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5 Ways To Teach Our Kids How to Use Their Voice

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5 Ways To Teach Our Kids How to Use Their Voice

Remember the last time you walked away from an interaction with someone where you didn’t respond with what you were really thinking?  The one where you had 27 brilliant rebuttals or hard core responses you wish you said, but clammed up out of fear of how your words would be received and what repercussions there might be for speaking your truth. Of course you do, we’ve all been there.

And then we tell our kids to “Use Your Words” when they hit or are verbally aggressive at times and overreact because they don’t know how to communicate their emotions in calm, rational ways that get their point across respectfully. Its not a double standard. Oh wait, yes it is. (I can not apologize for the sarcasm, its how I speak my truth)

Yet, we want our children to speak for themselves and learn the value of self advocacy. In my professional view, its one of those life skills that not only helps you in ANY career you choose, but also in any relationship or friendship or interaction with another human being…and occasionally pets. (I am 99% sure they understand everything we say). But I am not kidding, its that important.

Learning to speak your truth and use your voice could not be any more valuable.  Shoving down your emotions starts with a disagreement with your parent or your friend or your sibling or your teacher or the kid bullying you at school and ends with stifled interaction and communication with your boss or your colleague or your spouse and a self esteem that feels it can not get out of its own way. It becomes a patterned behavior and response when we fear that if we speak our truth we will not be supported or worse off, rejected. And most of the time we play out the scenarios in our head and fear the worst without ever having lived it. We reject ourselves before we are rejected and silence ourselves without ever hearing the sound of our voice.

So how can we stop that pattern with our children?

1- Help them to identify what they want as an end result.  How do they want to feel at the end of the conversation?  What is the intent? Its important to know what they want to feel so they will be able to tell when they have met their goal and end the conversation and embrace the success.

2-Give them the words to use.  Do a mock conversation with whomever they feel they need to speak to. Help them play it out to make the unknown a known and they can feel prepared.  All those “I wish I said this” can be played out in advance to give them a better shot at saying them.

3-Reframe any negativity. If the conversation feels remotely confrontational (and most people avoid confrontation), help them see it as a positive more so than a negative.  For example, if they have to speak to someone who they feel is treating them unfairly, explain to them that by speaking up they are teaching that person how their actions and words affect other people, something they may not know, and in turn will help them rethink how they speak to other people, thus protecting future “victims.”  Annnnd they will feel awesome once they say what’s on their mind.

4-Help them see any fear around it as simply a thought, not a reality.  There is no real way to know how a conversation/interaction is going to go without assuming….and we all know what assuming does.

But more typically, the anticipation is far, far worse than the actual event.  Help them play out the worst case scenario so they can see that nothing is truly too life altering if it doesn’t go the way they’d like.

5- Tell them stories of situations in your own life that they can relate to so they see that they are not alone and that life goes on.  Its so helpful for all of us to speak to someone who we feel gets us and our fears when we are having them and when its the strong parent you look up to, even more so.  Sometimes the most comfort comes when we hear survivor stories of those who’ve been in similar shoes.

The  hardest part for some parents will be to not do it for their children.  When our protective instincts come out, we pump up our chests and want to fix it for them with our experience, but allowing them to do it on their own actually is a far more empowering opportunity for growth.  And isn’t allowing them to grow the best way to advocate for them? I vote yes.

And if you are wondering if they are old enough to handle it on their own? If they can speak up to you and use their voice, then they are old enough to handle it on their own.

Wanna hear the super bonus of all? The more you teach them and encourage them to use their voice, the more confident and comfortable you feel doing the same in your own life. Two lessons in one. What’s better than that?

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The Little Potato That Could

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The Little Potato That Could

Every year, my friend and colleague and I co facilitate our school’s anti bullying program and each time, I am reminded of why I love working with teenagers and all the goodness that comes with them.

Last night, we held our first training and one of the diversity exercises was to get to know a potato up close and write a story about their life.  They were quite funny and insightful, but one in particular touched my heart…so of course, I have to share.

“Once upon a time, there was a demented potato that no one would buy.  Every day the potato hoped someone would buy him.  One day, a woman was making some potato salad and needed five potatoes. She picked out four, admiring them delightfully. But when she got to the demented potato, she winced in horror. “Hideous.” She shook her head.

