The gift of hardship and disappointment

Guest column by Dr. Peter Thompson
Posted 3/31/20

In an attempt to put a positive spin on the current immensely negative COVID-19 disaster, I am reminded of the teachings of a famous existential psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl. Dr. Frankl experienced …

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The gift of hardship and disappointment

Posted

In an attempt to put a positive spin on the current immensely negative COVID-19 disaster, I am reminded of the teachings of a famous existential psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl.

Dr. Frankl experienced firsthand and survived the worst stain in human history, the Holocaust. Dr. Frankl survived the insanity of the death camps due to his choice on how he allowed himself to perceive the depravity of events that engulfed him during World War II. In the spirit of Dr. Frankl's work on human suffering, I offer readers a positive reframing of the disaster currently sweeping our country.

I have completely embraced a helpful expression that has guided my psychological practice and perspective on human suffering. The adage was coined and repeated throughout the halls of schools and academia because it succinctly encapsulated the wisdom that professionals have known for decades. The phrase was titled The Gift of Struggle. Mental health practitioners who imparted this piece of wisdom to parents intuitively knew what it meant because, through our experiences working with hundreds of children, we witnessed its truth. The truth is, when children struggle, with support, they are more apt to learn valuable lessons that will last a lifetime. To be sure, The Gift of Struggle is the antithesis of entitlement and inoculates children from the pitfalls of taking the easy way.

As millions of children are currently facing canceled plans for vacations, movies, parties, graduations, proms and the like, they are struggling to adjust to the reality of our unprecedented situation. In the same vein as The Gift of Struggle, a new phrase has been born out of the existing crisis. The new adage is, The Gift of Disappointment, and it rings just as true as The Gift of Struggle because they are first cousins. While this unprecedented national difficulty is causing tremendous stress and anxiety, it also presents professionals and parents with the golden opportunity to teach children real-life lessons. With compassion and support, adults can guide children through hardships. We can teach children that difficulties are actually a natural and expected part of life. While we cannot prevent hardships, we can certainly guide students how to properly respond to it. We can use our own experiences with personal difficulties in life to illustrate that we can survive and become much stronger. Indeed, without disappointment, resiliency cannot be created.

In short, I believe it is critical for children to learn that adversity is given to all people and there is a reason for it. Teaching children how to respond to adversity helps define and mold their character. I can think of nothing more purposeful and important than to show kids that something negative can have a remarkably positive impact on their life.

Dr. Peter Thompson is a school psychologist for the Douglas County School District.

COVID-19, Colorado

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