Brother 1: You’re an idiot! Brother 2: [crying and upset]: Mom, he called me an idiot! Me: [exasperated] Well, are you an idiot? Brother 2: No! Me: Then stop crying, tell him that, and don’t play with him till he apologizes.
This was a watershed moment for me as a parent. I was so sick of telling my kids to stop calling each other names, I inadvertently turned the issue around on them - I felt guilty at first, like I was blaming the victim. But it worked! Brother 2 took control of himself and the situation. And I found a powerful way to help kids become resilient.
Teach them to choose their reactions. Emotions are part of being human, and we can measure some degree of control over those emotions. We can make a conscious effort to understand how we're feeling and help ourselves feel better - take deep breaths, talk to a friend, take a walk, get a hug. We can teach our kids to do the same: “You sound upset. Is that how you want to feel right now?” It’s ok if they want to feel bad for a bit - sometimes we need a good cry. But gentle encouragement and reminders that they can exercise control of their emotions go a long way toward becoming resilient rather than simply reactive.
Give them empowering words. Expressing emotions is hard, especially when you’re upset. After teaching kids the right words for how they’re feeling (“you are sad right now”, “you sound frustrated”), we can also give them the right words to handle difficult situations. “The words you need are: I’m not an idiot. Please don’t call me that, and I demand an apology.”
Cultivate compassion and empathy. We can teach our children to look for what hurts others, and to recognize that anger and meanness come from feeling hurt. When we feel compassion for others’ pain, we don’t take their expressions of it as personally - meaning, we become incredibly resilient. It really is not you - it’s them. And that is a very empowering realization.
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