As children develop, they look to the people in their lives to help them figure out who they are. With authentic feedback that focuses on their positive traits, children can develop strong self-esteem. Most likely this will align with their intuitive sense of who they are and who they would like to become. Growing up and filtering positive, constructive feedback from the hurtful words of others, particularly from peers is really hard.
It can be really challenging to parent when other people are mean to our children. How do you teach a child to navigate situations when their “friends” say things that are mean? As we all have experienced, those moments in our lives can be absolutely crushing. At Radcliffe Creek School and in our homes, we try to create a nurturing environment where this doesn’t happen. The reality is that kids can be unkind to each other anywhere and this is difficult to prevent despite our very best efforts. Therefore, it is important to help children build their coping skills. As we know, they can benefit from explicit instruction and help in processing a difficult situation.
Here are some of the tools we need to utilize as parents to help our children feel strong and competent.
-Be an active listener. Provide a safe space for your child to be able to talk about what is going on. This is easier said than done. The situation can feel really awful to your child, no matter how minor you may perceive the situation to be. Sometimes, their perspective may be skewed. Nevertheless, it is still hard to see your child in pain and not want to rush in and try to fix it. Take a deep breath and say, “I am glad you are telling me about what happened. I am here to listen and help if you need me to.”
-Frame the conversation with these questions:
Can you tell me what happened?
Has this happened before?
How did you react? How do you wish you reacted?
Were there other people around? How did they react?
How can your friends or adults be more helpful to you?
What can I do to help you?
-Try hard not to overreact because your child needs to feel like they are capable of working through the situation. When parents get really upset and take away a child’s ability to process, plan, and navigate the situation, your child will lose their sense of competency in dealing with these scenarios. Curse creatively in another room, call a good friend and vent to them about how angry you are at this kid who is making your child miserable. Do not involve your child in that conversation. They should not have to handle your emotions when they are trying to regulate their own. Your children need to know that you believe they will get through this.
-Brainstorm together why your child thinks they were being teased. If you can come up with ideas on why the other kid might be teasing your child, it could help you to create a plan together. Perhaps the other child is:
displaying what the teasing child may experience or what they see on social media
trying to gain a sense of superiority because they don’t feel good about themselves
looking for peer acceptance by putting someone else down
has a misunderstanding of differences
Supporting your children and helping them develop functional coping skills to navigate difficult interactions is difficult. Perhaps they may need other people besides their family to help them solidify these skills. Consider involving counselors, speech and language pathologists, teachers, mentors, administrators, and coaches.