Have you ever witnessed your child struggling with their budding social life? They might not be accepted because they look different, or communicate in a different way. Perhaps they get picked on or pushed around.
What about when a group of kids doesn’t want to accept a newcomer, and that newcomer is your child?
What if your child doesn’t pick up on social cues, so they end up communicating in a way that makes other kids call them weird? Or even worse, they shout, “I don’t want to play with you!”
What about teenagers that are bullied because of how they dress, where they live, for being smart, for not being smart enough?
What about that boy that sprints to all of his classes? Or that one girl in your whole school that wears a hijab? Or that kid that you saw getting his lights knocked out by another kid?
Being a kid is a hard. Whether you are 5, 10, or 15, you are still a kid.
How do we help our kids navigate all of this growing up nonsense? You’ve got a growing fire of peer pressure, insecurity, a need to feel accepted, and hormones standing in front of you. They are standing in front of you in the form of a growing child.
So how do we put out that fire; or at least keep it at a safer controlled burn?
1. We teach self-love.
How do we teach our kids self-love? Well, for starters, we model self-love in the way that we talk about ourselves. None of that “my arms are too jiggly” or “I’m not smart enough for that” or “I’m a bad singer/artist/athlete.”
Our voice becomes our child’s inner voice. Learning to love ourselves and speak to ourselves with grace and acceptance will go a long way.
Your child will have the opportunity to love themselves every time they feel they messed up because they will be unconditionally supported by the parent. We don’t always have to support actions, but we always support the child.
Show them they are worthy by giving them your time. Listen to them. Accept their feelings no matter how ridiculous they may seem. Empathize with their experiences. Love on them when they feel the most unlovable.
Children also learn to love themselves when they see the people they care about showing true interest in their own passions; even if that means watching a Transformers YouTube video with them 200 times in a row (ok maybe not that much). Give them your undivided attention. Tell them, “I love watching you play.”
2. Give them tools.
What kind of tools, you ask?
The first tool you can give a child is a home base. No matter what happened, they can always bring it to you, their home base, and know that they won’t be punished for being open. They know that home base is their biggest advocate.
Give them emotional tools. Sometimes kids just don’t want to play with other kids. Yes, it sucks when it’s your kid being left out. Mine has experienced this a lot. We build emotional intelligence by allowing them to express their upset. No toughening up is needed, the world has already taken care of that. We need to sit on the ground in the middle of the playground with our 6 year old and hold him while he cries. He’s crying because he is devastated that he was rejected. My job isn’t to make it better, but to be there for him and talk through it.
We can also teach our children empathy in these situations. First by modeling empathy to them.
Say a kid was hurtful to your 7 year old. They come to you crying, “why did that kid say such a mean thing to me?”
“Sometimes other kids hurt other people because that’s how they’ve been treated. Kids that hurt others are usually hurting inside themselves. That doesn’t make it right, and that doesn’t mean you have to be around them, but it just means that everyone has a story that others don’t know about. Sometimes they are happy stories and sometimes they are sad.”
3. Be your child’s advocate.
Too often, bullying continues for long periods of time. A victim remains a victim when children are in places like a public school….unless they have an advocate.
Be their advocate. Don’t tell them to “just ignore it” when someone is hurtful. Kids raised this way are already (usually) lacking emotional intelligence tools. They are immature and can’t separate words from themselves. If a kid tells them they are stupid, they might start to believe it after awhile.
How to be an advocate for your child?
First, that whole home base thing. If that rock solid foundation is there, they will come to you when something crappy happens.
When they come to you, listen and empathize. Don’t try to give a lesson or any buts. If it is a situation of bullying, do something about it. Speak to someone that is in charge; a teacher, a principal, a parent. If it isn’t handled, keep advocating and listening to the child. Take them out of school if you have to. It’s not fair to a child to be forced into a situation with an abuser over and over and over. Protect them.
Sometimes, there is absolutely nothing you can do when your kid is picked last, didn’t make the football team, couldn’t get anyone to play with them at the park, got called weird, or was laughed at. Oftentimes these are just one-off situations that rip your heart to shreds.
All you can do is be that shoulder to cry on. Show them that you hear them. Affirm your unconditional love and acceptance of them. A simple, “I’m so sorry that you had to experience that. You heart must hurt so much right now.” And hold them while they cry as much as they need to.
You aren’t raising weaklings. With these methods, you are raising world changers full of compassion.
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