The next day, a blind man felt the potatoes and the demented potato thought, “Yes! This is my chance!” However, the blind man shunned the potato for its big holes and bumpy stature.

Finally, a little boy ran up to the potato stand and picked up the demented potato. “This one Mommy!” he said excitedly.

“No honey, that one is a dud,” she replied.

“But Mommy, they all taste the same!” the little boy exclaimed. And with that, the demented potato was on his way home with them for dinner.

 

Through the eyes of a potato and its teenage friends.

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How Mental Illness and Emotional Disorders Impact Our Children

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How Mental Illness and Emotional Disorders Impact Our Children

I am one of those people who purposefully doesn’t watch the news, follow politics or read the newspaper.  I used to, avidly. It gave me something to think about, worry about, obsess over and be angry at.  The injustice is everywhere, as is crime, deception, and panic.  I have consciously chosen to take no part in it because I find that in no way, does mainstream media enhance my life.

I had been feeling this way prior to obsessively watching the news after the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy.  But once I heard what happened, I could not stop watching, thinking or trying to wrap my mind around it. I wanted answers, so I looked to the news to give them to me.  I believed everything they said, absorbed it all, took in the “facts” to process it and then found myself infuriated when half of what I was told was a “fact” was not even close.  Twenty four hours of someone else’s strong influence on me was powerful.  It shaped my views and opinions and reiterated to me just how powerful the influence of the media really is.  I haven’t watched the news since…right up until the other day.

Restless on the treadmill, I turned on MSNBC and started watching a heated debate on gun control.  Still gun control? Still debating? This hot topic started right after the tragedy as did the changes in our school safety procedures and the widespread panic that accompanies it.  Still, no one is talking about the REAL issue, the underlying issue, the actual cause—a misunderstanding and lack of knowledge of mental illness and emotional disorders.  It is not normal to hurt people, to want to hurt people, to allow yourself to perform harmful acts.  Before the guns, knives, fire, and fists are used, something is out of balance, something that needs to be addressed- desperately.

It bothers me immensely because I see it every day in children, I hear about it, I lived with it, I know the detrimental impact of mismanaged mental illness and emotional disorders. I also know the fear of it, the misunderstanding of its causes and treatments and the intense judgment that writes people off as hopeless because their brain connections aren’t working properly.

You can’t see the lesions, you can’t see the scars, you can’t see the pain, but it is there and it is deep. Clinical Depression, Bi Polar Disorder and Anxiety Disorders run rampant amongst our populations and they are kept under the radar often to protect the judgment from those around them.  Without professional help and intervention, these illnesses and disorders can drastically affect a person’s life in horrible, negative ways, causing them to feel worthless, angry and living in a constant state of fear and distress in varying degrees.  Each person is different and how their illness or disorder manifests itself is different, but the discomfort and angst that accompanies it is the same.

Addictions, Eating Disorders, and Self Injurious Behaviors are also way more common than we would like to acknowledge and neglect of their symptoms can have extreme short term and long term impacts, both physically and emotionally.

So what can we do to help as parents?

Get the Facts–Know and understand the basics of mental illness and emotional disorders.  You don’t need to know how to diagnose a problem (although many try to do so with the limited knowledge they have) but having an understanding can help alleviate any concern of what you think you know and may be afraid of and offer you facts that are real.

Teach–Teach your children what they need to know as developmentally appropriate.  Young children may only need to know that while some people’s brains are good at learning math problems more than others, some people are better at managing their emotions more than others.  Teaching them if a peer cries more often doesn’t mean they are a “cry baby” but rather it helps that child release their sadness and frustration, the same way it does for them. And it may just be that the child who cries more or even yells more may feel those frustrations more easily than the child sitting next to them and they are learning what to do with those feelings.

Older children will benefit from the same lessons, but also will require understanding the facts and a reiteration that a chemical imbalance in the brain, is just that, an imbalance.  With proper treatment and intervention, balance has a great chance of being recovered.

