Almost everyone, parent or not, has heard the phrase, “Kids are so resilient; they bounce right back.” We say this without even thinking about it; it’s a way to comfort each other and ourselves in times of turmoil that affect our children. The first time my son heard someone say that, he pulled my sleeve and told me, “Mommy, that’s not true. Kids hurt too.”
What is so obvious to a child can often escape the full grasp of a parent or other adult to whom the child looks for comfort and reassurance in a time of distress. Every person goes through a process as he or she recovers from a loss or disappointment, but as adults with “bigger” problems, it is easy to forget that what seems like a small change to us could be devastating, confusing, and frightening to a child. We know ahead of time that our children are strong because we support and love them and will be there for them in the end, but children learn this only after years of overcoming obstacles and difficulties; in other words, the way we handle a child’s disappointment is the best device for teaching them what we already know: from every struggle comes a new opportunity or important life lesson, and change can be good as it forces out the best of our character. Most of all, we know that challenges can lead to growth.
My nine-year-old son recently suffered a stinging disappointment when he was told that because we didn’t qualify for financial aid for the upcoming school year, he wouldn’t be able to continue at the school he’s attended since kindergarten. He was tearful and held on tightly as he was wrapped in my arms and reassured that it would be okay, that sometimes things are taken from us to make way for a chance at something new or even better than what we’ve known. Over the next few days, as his teachers got the news and expressed their regret, my son had moments of sadness that seemed to strike out of nowhere, and needed to be consoled again, reminded that it was okay for him to feel sad. Weeks later, when he visited his new school, he was able to see that while it was different, there was much to experience in his future, things he wouldn’t have been able to do and people he wouldn’t have known if he’d stayed where he was.
While it is extremely important to help a child transition from a loss or upheaval in his life into a new opportunity, it is equally, if not more, important to honor his wound initially, to acknowledge that he is hurting. In the long run, that acknowledgment will be a supportive touchstone on the road to his eventual recovery and growth.