being excessively complimentary of a child’s performance. For instance, a parent who feels she has not given her child the amount of the time or supervision he deserves may compromise on proper correction of a child’s misbehavior at the end of a long day at work. Or it may be a divorced father who excessively gives a child her every desire without discerning a child’s readiness for the gift or true need for it. He gives to satisfy his need more than looking out for the child’s bets interest.
- Parental Selfishness: This parent dodges disappointment simply to keep peace and to allow his day to go more smoothly. He is not concerned for the child’s overall character development or well-bring. His main pursuit is peace for the moment without regard for the negatives consequences for the child that may follow. Yes, denying a child his unhealthy desire and enduring the resulting protest is sacrificial of a parent and a real display of selflessness.
Disappointment dodging can begin early and without warning with a parent’s hesitation to insist that a child follow his directions. Knowing that insisting will result in a crying or protesting child, a parent rejects the reality that her way is best and allows the child to do whatever he wants at the time. Although this may be a convenient decision at a moment when tranquility is most expedient, it quickly becomes a habitual mode of operation with the hesitation to change since the child has been misled for so long. Thinking that it is unfair to change now, the parent continues to follow the unhealthy direction of the child over her obvious better judgment.
An example: It’s time for 2-year-old Johnny’s nap, but he is contently playing with his toys and interruption is sure to ignite an eruption of displeasure. Besides, Johnny’s consuming play is allowing Mom to get some much-needed paper work done at her desk in the kitchen. So, because interrupting Johnny will lead to disappointment and distress, and since she can benefit as well, Mom decides to allow him to skip his nap today. By choosing to dodge a momentary disappointment, Mom has created the scenario of a cranky toddler by late afternoon and the need to additionally compromise the usual rules of play since she now feels responsible for creating Johnny’s fatigue-driven misbehavior. After a second day of the same compromise, mom decides that it is time to get back on track with these naps. On the third day, she insists on the nap and places Johnny in his crib at the appropriate time. In frustration, he mounts a red-faced protest with crying to the point of gagging and choking. This seems odd, since he has never before responded this way to naptime. Finally after 10 minutes of guilt and misery, Mom aborts all efforts to get him to sleep and returns Johnny to the floor of the den to resume play with his beloved toys, satisfying his obvious desire to continue his play. She allowed his disappointment to influence her better judgment and to create a sleep-deprived toddler who will throw more challenges her way with this apparent victory.
Another example: Six-year-old Sally tells her parents that she wants three more stuffed animals to add to her record-collection of 36 characters for the neighborhood. And why shouldn’t she expect to get these for her birthday, she has always received what she wanted in the past. Her best friend, Amy, from a family of similar means, has only five characters in her collection, but she takes meticulous care of them unlike Sally who often leaves them outside in the yard and at neighbors’ home when she visits. Being in a busy family, Sally’s parents haven’t given much thought to her careless treatment of her animal collection. When one is lost or damaged, it is quickly replaced by her parents without questioning the poor responsibility Sally is demonstrating with her collection. Sally’s parents have learned that the easiest way to keep Sally happy is to give and not question why. This way everyone is happy and their busy routine continues without interruption.
So, you might ask, what is the problem with sheltering our children from disappointment? The answer: It is not reality. Your child will experience disappoint sooner or later. Learning how to properly handle early setbacks will largely define his future successes. The longer this experience is delayed, the more difficult it will be for your child to recover. Allowing appropriate experiences of disappointment early in life teaches a child character, endurance and resilience. Disappointment gives a child greater appreciation for his successes and accomplishments. Occasionally denying a child a toy or desired gift (that could be easily afforded by you) teaches appreciation for what he has and for that item if he eventually gets it. Ironically, experiencing disappointment leads to greater contentment. It has been said of contentment, “If a person is not satisfied with what he has, he will never be fully satisfied with what he wants.” Think about that for a moment.
My daughter wanted for her six-year-old birthday three more beanie babies to add to her collection of six. She cited with self-pity the situation of her friend in the neighborhood who had 32 beanie babies. As we were talking about the chances that she would actually get three more instead of the more reasonable one more, I saw an opportunity to talk about contentment. I said to her, “Wow, Kelly must be so pleased to have 32 Beanie Babies. Surely she doesn’t need any more, does she?” Allison responded, “Yes, Dad. She wants the two newest ones.” So, I asked, “How many more do you think it will take to make Kelly fully content with her collection?” Allison said, “I don’t know.” I responded with the suggestion, “Probably just one or two more.” She understood the point. Kelly was never going to be completely content with her collection, no matter how many she had.
Railroad mogul, John D. Rockefeller, was once asked just how much money it takes for a person to be happy. His response: “Just a little more.” You see, if you think you can make your child happier or more content by giving him more things (rather than by giving them more of yourself) you are sadly misguided. It has been said that children spelled love, “TIME.” Time with you is what will positively impact your child’s life more than any gift or avoidance of disappointment.