Do Your Part–Stressing the importance of acceptance and openness to their peers differences can not be over emphasized. If they don’t like the way someone is acting or responding, help them identify what it is about their behavior that makes them uncomfortable.  Teach them that the best way to combat behavior you don’t like, is to model behavior that works better.  It will be helpful for them to recognize how much power they have to teach positive behaviors and control their situation rather than judge it and be bothered by it. And they may be teaching their peer a very positive lesson they won’t get elsewhere.

Connect–Know and help your children understand that we are all in this together.  Whatever effort you make to help another, helps you and everyone around you.  It’s just the truth.

Learning the facts and teaching our children how to respond to other children who struggle is one of the very best ways we can help children living with mental illness and emotional disorders. Every human being wants to feel accepted for who they are and when children feel accepted and cared for by those around them, they feel safe, loved and content.  Children who feel safe, loved and content, are far less likely to grow into angry, hurt and aggressive adults.

Just because the media and the politicians have yet to see the power of fixing the real problem, doesn’t mean we can’t influence it in our own ways.  It’s time to see the truth and it’s time to act.  And what better way to protect our children than to teach them how to be kind, loving and accepting human beings?  Oh right…argue over gun control. How could I forget?

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Q&A My Perspective: Why are Kids So Mean?

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Q&A My Perspective: Why are Kids So Mean?

QUESTION

How can kids be so mean at such a young age, teasing kids about clothes and shoes. My friend told me that her 7 year old is so cautious about what he wears to school because he doesn’t want to be teased in 2nd grade!

MY PERSPECTIVE

I was once at a local playground after school when my daughter was 5 and had just started kindergarten.  A little girl, either 6 or 7, went up to my daughter and said “Nice Sketchers (brand of shoe), wanna play?” My daughter had no idea what she was talking about until she told her it was her shoes.  Another little girl standing by them asked if she liked her shoes and the girl replied, “They’re not Sketchers.” And the Sketcher loving girl ran off with my with daughter to play on the swings leaving the other girl in the dust.  That conversation has been burned in my mind for the past 4 years. Upsetting, I know.  (And no, I did not intervene. I chose to let the scene play itself out and discussed my concerns with my daughter on the way home because I knew she wouldn’t have had the slightest idea what happened)

Anytime a person is putting down another, it is a way of positioning themselves for perceived power.

We can analyze why the girl who likes Sketchers feels the expensive shoe is a symbol of power. She may view monetary value of the product as a superior trait. She may believe that the more money someone has, the more power they have. This is not an uncommon view and certainly one that is learned by watching and listening to others, not uniquely manifested.

Or more simply for a child her age, she could feel the style is more to her liking and therefore she has something in common with the other person with similar taste.  She is drawn to like minded people so she feels like she belongs and would prefer to be around someone who views things/style as she does.  This is natural for everyone. We are typically drawn to others with similar interests and values. The more in common we feel we are to someone, the more we feel we are on an equal playing field of power.

Or we can decide she is a mean spirited little girl and its much easier to pass judgment on her and her parents for raising such an unpleasant little girl and feel good that our children would never say such things…that we are aware of.  Feel the power of looking down on someone else?

What’s wonderful about children is that they are ever evolving and learning.  They learn from everything and everyone around them. They will be exposed to unkindness and they will be unkind themselves as they are learning how to find their place in this world and experience which behaviors get them what they want.

The best thing we can do for our children is to be aware of what we are teaching them.  How do you speak about others in front of them? How do you compare yourself to others? What are they learning from you by your words and actions? We may preach equality, but do we teach equality with our actions?

 

Parenting is just as much about personal reflection as it is noticing what’s around us, since what we teach them is a mirror of how we view the world and our place in it.

I am mindful about how I talk about others in front of my kids, but there are times when my own judgments seep through (or pour through) and they are absorbing every bit of my ego infused rant. Our humanness is what gets in the way of our perfection, which creates a wonderful opportunity to point out our mistakes and how we learn from them.

The reality is, the more comfortable our children are with themselves and the more secure they feel, the more comfortable they will be with their perceived position and sense of power.  The key is to help them understand that being different doesn’t mean less than.

 

Our children will experience hurt by being judged by others. It’s inevitable.  We can’t protect them from others judgment, but we can teach them how to view themselves in a way that is less judged and have faith that will hold on to it as they experience it for themselves.

