Dealing With Mean Kids
Do you agonize watching your kids navigate the perils of socializing? I never thought it would be so hard, until my son came home crying that someone had teased him about his lunch at school. He was so hurt and I was soooooo pissed! Why would someone be mean to my child for no reason!?!? I was mad at the kid, the parents, the teacher, the principal...and I wanted to take action and fix this problem immediately. Whether you are witnessing the meanness unfold on the playground or hearing about it after the fact, it is really hard to know what to do to help our kids. Now as I parent coach, I see moms sliding down this rabbit hole all the time and overall I see us committing 3 big mistakes. See if you recognize yourself in any of these, and I invite you to experiment with some alternative actions instead:
Mistake #1: Emotional Response - Swap Anger for Empathy.
Our first reaction is usually one of protection and defense. Humans (especially parents!) are primal creatures and our response to threats to our children are primal too. We evolved in an environment where anything could appear and literally kill our children - wild animals, the elements, other people...the fierce, defensive and protective instincts were essential. And, even though in our modern society most things that our kids come up against aren't life-threatening, our reactions can still be just as intense. Remember a mean 4-year-old doesn't deserve the same ferocious assault as a saber-tooth tiger ;) You will be helping your child so much more if you can react to their struggle with empathy for them, not reaction to your own feelings. Receive them with a big hug, relate to their struggle, tell them a similar experience that you have had, give them the message that you know how they feel, you're sorry for their suffering, and that you believe in their ability to resolve it.
Mistake #2: Immediate Action - Gather information before you make your move.
Our first reaction when we find out someone is being mean to our kid is to think, "This is unacceptable! Something needs to be done!" and that mindset leads us to take action out of anger, fear or guilt. Pump the breaks, mama! You probably don't know the whole story (even if you witnessed the transgression unfold). After you've turned on the empathy, ask questions from a place of curiosity without agenda. Find out what happened, perhaps what happened leading up to the incident, how did it feel, how does your child imagine the other person felt, what did your child do about it, etc. This step not only gives you a more comprehensive picture, it also helps both of you calm down.
Mistake #3: Playing Mr. Fixit - Support your child rather than rescuing him/her.
Talking to the other parents, lecturing the other child, meeting with the teacher or principal...these are usually the first things we think of doing when we know our kid is struggling with another child. While sometimes these things are necessary, remember that all of them are intervening on your child's behalf and not enabling them to problem-solve and learn how to deal with these situations in the future. Your child will benefit so much more from the simple response, "I can see this is really bothering you. If anyone can solve this problem, I know you can. What do you think you will do about it? Let me know if you want some suggestions." Brainstorm with your child how they want to react next time, if they want to do something about what has already happened, what their choices are, and let them decided how they want to move forward. Make sure they know you are there for them, but that they are in charge of their own challenge.
I'll be talking about these things even more deeply in the Facebook group this week, so make sure you tune in. And, TODAY is your last chance to attend my Raising Great Kids masterclass for free. Sign up and get cozy on your couch with your computer for some deep parent support!