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When things, people or events are not as your child
anticipates or when they do not continue as he expects, and his expectation had
been of some thing positive, perhaps even exciting, this emotional reaction is
“disappointment.” Alternatively, if his anticipation of something was
negative, characterized by apprehension, the emotional reaction is “relief.”
As his parent, you help him deal with these emotions. You are supportive when
the hurt feelings or disappointments are intense and are happy and excited when
his relief and excitement are real. You are there to share the excitement and
happiness when things work out well, and to help your child deal with
disappointment when things do not work out well.

Loss is a more intense example of disappointment
and relief. Understanding loss is, however, a little more difficult than
understanding disappointment or relief. The idea is best seen in terms of

Your children have relationships with family,
friends, teachers, neighbors, and (very importantly) with pets. If one of these
relationships is interrupted as a result of death, someone moving away, your
child having to move, or someone just simply breaking off the relationship, your
child experiences loss. Loss in this sense is much more than simply losing a
toy. The relationship is part of your child and is part of who your child is.
When the relationship is gone, part of your child is gone.

The loss experienced by an adolescent when a
girl friend breaks off a relationship is not inconsequential. It is very real.
At a less intense level, children experience a similar sense of loss over a lot
of things. Your infant may experience loss over having a favorite toy taken
away, over no longer being allowed to sleep with a favorite doll or stuffed
animal, and often when no longer being allowed to drink from bottle or breast
on demand. This is partly why weaning and other times when taking something
important away must be handled gently.

Sometimes toddlers experience loss when toilet
training is begun – a loss of freedom. Children experience loss when toys get
broken, when they can no longer have their favorite blanket, or when left with the
baby-sitter. Your preschooler and grade schooler experience a sense of loss
when friends get upset with them, when they feel parents or teachers are
unhappy with them. A few children experience intense loss when first having to
go to school. They fear they have lost their home, the special relationship
with mother or father, and to some extent, their childhood. Your adolescent
experiences loss with a decrease of status, social involvement, or acceptance
by others. Here you can see the loss does not necessarily have to be actual to
be experienced. you help them look at the difference between real and apparent
loss as well as help them deal with the experience of loss.

As a parent, your job is to help your child deal
with both the experience of and expression of disappointment and loss. Before you
can do this, though, recognize the feelings involved, tune into what has
happened and to how your child is feeling. This empathy is a necessary
prerequisite to helping your child deal with disappointment and loss.

Sometimes your children may surprise you by not
being as upset as, or by being more upset than you anticipate or think they
ought to be. Before you react to your surprise, though, take a little more time
to see if you have correctly understood and interpreted their feelings. You might
say, “You don’t seem very upset about that.” They can then let you know
if you understand where they are emotionally. If disappointment or loss is
extreme, children may repress, deny, or become emotionally confused, thus not
experiencing the full thrust of their emotions. At other times, they may not be
very upset over things which upset you. Keep both of these possibilities in

The fact of your understanding his emotions is supportive
to your child. You can let your child know you know how he feels, can be
reassuring, can hold or cuddle him, let him know it is alright to be upset or
cry, and generally help him experience his emotions within the safety and
security of his relationship with you. Next, you help him deal with the
expression of his disappointment and loss. Whether the disappointment or loss
is minor or severe, however, there are limits which must be imposed. It is up
to you to impose these limits in a sensitive but firm way.

When a favorite pet dies, it is reasonable for your
child to be upset and to experience loss. It is not acceptable for him to be
irritable and hard to get along with for more than a few days, not appropriate
for him to destroy the pet’s cage or equipment, and not reasonable or healthy
for him to go through mourning as if a friend or member of the family had died.
At some point, based on your sensitivity and judgment, you say, “I am
really sorry your pet died and understand you are upset about it. But it is
time to accept it and move on.” This same parenting response may be
necessary over the death of a friend or family member. Although a period of
mourning and disorientation is natural and necessary, there comes a point when
things must get back to normal. Letting the emotional preoccupation and
negativism continue past this reasonable point can have a very negative and
destructive effect on your child.

In some situations, children must learn to cover
up their negative emotional reactions. A seven-year-old who receives
handkerchiefs for his birthday instead of a toy must learn to say, “Thank
you, I can always use some more handkerchiefs.” Your adolescent who blows
lines in a class play must learn to say, “I blew it; better luck next
time.” Yes, children do need to learn about softening, even
misrepresenting the expression of their emotions in consideration of the
feelings of others. At times, you may have to help them do this. Your child who
does not learn to selectively experience disappointment and loss is upset much
too much of the time. Life is full of minor disappointments and losses. Your
child (along with you) just has to learn to take a lot of them in stride.

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