Latest Chart: Managing the fallout from disappointment

May 19, 2017

By Ekta R. Garg

Sometimes it’s beyond the scope of parents to help their children manage disappointment. In those cases, thank goodness for teachers. Without them parents would probably end many days transformed into little puddles of parent goo that the kids would have to come home and mop up, and, really, since when have young children been good with mops?

In the last couple of weeks, Eight has had two disappointments. For both of them, I did my best to make her feel better and reassure her. She didn’t find much consolation in my methods. Her teachers, however, made much more progress.

I’ve shared here on Growth Chart how upset Eight got when she found out that her current teacher will move to the East Coast during the summer and how Eight found it within herself to use the energy from her disappointment to organize a surprise party for Mrs. B. Eight wanted to hold the party at our house at the start of the summer, but I suggested moving the party to school before the end of the year so everyone could join in the celebration. She didn’t like that idea.

That night, after I first suggested it, I asked her what upset her so much.

“This is my first time planning something all by myself,” she said tearfully, “and you had to come in and take over.”

Oops.

So I referred her back to the second grade teacher, because Eight’s school uses the combined class model, and explained in an email to the teacher that scheduling the party earlier rather than later might work out better for everyone.

For a couple of days after I first talked to Eight about it, she moped any time we talked about the party. Then I got an email response from the second grade teacher. She talked to Eight, she said, and Eight was totally on board with the idea of moving the party to school.

I don’t know if my suggestion did any good, but I do know that Eight did a 180 on the idea only after the second grade teacher talked to her.

I also don’t know what the second grade teacher said, but clearly she found the right words—and the right combination of them—to make Eight see how, logistically, holding the party at school worked out better for everyone involved. In hindsight, it doesn’t surprise me that the teacher talked Eight around without making Eight feel like she was losing control. This teacher is the mother to a high schooler, a third grader (one of Eight’s classmates,) and a toddler.

Clearly she has way more practice than I do in pivoting on the proverbial dime when the situation demands.

I could say I feel bad that the teacher did what I couldn’t, but, really, I’m more relieved than anything else. Today is the party, and Eight has looked forward to it with all the fervor of a child anticipating Christmas. In the end, that’s all I wanted for her.

***

The second instance of disappointment came at dance class.

We’ve always, intentionally, put the girls in activities they could attend together. It started out years ago when we held double birthday parties for them, since their birthdays are only two weeks apart. It continued in their swimming lessons when we used their closeness in their favor so they could cheer on one another without realizing just how hard they were working on their individual skills.

Essentially, Ten and Eight are best friends, and through the years they’ve gotten used to doing things together. This includes their Irish dance lessons. When they started Irish two years ago, they both enrolled in the same beginner-level class. Then, at the start of this school year, they both auditioned for the next level.

I held my breath for the few days before we found out they’d both moved up. I knew Ten had a pretty good shot of making it. Eight’s moving up was more of a wild card.

Of course, you probably know where this is going. At some point, because Ten is older and more in tune with her dancer self than Eight is, they would end up in different levels. The Irish dance teacher, in a bid to get ahead for the coming summer and fall, decided to hold auditions for the next level two weeks ago.

Ten moved up; Eight did not.

I know they both really enjoy their Irish dance lessons. It’s bouncy enough for Eight. It’s disciplined enough for Ten and gives her a chance to showcase those mile-long legs.

Plus (and maybe this is more me than them…?) it’s just fun to dance.

I got the email about Ten moving up and Eight staying in the same level on a Monday. I sat on the news for a full 24 hours before talking to my husband about it, because I was wracking my brain trying to figure out how to break the news to the kids. I couldn’t come up with anything that ended in smiles all around, so I figured my parent partner-in-crime could conjure a magic spell or two.

Funny thing about partners-in-crime who have science-based professions; they really don’t spend a lot of time conjuring stuff.

I had to tell the kids eventually, though, so I went to Ten first at a moment when she was in her room alone and gave her the good news about her moving up. I also told her I hadn’t given the bad news to her sister yet about staying in the same level. Her face filled with excitement at her advancement, but she agreed to keep it to herself until I talked to Eight.

Which is where I went next. I sat on the floor of her room and pulled her into my lap.

“Ms. E. is really excited about how hard you’ve worked and how much you’ve learned this year,” I said, “but she thinks it would be best for you to stay in the same level for Irish for one more year.”

She stared at me for a minute then pulled away and curled into a ball on the floor.

Don’t ask about Ten, I thought, trying to redirect her thoughts with my awesome mind power. Don’t ask about Ten. Don’t ask about Ten.

“What about Di-Di?”

I guess this is why Mike Wazowski from Monsters, Inc. calls them “telepathetic powers.”

“She moved up,” I said in that same quiet voice.

Eight didn’t say anything after that for several minutes. I asked if she wanted to come back to my lap. She said no, that she’d like to be alone for a little while.

I didn’t leave the room, but I gave her a little time to process what had happened in silence. Ten walked in, saw Eight curled up, and left again. Before I could call for her, she came back, iPad in hand, and started swiping. Within seconds, she had her little sister smiling again over a slideshow she’d made specifically to help Eight feel better.

Her disappointment didn’t completely disappear, however, until she and Ten went to their next dance class. The teacher’s assistants talked to the students about the outcome of auditions. When I came back after dance to pick the girls up, Eight looked much perkier.

“Ms. M. said [Eight] might be able to move up during the year next year,” Ten announced.

Eight nodded with more positivity on the subject than I’d seen from her since I gave her the news. And I haven’t heard her comment on it since. She’s probably still not thrilled about staying in the same level, but at least she’s no longer acutely focused on it either.

Like I said, I’m so grateful for teachers.

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