By Betsy Gallup
My son has always been somewhat popular among his classmates and playmates, but there has always been at least one kid, or group of children, who have made his life miserable. I cannot count the number of times I have picked him up from school only to find him crying within moments of closing the car door. When asked what is wrong, the answer is inevitable along the same line. "M and P were calling me names." "C kicked me in the back." "None of the kids like me." "I don't have anyone to play with." Upon further discussion, I came to the conclusion that we were not suffering from a case of being the brunt of a class bully's attention, rather something more self-involved.
When your child is faced by the prospects of one bully in one grade or in one camp setting, it is easy to presume the fault lies with the other child. After all, your child is the one suffering. But when the incident seems to be repeated in every social setting from two children playing in the backyard, to daycare, to summer camp, to family reunions, logic prevails upon a parent to rethink the original assumptions. Ultimately, the question becomes what survival skills have you failed to teach your child.
I have never been a big believer in raising children by the book, as each child is different. Each home situation is unique. Each situation comes with its own subset of values. In this case, when the answers provided by school personnel proved unproductive, I sought other avenues to identify the problem my child and I were facing, and the best way to deal with the situation.
What I discovered was my child probably suffered from something called low resilience. In other words, his ability to cope with the daily problems faced by all children his age was not adequate to allow him to let go of the childish jabs or the jokes pulled on him. To him, each of these comments, jokes, pushes, and rough-housing episodes was a serious problem and a comment on his self-worth. He obsessed over his hurt feelings and his inability to control those around him.
In a way, you could consider his failing as a direct result of my attempt at perfect parenting. By trying to be there for him, to protect him from a tough and sometimes unkind world, I have taught him to rely on me, as his protector, instead of teaching him the difference between being laughed at and being laughed with. By running interference between him and his cousins and friends, I have shown my lack of faith in his own ability to deal with these problems. I have given him the unspoken permission to allow the actions of others to determine how he feels about himself.
I turned to the Internet for answers. I came across five basic guidelines to lead me down the right path to correcting my parenting mistakes.
Let Empathy Be Your Guide - Take the time not just to understand what your child is feeling, but make an effort to look at the experience from the children's perspective. This is an important first step, as it is impossible to successfully help what we do not understand.
Bite Your Tongue, Watch, and Listen - Never give advice until you understand what your child is really feeling. When possible, observe your child at play with other children. See what he may be doing to bring some of the problems on himself. In other words, does he cry when things do not go his way, thereby opening himself to the ridicule by the less compassionate children? Or, can he see how his joking could be interpreted by another child as harassment as easily as he considered a joke played on him as mean and hurtful?
Understand Before You Respond - Respect your child for being able to confide in you, and understand that he is not always looking for a solution, merely an empathetic ear. Repeat back to you child what you hear he is feeling, and offer proactive advice only after you are sure what role your child is asking you to assume. It could be he just needs to vent after a long day of too much schoolwork and too little free time. Provide him with the tools to handle the situation himself when possible. Show your confidence in his ability to overcome adversity.
Compliment and Be Patient - Compliment your child in achieving their own resolution to the problem, even if that success has to be measured in degrees. Was he able to play with his adversary of yesterday today without either party going away mad or hurt? Did he walk away in anger and was able to control his anger instead of fighting? Did he have one good day at school. Just one day of successful coping, when he is able to come home feeling good about himself and the relationships around him. As a parent, you have to keep in mind that changes do not happen overnight. Success has to be measured and acknowledged in degrees until the act of coping without outside assistance become second nature.
By following these steps, you will be more able to view your child?s problems with the impartiality of an outside party. Your advice will become more proactive, and your child will become empowered to be responsible for his own actions.
In my particular situation, my son and I sat down and talked for a long time about a boy at school who always seemed to be picking on someone. The boy was known to call names, spread rumors, kick him when no one was looking, and blame my son for wrong doings that he himself had committed. We came up with a plan of actions and understandings including the following steps:
First and foremost, we cannot control the actions of others. We can only control how we react to others. In other words, if someone is calling you names, you can choose to cry, which gives the offending party added fuel to tease you more, or you can walk away or ignore the names. Without reacting, the offending party becomes frustrated and will eventually give up picking on you and go to another victim. You Cannot Make Anyone Do Anything.
Every day is a new day. Each day should be faced as a new day with the problems and fights of yesterday put to one side. This will teach your child not to dwell on the mistakes of the past but look to today as a fresh slate, where our enemies could become our friends or at least not our adversaries. Each afternoon when I picked him up, he was allowed a brief time of gripes and complaints about his day, but the mistakes of today were not to be pulled into play again tomorrow. The past is history and cannot be changed. We can only be responsible for what happens today.
Document it. As my son was extremely upset with the situation and kept pulling up old events as a reason to harbor bad feelings for the boy today, we decided to document each abuse on a daily basis. Along with this, if the boy kicked him or hit him, he was to show the teacher the mark immediately; and if it left a bruise, we would take a picture of it at home. I hoped to affirm my support of his situation, and if I were misreading the situation, we would have a good case against the other child as being a bully. For my son, it gave him a feeling of having some control. He would be able to prove his abuse. He would be able to 'make' the child leave him alone if he had enough evidence. He would be using the system to his advantage. Give him a way out of his problem.
Treat Others as You Would Like to be Treated. Set the example. If you are doing everything in your power to do the right thing, no matter what other people are saying, you know you are in the right. No matter what the rumors are, you can stand proud knowing they are lies. You will know in your heart, you are a good person, and those who truly know you, will also know they are lies. The lies will make the liar look small and petty. You will look strong and innocent.
Be Proud of your Accomplishments. Be proud of each accomplishment. Be proud each time you hear the rumors and do not spread rumors back. Be proud when you are called names but show the self-control not to cry and not to fight back. Give as much credence to these accomplishments as you do to your failures. The failures are a lot more bearable when viewed as just a small percentage of all that has been successful.
Since coming up with the guidelines, we have yet to make an entry in the journal nor has my son come home crying. He now has a plan. He now has some control over the situation and a workable set of rules for governing his life. So far, he has been able to put away the names and threats of yesterday and deal with just the problems of today. He has made progress with the boy in question, since he is not living in the anger of the past. He also realizes he is the only one who can make his life happier.
For us, this plan has worked. We have found a new peace and a new strength, and I welcome the change. Your situation will be unique. The solution will be unique, but the premise will be the same--to build a resilient, self-confident child able to face the typical problems of the day with head held high and the skills necessary to change a bad situation into a bearable situation.
If you would like more information about building a resilient child, visit http://www.raisingresilientkids.com/. Raising Resilient Kids offers informative articles and extensive resource listings for further research.
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