Sunday, April 5, 2009

How do children cope with disappointment?

Princess went to a gym competition on Sunday. She didn't win anything. She was all storm clouds and winter despite the sun being most dazzling outside. Not winning is ok, I told her. "Not after all the hours I put in," she says. "You don't know what it feels like, it makes you feel like you are not worth anything!"

I felt sad seeing all her internal turmoil. I tried to recall how I used to cope as a child. I was never a top student. Friends cried when they got 80% in their tests. I laughed out of sheer happiness, for getting 55%, especially in Math. I had my strenghts, but math was not one of them. I can't remember sheer disappointment except for when I missed out on promotions every year for 5 consecutive years at the NSTP, where I used to work. Why not? I was a star reporter, with many good scoops. After a while, I left and found success elsewhere. And oh, yes, there were two other disappointments in my life I will always remember -- not being chosen to perform in a dance at Chinese school, and not making it to the badminton team!

I told Princess that wining is not everything. Needless to say, my words might as well been thrown out as garbage. There were more tears about how just having something to show for all the hard hours she put into gym would have been nice. It went on for a while. Time will heal this disappointment. I am sure it will.

It is hard. Dealing with non-success. But children need to learn that success is not defined by medals or certificates. Yes, these external forms of gratuity are all welcomed as endorsement of what one has done right. Sometimes a little failure can help a child feel empathy for those who have never won a medal or any certificate. Sometimes it is good for a child to know there will always be someone better prepared, or luckier on that day.

I want Princess to succeed. But how can or should I help define for her "success" that is not measured by "goldstars" in school or "Distinctions" or "Excellent" or cups and medals? I don't really have the answers. All I could say was enjoy the experience of exercising but that went whoosh!

Princess is already highly successful by my definition. Obviouly my standards are much lower than her own. She aims high and demands great things of herself -- in sports, in school. Me? I just want her to stay happy and healthy.

If you have interesting stories to share about how you have helped your child cope with not succeedin, share your tale?