My child’s co-parent hasn’t turned up – again!
How can I help my child to manage their disappointment when the other parent does not show up to see them?
It is a good idea to address your own disappointment first: you might have been looking forward to the break or had some other plans for this time that you will have to cancel at a very short notice and do something completely different.
Take some time for yourself before you break the news to your child. If you have any stress release tools that work for you – this is the perfect time to use them. Here are a few techniques that work well for other parents:
- Breathe – slow deep breathing will help you regulate.
- Relax your body. Lying down or sitting down comfortably will help to relax your mind.
- Put words to what you are feeling: say it to yourself, call your friend (ideally out of the earshot of your child) or write it down.
Combining all three works quite well too. Whatever you choose to do to help you calm down – stay with it at least for a few minutes or until you get the sense that you are bigger than your emotions and you can hold them. Do whatever works for you so that by the time you are talking with your child about it you are in a more grounded and balanced state.
If you are a visual person, you can picture yourself as a container that will holds your child’s feelings. As much as possible let go of any expectation of how your child will react. It is important for them to have a chance to feel what they are feeling and it will be enormously helpful if they can share that with you. Aim to stay in that middle ground:
- Do not add your own disappointment to theirs to make it bigger.
- Don’t talk them out of it or brush it off either.
Why distracting your child with another activity may not be the best course of action
It might be tempting to offer to do something exciting, stimulating and active straight away to take your child’s mind away from it. Let me explain why I don’t think this is the best way forward:
Let’s take a step away from our theme and have a look at the broader picture of how our emotions work. At any given time your child is moved by one of the two impulses:
- They are either driven by the impulse to go out and explore the world, to experience something new, to master new skill or;
- Impulse to come back in for comfort, to make sense of their experience and to recharge.
This constant movement of out into the world and back in for comfort is one of our rhythms that are essential for our wellbeing, like breathing or sleeping. The easier it is for your child to move in both directions, the more secure they feel with you. If you are trying to keep your child constantly engaged, moving from one activity to the next, it is a bit like inhaling all the time and you can only inhale for so long without needing to exhale.
Let’s come back to our topic. I invite you to see this situation as time to exhale and be-with your child. Here are a few ideas that might help you along:
- Keep in mind that most of the communication at this point will be non verbal. If you managed to find your ground before speaking with your child, they will gradually pick up on that and it will make it easier for them to find theirs.
- If you can help it – keep your words to the minimum. Resist the temptation to over explain or make it better by promising something you might not be able to deliver. If you don’t know what to say, just breathe and allow the words to come as and when they do. You might describe what is happening, for example: ‘You were really looking forward to seeing your mum’ or ‘You have packed everything you wanted to take with you and now you are not going’ or ‘You were hoping to go swimming with your dad’. Even if it feels like you are stating the obvious, it will let your child know that you know what they are going through and it will create a safe space to share their feelings about it.
- You can also help your child find the words to communicate what they might be feeling by saying something like: ‘You probably feeling so disappointed (let down, angry) right now’. Name whatever you feel is right for your child in the moment. However, bear in mind that you can only guess what your child is feeling and stay open to being corrected by your child.
I will sum it all up by saying that the biggest gift you can give to your child in a moment like this is to show up as strong enough to be with whatever they are feeling and stay with your child until they find their way back to their usual self.
I hope you’ve picked up us some helpful ideas. If you have any questions or experiences you’d like to share, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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