You have no reason to be disappointed.
I hope you have never said that to your child.
Even if you explained it.
No one gets everything they want.
You have plenty of other things.
Things don’t always turn out the way we want them to.
In the greater scheme of things, this isn’t a big deal.
Any one of these statements may be true. That doesn’t mean your child has no reason to be disappointed.
Disappointment is an emotion, an internal experience your child may describe to you or you may infer it from her demeanor. It is not a justification for inappropriate behavior.
I understand that, and he didn’t do anything inappropriate, but can’t I explain to him that he gets disappointed over things he shouldn’t have expected in the first place? He has no reason to be disappointed.
While it may be true that his expectation was not realistic, he may still be disappointed that it wasn’t met. He was looking forward to something and it didn’t happen. Telling him he shouldn’t have been looking forward to it doesn’t help.
In Hebrew, the word for disappointed is mi’ukhzav (Oxford English-Hebrew Dictionary, 1995, page 117). This word appears to be related to the word khauzav which means a lie or deceit. In Hebrew, then, to be disappointed is the result of being deceived or let down. Perhaps one way to translate kahl ha’adam kozaiv (Tehilim 116:11) is “everyone disappoints.”
In English, too, to disappoint means “to frustrate the expectation or desire of a person; to defeat, balk, or deceive in fulfillment of desire.” (Oxford English Dictionary, page 403) While the word originally meant to remove someone from their appointed position, by 1494 C.E. it had already come to be used as a term for having one’s desire thwarted.
When a child’s desire is thwarted, whether actively or passively, he will often feel disappointed. It doesn’t matter whether you could have met his expectation by providing whatever it was that he wanted and you chose not to, or you could not possibly have made his wish come true even if you tried. He’s disappointed.
Here’s where effective parenting comes in. Effective parenting, in this case, means helping your child with something that is hard for her.
Right, that’s what I tried to do when I told her that she had no reason to be disappointed. I didn’t just say that. I went on to explain why she shouldn’t be disappointed. I told her that most children don’t even have half as many dolls as she has, and that next year, if she wants, she can get a new doll for her birthday, and that no one in our family gets a Chanukah present that is so expensive. And I told her that it’s okay to be disappointed if you fail at something or do poorly, but just because you don’t always get what you want is not a reason to be disappointed because you still have a lot of really nice things.
I asked that parent what his child said to him at that point. He told me she said that he didn’t “get her” and she started to cry.
I asked him what happened next. He said he walked away because she was being unreasonable.
My conversation with the dad continued:
YSA : What do you think she meant by “you don’t get me”?
Dad: I don’t know. I got that she’s upset that she didn’t get what she wanted.
YSA: Right, but you didn’t get that it made sense to her, that being thwarted was painful for her and it may have been more painful for her to hear your criticism. Did she say or do anything you considered disrespectful?
Dad: No, she wasn’t disrespectful, just upset for no reason, and that bothers me.
YSA: What bothers you about it?
Dad: I guess because I feel like the bad guy, but I didn’t do anything wrong. She wanted something that I wouldn’t give her and I was justified in not giving to her and I explained that to her. And she wouldn’t accept my explanation.
Back in graduate school, we used to talk about something called “parallel process.” Two people going through the same experience. We just saw an example.
Dad is disappointed because his daughter wouldn’t meet his expectation that she would accept his explanation of why he wouldn’t buy her a doll. He is disappointed even though it is unrealistic to expect a child to accept an explanation of why her father wouldn’t buy her something she wanted.
Dad’s daughter is disappointed because her father wouldn’t buy her the doll even though it is unrealistic to think that you’re going to get everything you want.
The effective parenting here will happen only after dad accepts the fact that children get disappointed and blame parents for things even when the parent didn’t do anything wrong. Then dad will be able to accept his daughter’s disappointment. Rather than trying to talk her out of being disappointed so that he won’t be the bad guy, he’ll be able to empathize with her and help her to accept and cope with her feelings of disappointment.
Effective parenting begins when you accept your child’s feelings whether they make sense to you or not. That is very difficult when you feel guilty or resentful that she’s feeling that way because of you. If you try to change her feelings with explanations and arguments, you’re trying to help yourself, not your child. Accept the blame, unfair though it may be, and help her tolerate her frustration, sadness, and disappointment.
B’ezrat Hashem, you’ll have many more opportunities to join with her in happiness and success.
Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor with specialties in marriage, relationships, and parenting.