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I Am Rubber and You’re Glue….

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I Am Rubber and You’re Glue….

I had the best talk with my 9 year old daughter the other night. I mean, really, great stuff.

She was having a friend issue and upset with how she was being treated. So we talked about the fact that she was imperfect and that she was going to do and say things out of impatience that frustrate people at times (a trait she inherited from her father) and in turn not everyone will always want to be around her (okay fine, from me too).  But more importantly, I wanted her to understand that no one has the power to make us feel bad unless we own what they say.

For example, if someone tells me I’m smelly, I may step back and question my cleanliness? Did I shower today? Am I using deodorant? If I smell nothing unusual and unpleasant, I may decide, no, I am not smelly. I reject the statement and it is not mine to own.

However, if I sense that maybe I do smell and I never noticed it before and really, I must smell because why else would someone say it if it wasn’t true, then I would own the comment, regardless of whether it was factual or not. It becomes real and mine and potentially very upsetting. I mean clearly, no one wants to think they are the smelly one.

I am only the smelly one if I believe I am.  Even if in reality, I know I smell good (which is actually true by the way) I may question myself if someone calls me out.  The question I may ask is “why are they calling me out?” or “what am doing to have someone respond to me in this way?” and if it’s an effort to hurt me, I get to make that decision if it happens or not.

If someone doesn’t want to be around me because they think I’m smelly, I don’t have any control over that. I also don’t have any control over their words or feelings or who else they tell. But I do have control over how I respond to their perception, their words and how or if I ingest them.  If I reject them, they are not mine.

And then she reminded me of the quote “I’m rubber and you’re glue. Whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you.”

Seriously, though, I was on a roll. It was awesome. And just as I thought she was going to tell me that my words of wisdom were just what she needed, she said “You should really record this Mommy. It would make a good CD to put kids to sleep.”

Hmmm….I choose to take that as a compliment.

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We are Never Alone: Teaching Kids How to Connect

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We are Never Alone: Teaching Kids How to Connect

When I was in high school I was asked to participate in a few therapeutic groups.  My answer was always the same…”Not a chance.” In my mind I was not like “those” kids and I didn’t need it. Now as a counselor who runs groups, I realize just how valuable they are, in school, out of school and in life.

To see how one common concern or feeling can connect others so quickly, so intensely and so easily is rewarding to know that for those moments of the day, connections are made, comfort is felt and learning different ways to respond are being taught, not by me, but by the real life experiences and views of others.

I would estimate that one of the feelings that bring us down the most at times of distress is the sense of being alone.  Feeling like no one understands us and what we are going through and like we are walking in the dark with no knowledge of what’s in front of us, struggling to find faith that we will figure it out…on our own.

When we discover people who have similar views, relationships and an understanding of our experiences, we are drawn to them and often times, friendships are born.  To have others to relate to and listen to the thoughts we didn’t think anyone could understand is comforting and empowering and essential for many of us.  To be connected and feel connected is a gift.  As is the knowledge and understanding that at the end of the day, we are all walking this road of life together.

Group therapy is not new and it’s typically not that formal.  Women form their groups undercover by names like Book Club, Jewelry Parties and Girls Night Out.  Men watch sporting events, climb mountains, work on motors together (I am shamelessly gender stereotyping right now, but you get the point) and find through their focus on interests they can share in their commonalities.  We learn so much about each other as we watch how others interact, listen to their viewpoints and figure out where we fit in.

In whatever groups we become a part of, the premise remains the same, the more we share, the more we trust each other, the more we learn and the less we feel alone.  But more importantly, the more we allow ourselves to get to know others, to experience how similar we are, the less likely we are to judge and more likely to acknowledge acceptance of others- flaws and all.

When it comes to our children, we can create the same group dynamic for them.  Whether we are coaching a team, driving them in a car pool, or have a group of kids over to hang out, we can encourage the sharing and understanding of each other and help them focus on the many commonalities they have. We can easily become the group facilitator by asking a few thought provoking questions, and even some not so thought provoking questions.

