Helping kids deal with disappointment

On the way home from school the other day, Keener asked, “Can I have a lollipop?”  No sweetie. Not right now. We are going home and taking a nap. “But I want one! I want the medicine when I get the lollipop after!”

Ahh. It was all coming together. My poor boy has terrible lungs and was coughing up a storm. I had just told him that we needed to do his medicine when we got home which had him thinking he would get a lollipop.  He was previously on a terrible tasting medication and the path of least resistance was giving him a Dum Dum after he took it down. Now, he was equating his inhaler to getting a Dum Dum.

The tears started flowing. “I want a lollipop!!”

I responded in my usual fashion: I understand you want a lollipop. Lollipops are delicious. You had lots of lollipops for your last medicine and you realized how great they are. You aren’t going to have one right now. We are going to take a nap but let’s make a plan. I know you want a lollipop.

I realized that to him, the only way to get a lollipop was to have medicine first. The last thing I want is to train him to ask for medicine purely so he can have a lollipop, but he clearly sees them as one in the same. I realized he had no clue when he would get one again –- and I didn’t either as I really don’t like giving him lots of candy/sugar (as I go hide in the pantry eating the remaining Girl Scout cookies).

Ok bud. We need to make a plan. You want a lollipop. Mama said no which makes you feel sad. We need to go take a nap. You can have a lollipop after your nap but you must stop crying right now. Crying will not get you a lollipop. Do you understand that?

“But I want a lollipop now!”

I understand. But the answer is no. If you keep crying, you will not get a lollipop after your nap. If you stop crying, you can have one after your nap. Do you need a hug?

“Yes, and a kiss.”

I would love to give you a hug and a big kiss! Let’s take some deep breaths. We have a plan. I can see you are stopping crying and ready to go read one book before your nap. You will get a lollipop after your nap.

Will I give him a lollipop every time he asks for one? Certainly not. But can he have one occasionally, without having to take medicine first? Yes. Now that he’s had them, he knows what he is missing.

Cookies, candy, screen time –- how do we know how much to allow? How often? When exactly they will get it? It’s often unclear to us and definitely unclear to our kids. We also want our kids to be flexible. Some days you get to watch three shows (because your younger kid did not nap well!), and some days it might be zero. Sometimes you get candy/dessert/a treat, and sometimes you don’t. But these highly reinforcing treats/activities are often the cause of meltdowns because they are so highly sought after. So how do we try to avoid these meltdowns?

First, it helps to spend time determining what you are comfortable with BEFORE you end up in the heat of the moment with your child. It’s all about your priorities and comfort level. It is easier to follow through on your answer if you are clear about your decisions. Are you OK with one lollipop everyday? One TV show a day? Up to three shows? Decide what you want for your child and then stick to it. Making our decisions/rules clear to ourselves and our children will help eliminate those unfortunate lollipop moments.

Finding the balance between having a strict, set in stone lollipop schedule and never giving him a lollipop ever again is the tricky part. Here’s what has helped me:

  • Make a plan that works for both you and your child. This could be some kind of known schedule/calendar that gives some certainty to when the desired item will be given again. More to come on making a plan in a separate post.
  • Have the object disappear. This would be tricky with a TV – you don’t want to lie and say it’s broken, but easier for tangible items.
  • Educate/inform about the reasons WHY we make our decisions. For TV, we have made it about being active. You can’t watch too much TV because you can’t sit for too long. You have to move your body to be healthy!
  • Offer alternative options. No lollipops now but you can have pretzels or cheese crackers if you are hungry.
  • Role play how to respond. When your child is not upset, role play possible responses for when the answer is no. When you ask mama to watch tv and the answer is no, you can say, ‘I’m frustrated. I want to watch TV now but mama says no. Can we make a plan to watch TV later?’ Read more about role playing here. This is a powerful tool!

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