Let him wallow, just for a bit

Author: AM Scott

Unashamedly, the Springbok rugby team, so capably led by Siya Kolisi last Saturday, 2 November 2019, have been hoisted high in our talk, our social media feeds, our newspapers and indeed our proudly South African hearts. We like a win. Even more so, we love a decisive victory, where we have ‘slaughtered the opponents’, ‘had them for lunch’ or ‘left them in the cold’. In sport, we play to win but we value sportsmanship, the love of the game, and losing graciously (well, some of us do). Truth be told, the alpha in all of us wants to be on top and beat the opponent good and proper. It is Darwinian in a way, and it is how we are wired to survive.

In other aspects of our lives, however, we seek to settle on achieving “win-win” situations. We try to keep everyone happy. We skate and skirt around disappointment and upset. We don’t want tears and drama; and we often miss the right outcome because of it. In the game of rugby, players don’t stop to reflect and let their opponents have a turn to score. Imagine? Win-win doesn’t feature in sport and we must prepare our children for the fact that it doesn’t really apply to most of life. We win some and we lose some. That description is closer to how it goes. Failure makes us stronger. It is a bitter pill to swallow but dealing with disappointment and bouncing back from it are features of resilience. Yet, this is one of our most challenging experiences in raising children, whether you are parenting or teaching them. Second sucks. Period.

Disappointment is a tricky emotion to deal with, and it is part of the daily human condition. As adults, we need to develop strategies to hold our children through disappointment. When they don’t make the team, get rejected in their school placement application, get left off the party invitation list, miss out on the trophy, get overlooked for the leadership position, drop the ball themselves, receive unhappy news, mess up and fail, they should feel disappointed. It’s a natural response and we can’t make it ‘go away’, nor can we engineer to avoid it. Rather, we need to help our children confront the disappointments they face and equip them in these early years with a very basic but critical life skill.

Consider these few strategies:

  1. Let him wallow, just for a bit. Let him cry. Sit quietly with or hold him tight as he vents. Give him words for the emotion that overcomes him: empty, sad, disappointed. Let him feel the first blows.
  2. Do a reality check with her: in the global scheme of things, is it really that bad? It may feel like the biggest, most horrible thing that can happen now, but is it really that significant over a lifetime? Remind her that thoughts are thoughts and not always the truth. Steer her to away from negative self-talk, “You didn’t make the team,” is not, “I’m useless.”
  3. Head disappointment up at the pass and help him respond proactively with, “I feel challenged and disappointed, but it’s not a train smash.” Navigate him far from blame, bitterness, anger and jealousy towards others.
  4. Avoid anxious reactions of your own. If you as the adult become as anxious and emotional as your child, you will not lower stress, you’ll exacerbate it. Examine your own response to your child’s emotion. Is it really about this matter or do you have baggage that you are bringing forward? If you become emotional, your child’s interpretation is that they have disappointed you too, and the low esteem fallout from that is worse than the initial root of the problem.
  5. Put things in perspective. Will this matter to your child in five or ten years’ time? Have others survived a similar disappointment? How can you help him to see things positively? Perhaps he can garner a new strategy or train harder or choose to support the victor.
  6. Breathe. If your child has been emotional, remind her to breathe. Breathing literally oxygenates the body back to a thinking mode instead of reaction fight-flight-freeze state. And when you can think, you can gain perspective and solve a problem so as to move forward. You can get over your disappointment.

Annual prize giving events are coming up in school calendars. The trophy sizes leave the Webb Ellis Cup in the shade on most school stages. The events are happy celebrations in the most part, and rightful acknowledgement of children who have excelled, made progress or applied good effort. Nothing in that is bad, but not everyone can receive an award. In comes the disappointment. Most of the children in the audience will feel the pang. If your child is one of them, breathe, put your own ‘stuff’ aside, acknowledge his pain and hold him tight.

P.S. The author agrees that all readers should consider sharing the above with the English RWC side J