Why kids need disappointment.

© by cytoon

In his book “The Private Adam” Rabbi Shumley Boteach recounts the following story. A wealthy investment banker fell on hard times after a string of bad investment decisions. On top of losing almost everything he was unable to keep his three children in their elite private boarding school. Upon learning this the rabbi took it upon himself to seek out donors in the community to help cover the costs so the children could stay in their school. His grounds for the request, as he put it, was to save the children from “the shame and humiliation they would face if they were forced to leave their school and friends because their father could no longer afford the tuition”.

The fallout from our ongoing economic crisis continues to leave frustration, anger, and especially fear in its wake. It seems very few lots have been spared from the carnage including our very own government. Families who had grown accustomed to pulling money off the tree in their backyard now find themselves living in a reality nowhere near Kansas. The financial avalanche has led to chic neighborhoods becoming littered with foreclosures as the byproduct of biting off more than one can chew, six figure salaries traded in for unemployment checks, and everyone reminiscing on the ‘ole days asking if it will ever be so good again. Yet anyone who has lived long enough knows that part of the human experience includes a healthy dose of challenge and specifically disappointment. While each handles them differently we all know it’s an occupational hazard.

But when it comes to our kids and disappointment the idea takes on a whole new meaning. As parents we want to shield our children from negative consequences, especially if it was our choices that created them. But if we protect our children from all of life’s ups and downs is that good parenting or are we setting them up for even tougher lessons down the road? If we provide cover for all the arrows our child will surely face does she ever learn to manage them when we aren’t around?

To the Rabbi’s dismay his pleas fell on deaf ears and the children transferred to another school. It’s unknown what was said or how the children reacted, but had Rabbi Boteach been successful in his attempts what might have been the outcome? While their dignity may have stayed in tact how would their future expectations been affected? Would they simply assume someone will always step in to fix everything should it all come crashing down? And would there be any point of reference when making their own life choices?

No father wants his child to experience disappointment or pain. As parents we are hard-wired to protect our kids but trying to cushion them from all adversity creates an adult who doesn’t posses the mental or emotional fortitude to deal with any trials or tribulations. One has to look no further than the proverbial rich kid for an example. The Paris Hilton’s or Lindsay Lohan’s of the world are the quintessential snotty-nosed brats who were never told ‘no’ and their actions and life choices reflect as such.  [pullquote]Life isn’t always fair and bad things do happen to good people.[/pullquote]

I believe the strength of character gained by these children leaving their school far outweigh the shame and humiliation potentially avoided by staying. And the prospective benefactors knew as much and understood a basic life fact the rabbi failed to grasp – life isn’t always fair and bad things do happen to good people.

I want my kids to learn early on that life doesn’t always play fair and the good guy doesn’t always win. They must learn there are going to be times when they win but there will be just as many where they get the short end of the stick. And the best I can do when they do come is be there to support them and offer that most southern of truisms:

“If this is the worst thing that happens to you, you’re going to be fine!” 

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14 responses to Why kids need disappointment.

  1. Michelle

    Chopperpapa, I couldnt agree more. Children raised sheilded from consequences become adults who do not understand the gravity of their choices. Think of the other side of this subject, parents who sheild their children from the consequences of the child’s own bad choices. In the poor Rabi’s case he was trying to protect his children from suffering because of bad decisions he had made but in doing so wasnt he also trying to avoid the consequences of his own bad choices? The fall out from his bad decisions would inevitably effect his family. Perhaps something he should have been thinking of while taking the risks he did. Not that he shouldnt take risks, but be prepared to die by the sword you live by, not retreat when you’re on the wrong side of the blade. My family and just got through six months of homelessness. The effect it had on my family is what motivated me to work hard, make changes, and prepare better for the future. First thing to change was living beyond my means. I couldnt predict loosing my job, but now I know ways I could have reacted to it sooner. Anf my son watched and hopefully learned as well. I wonder if this Rabi had parents who sheilded him from consequences? The enabling kind whose intentions are good but method is all wrong. The FIX IT FOR THEM kind. And for this reason, and from this example, the Rabi learned to avoid consequeces instead of face them. We become the adults our childhood lessons prepare us for and parenting is difficult for a reason: because life is. This whole family now has the opportunity to learn a lesson that will fortify them in the future. And the loss of luxuries really shouldnt be that much of a loss to begin with. People who have them demonstrate a vast ingratitude when they forget themselves and start mistaking them for necessities. The kids will come out stronger and the Rabi will come out humbled, if they allow themselves to learn from this.

