Managing Disappointment

Posted March 29, 2022

Managing Disappointment
By Roxie Zeller

Disappointment is a big part of life. You may feel disappointed when a sports team loses, when seeds do not sprout, when the snow takes too long to melt, or when plans fall through. The higher your anticipation, the more it can hurt.
As adults, we have learned to manage our expectations and disappointment to protect us from the emotional impact, so we are not overwhelmed with sorrow, nor do we lash out in anger. Children, however, are still building the tools needed to handle disappointment, learning from their own experiences and from watching adults in their lives.

The preschoolers in the Autumn Room at Eagan have experienced a lot of disappointment this spring as we tapped our box elder trees, trying to collect sap to boil into syrup. Those who were here last year approached tapping this year with caution, after their efforts to get sap were fruitless in the past. Children who were new to our school were filled with excitement. They were eager to help drill into the trees, hammer in the spiles, and remind us to check on the buckets every school day. Day after day, their excitement dwindled as they carefully lifted the lids and found empty buckets.

That is, until the big rainstorm came through at the beginning of March. About a cup of rainwater found its way into the sap buckets, fueling their excitement again. It wasn’t until we were indoors filtering the liquid that we discovered that it was rainwater instead of sap. (A teacher tasted the liquid to test it.) The preschoolers were disappointed, as many were excited to taste the sap, expecting it would taste like syrup.

After that, many children lost hope that we would end up with sap. We talked about getting some from the Inver Glen preschool’s trees so we could still taste it, but most of the excitement around tree tapping was gone.

The week before spring break, on our daily hike to check the buckets, we were surprised to find some liquid sitting in one of the buckets. “Do you think it’s really sap?” “Maybe it’s just water, and we should dump it out. Can I dump it out?” “You found water in the buckets again?” Even the teachers were skeptical, assuming it was just melted snow from the Monday prior. The whole class had learned to manage their expectations about the sap buckets. From the rainwater debacle, they discovered that the lids over the buckets don’t keep out everything, and instead of getting their hopes up again, they cautiously approached the newfound liquid we collected.

Finally, the day came to give the sap a taste. Upon arrival at school, the preschoolers signed in by answering the question: “Today, we will taste sap! What do you think it will taste like?” They could choose to put their name cards under “water,” “syrup,” or “not sure;” the majority answered “syrup.” We combined what little sap we had collected over two days, filtered it through a coffee filter, then poured a small sample for all who wanted to try it, including our senior reader, Grandma Shirley. Many preschoolers were disappointed to discover that sap tastes nothing like the syrup they are familiar with. I would describe tree sap as earthy, or like mineral water, with a very subtle, sweet aftertaste. We now have a pot boiling away on the stove well on its way to becoming maple syrup but getting to this point took a long time and was full of disappointments and learning moments. Hopefully, managing all the ups and downs of the experience will make our upcoming pancake pajama party even sweeter.

Preschoolers are constantly working through disappointment, whether it comes from not being able to finish a puzzle or project before clean-up time, having a game go in an unexpected direction, dropping a treat from home on the floor, having your blocks knocked over, or having an experiment fail. As uncomfortable as disappointment can be, it is a big part of life. The more practice that preschoolers get acknowledging and moving through disappointment, the better they will be able to manage it as adults who, in turn, can be great models for future generations.