Here’s how:

  • Talk about something they all know, a T.V. show, a game they like, or tell them a funny story to get them laughing and comfortable.  The key is to help them let their guard down while talking about things that are safe and easy.
  • Once you sense that they are comfortable, ask them questions about their relationships with their siblings (a typical commonality amongst kids), or what their favorite vacation is, what subject they like in school the most or which one they find the hardest.  Ask them what games they like to play or who their first crush was.  The key is to get them talking about things they can relate to with each other, so they can focus on their similarities, but also to learn from each other that they have differences that are okay and make them unique.
  • The more comfortable they become, ask more opinionated questions so they can safely express themselves, while being open to listening to the thoughts of their peers.
  • Share your own thoughts and stories with them, with a focus on your own interests and life lessons you’ve learned by making mistakes and fixing them, or by the rewards you earned of doing things well the first time.  The more you share, they more comfortable they will feel talking to you and trusting you and in turn, the group (aka- their friends)

The goal is a quick lesson in teaching our children that we are all fundamentally the same on many levels if we are willing to take the time to peel the layers and allow ourselves to be who we are.  The more we feel connected to others, the more we are willing to trust, the less alone we feel in our times of discouragement and the more content we will feel overall when we focus on the acceptance of our differences.

Pretty cool lesson, huh?

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Q&A My Perspective: When To Get Involved in Our Children’s Friendships

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Q&A My Perspective: When To Get Involved in Our Children’s Friendships

QUESTION

When is it appropriate to get involved in the happenings of our child’s friendships?  Particularly in the case of unhealthy behaviors, such as bullying? I want to protect my child from being a victim, but also don’t want to destroy her trust in me by “butting in” and controlling the situation or the outcome of the friendship.

MY PERSPECTIVE

It is my belief that it is a parent’s job to keep their children safe, to help them stay healthy, and to love them to the best of their ability.  This encompasses a lot of different areas of their lives and helping them understand and strengthen friendship is an essential part of maintaining mental and emotional health.  But an excellent question to ask is when and how much do we get involved.

I feel we should let our children choose their friendships of who they are drawn to and who they want to be around.  By definition alone, friendship is meant to enhance our lives and offer us experiences of unity, compassion, and shared joy.   Friendships teach us the importance of balance in give and take and there will always be times, like in any relationship, that the balance is thrown off.

A healthy friendship should be able to obtain that balance once again with relative ease and a moderate amount of effort.  It is when the friendship/relationship stays unbalanced and takes from us more than it gives, that a more significant change needs to take place.  As adults, we have learned this over the years by experiencing it with many different relationships, both good and bad, with each having equal weight of importance. I feel it’s valuable to allow our children to feel these ups and downs so they can experience what works for them and what doesn’t. Yet, it’s equally important to teach our children the definition of friendship and give and take, so they begin to understand the normal highs and lows of friendship, and how it takes both people to make the relationship work well.  However, when the imbalance becomes too great, there are critical times when we should intervene.

One of those times is when we see a significant negative impact on our child’s well being, as in the case of being bullied. If we see or hear of our child being put down repeatedly or harmed in any way, we tend to personally feel the anxious energy it creates and it often infuriates us as we become the Supreme Protector of our child. Naturally, we want to guard our child from the hurt of emotional and physical predators. The instinct is to remove them from the situation or not allow them to be exposed to it any more. In reality, we don’t have as much power as we’d like. So the question begs, what should we do that we have control over?

*First and foremost, keep the communication open with your child.  Sometimes they will tell you, sometimes they won’t. Sometimes they will tell you through their actions more so than their words , so be aware of any changes in lost interest in places and people they enjoyed before.

*If they are able and willing to verbalize, get as much information as you can so you can help walk them through it. Ask lots of questions on the situations they are in when the negative treatment occurs, who they are with, and why their friend may be responding this way.

*Teach them how to respond.  Literally, feed them the words to use to make the situation better. Help them determine the options of what to do when the behavior starts.  The more they know what to expect and how to handle it, the more likely they are to have the confidence to respond and defend themselves—which will only increase their self- esteem and ability to handle these situations as they arise again.