  2. Lady Bren

    So true!!
    I am the oldest ina group of friends.  Most of their children are in elementary school while mine are high school;/college/  I don’t know if it is a new mind set but these kids are so protected.  Nothing bad can happen that it isn’t turbulant.  THere is kind of a Lake Wobegone mentality going on as well.  We have a reality approach to parenting and I think it has served my kids well.  Their Dad’s lost a job, I’ve had a stroke, they’ve lost all grandparents.  Needless to say they have a true world view. 

    A saying I use often whn something small goes wrong is..
    If this is the worst that happens than today is a blessed day

  3. Great post..I have struggled with this same issue in my parenting. As much as it hurts me, there have been times when I have had to let my daughter be disappointed. I realized pretty quickly I would do her more harm than good if I sheltered her from everything. 

  4. Great post!  I agree it is hard to not try to shelter your kids from harm.  But I totally agree with everyone that it is a bad idea and doesn’t teach our children to deal with the consequence of their actions.

  5. Yellowbird73

    I agree with the basic sentiment…though it must also be noted that children can be sensitive to bad things in a way that we, as adults, aren’t. It’s difficult to balance being honest with being kind sometimes. I was unemployed for 30 months, and I tried to impress on my children what that meant, sometimes to no avail and other times to the point where they were a little scared for me. I do think it’s important for children to know disappointment, but as parents it’s also our job to make sure children know they are fundamentally safe and protected. It’s a tricky balance sometimes!

  6. It’s so important to learn to say “no” to one’s kids, with empathy and without anger. Very little learning can occur without being able to tolerate frustration and disappointment. It’s also important to model resiliency and resourcefulness in the face of problems and adversity. My father responded to his business failure by dying of a heart attack when I was young. This turned out not to be a good start for me, and took decades to overcome.

  7. Michelle, what an excellent and insightful comment. I certainly hope the best for you and your family. Please come back and engage with us again. 

  8. Agreed, and unfortunately parents lean far too much on the side of caution and shield them from everything. Which is never good. 

  9. Crowdfriendlydog

    I am in total agreement. My older children grew up with me as a single mom. They quickly learned about disappointments, but also learned how rewarding little things in life can be.
    I am now remarried and have a teenage stepson who has not had to experience any disappointment. He and his father were guarded against this. Not only do they have a hard time facing disappointment, but they also deal with a great amount of guilt when they have to disappoint others.
    Although a hard lesson, disappointment will make us stronger individuals. I have very strong children, who are considerate, conscientious and grateful for all they have.

  10. That is an interesting point that I haven’t considered. By sheltering our children what impact does it have on how they deal with others. Does it turn them into people pleasers?!?!? 

    Interesting insight, thanks for your comments. Please stop by and see us again. 

  11. Great Post!

    I couldn’t agree more. Aside from being a dad of three, I am a middle school teacher who battles with parents once in a while because their kids fail or come close to failing.

    I ask those parents if they would rather their child fail here in the comfort of their own community or would hey rather their child fail later in life when the comforts of caring, nurturing people will be replaced by strangers looking at a bottom line?

    After that, we usually see eye to eye. I have the same approach with my own kids. Lately my little man has been learning about patience. His video toy gadget thingy had broken. He asked me everyday to fix it or replace it. He cries, stomps and pouts when the answer is, “Later.”

    However, I have probably noticed more with him than my other two due to the fact that I a loner now. The days of “instant gratification” also come hand and hand with the economy. There’s just not enough money to go out and replace something. So I watch my little man swoop back into his coloring books, reading stories with me and playing “pretend.”

    So while disappointment may be hurting us as we watch our children go through it, I can see how it makes them stronger in character and spirit.

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