In my last post, I explored the definition of bullying and how to work with the school about bullying concerns, which are both important pieces of the bullying/mean behavior puzzle. Another critical piece of the puzzle is a parent’s reaction to their child. A parent that stays reasonably calm in the face of a broken arm, might be undone by a sad, sorrowful child. So what should you do when your beautiful child is crying because some OTHER child hurt them physically/emotionally?
First, get a handle on your emotions, stay calm, and consider these suggestions to guide you:
1. Listen More, Talk Less. The more you listen, the better your child will feel and the more you will understand the situation. Maybe throw in a couple of questions to clarify the situation but mostly just listen.
2. Validate your child’s experience. In their book, The Power of Validation, authors Karyn Hall and Melissa Cook define validation as, “letting your child share their thoughts and feelings without judging, criticizing, ridiculing or abandoning them. You let your child feel heard and understood.” It doesn’t mean that you agree with them, “It just means that you understand what your child feels is real to her.” A Michigan Medical school study found that, “physical pain and intense feelings of social rejection “hurt” in the same way.” The same regions of the brain that are active in response to physical pain are active during intense experiences of social rejection.
EXAMPLES OF VALIDATING STATEMENTS
That’s no fun
Wow, that’s a lot to deal with
I’d feel sad/hurt/angry/jealous, etc. too
That must really hurt.
3. Ask open ended questions. Allow your child to express what happened, and gather information. But don’t pepper him with questions or force her to talk to you. If you suspect something is wrong, but your child won’t tell, stay connected to them and just try to get a safe and easy conversation going. Talking, on any topic, can open the door for them to tell you their troubles.
4. Have a problem solving discussion. What was it that upset you? What actually happened? What were your options? What could you do next time? Let your child know that you believe in their ability to problem solve. Help them come up with a plan and talk about putting that plan in to action. Even running through a practice can be useful. “Imagine I am Ben and this is what I am saying, what are you going to do?” Giving them a chance to solve problems, with you on their side, can offer them relationship tools and self confidence that will be invaluable life skills. They’ll be dealing with good and bad relationships all of their lives, so practice is good!
5. Share your own problem solving process with your child. Occasionally, bring a simple problem home, and let them hear you problem solve out loud. Maybe even ask them for advice on how to solve it. Similarities between office politics and school mean behaviors can be surprising.
6. Thoughtfully evaluate the situation to decide how to respond. As you listen, comfort and validate your child. You can evaluate the situation and decide on your level of intervention. Remember when your child was a toddler and she hit her head at the playground? She cried and you held her, comforted her, and evaluated her. Is there blood? Is there a broken bone? Then you decided on your response- hospital, bandaid, or back to the swings. Try the same idea with emotional pain- as you listen to her, comfort, validate, and access. Is this something she can try to handle on her own? Is it enough to just listen and problem solve? Do you need to talk to the teacher/school? Is she safe?
7. Always let your child know that you, the teachers, and other adults have their back. Kids should not have to be on the defense all of the time and should be able to feel safe at school. Remind them it is the job of adults to protect kids, and if they need help it is available.
8. Understand what might make your child more vulnerable to mean behavior from other kids. Remember, one part of any definition of bullying includes a power difference. If your child has special needs, is very introverted, or small for his age, it might increase their vulnerability. According to bullying consultant, Jo Ann Freiberg, a large percentage of statewide and national bullying complaints involve children with special needs or kids that are different from peers in some way: “Kids that are different for that environment or that particular school, are more likely to be targeted.” More vulnerable kids will need more adult intervention. Understanding this, and how it might apply to your child, will
help you when you decide- band aid or hospital?
9. Use the New Milford Youth Agency as a resource. We offer crisis counseling and support, and information for parents.