*If they are using the words and actions and nothing is changing, contact someone to intervene.  If it’s happening in school or on the bus, call the administrator or counselor. If it’s happening at an extra- curricular activity, let the advisor or coach know.   It is important that someone is speaking to the other child, because they too need to be taught which behaviors are acceptable and which aren’t.  Often times, the person hurting someone else is hurting themselves in some way and is trying to balance out their own internal power struggles, so need to be guided on how to deal with that and make better decisions on how to respond in social situations.  It is also suggested that if possible and appropriate, allow and encourage your child to be part of that conversation informing the adult so they are learning how to use their voice in an environment where they feel safe and protected.

As far as the concern of losing your child’s trust if they don’t want you to be involved, you can always tell them it’s your responsibility to ensure that they are safe and healthy and this is the way you show them you love them. (Right now, it’s my excuse for everything for my children and they roll their eyes every time)  But as they get older and express that they don’t “want” your support, it’s even more important to give it in ways that are less intrusive and subtle, but still gives them the security of knowing  that you are available and ready to help when duty calls.

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Why Being an Investigator Works When Dealing with Bad Behavior

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Why Being an Investigator Works When Dealing with Bad Behavior

I am very thankful this month to be guest blogging for my friend Anne of Green Eggs and Mom, which is one of my favorite parenting blogs around.  Anne shares interesting and valuable parenting tips and research and is a must read for all.  If you’re not following already, you’re missing out.

This week’s post is on Understanding Behavior.

“Most often kids are labeled as bad when they consistently choose behaviors that make others uncomfortable. It could be talking back, using inappropriate and crass language, hitting, bullying, lying, stealing, etc., and get away with it enough to continue.

But the question is why are they acting out? How are the negative behaviors benefiting them?” Read Why Being an Investigator Works When Dealing with Bad Behavior

And please pass on any tips that work for you as well.  You people are incredibly smart.

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Unite: It’s What We are Able to Do

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Unite: It’s What We are Able to Do

Yesterday, I attended an anti bullying assembly at an elementary school. I feel so fortunate to be able to experience events like these because they reinforce what I wholeheartedly believe to be true.  People are inherently good.

While I watched these young boys and girls get up and do skits to teach their peers the difference between telling versus tattling, I saw the pride they held being a part of an opportunity they believe will help others. I recognized this pride, I have it too.

While I listened to these young boys and girls share stories of being the victim of bullying and being the bully themselves, all the emotions they experienced that went with it and what they learned, I heard the courage in their voices to stand up and speak for themselves in an effort to promote change, not only internally, but to those outside of themselves.  I recognized this courage, I have it too.

While I blinked the tears out of my eyes as I felt the emotions of confusion in these young boys and girls of why life can feel so complicated, even at the age of 5, I also wondered why sometimes we do and say things that are hurtful and mean and spiteful.  And even though, we know and feel its wrong, we do it anyway.  And then we learn that hurting others doesn’t feel good, ever, no matter what we say.  I recognized this confusion. I have it too.

While I embraced the message of these children and watched them unite in their cause, full of hope in its reach and assured in its value, I held on to the belief of how we all want the same things.  To be loved, to love and to help those who are forgetting what that love feels like. I recognized this hope and desire. I have it too.

Those who hurt others are hurting.  It feels awful to hurt someone else. Always. (except maybe for the sociopaths, but statistically, their an unimpressive number) When my kids are mean to each other, I ask them how it feels when the words come out of their mouths and afterwards.  And always, always, they say it feels bad.  Because it does.  We don’t always instinctually want to hurt, even when we’re doing it, but sometimes we can’t seem to pick a better behavior quick enough to replace the negative one we chose.  And it happens.  And we pay the consequences one way or the other…internally or externally….without fail.

When I hear about kids bullying other kids, I immediately feel anger and want to protect those who are bullied.  I have a strong desire to want to punish the bully.  I want them to feel the pain they created in others. Sometimes this desire is overwhelming.  But I choose to practice my skill of thinking before I speak, (most of the time) knowing that pain on top of more pain does not actually create less pain.  So, instead I teach.  I teach what it feels like to hurt and what it feels like to be hurt. It’s what I am able to do.

And those young boys and girls chose to teach yesterday.  They taught what it feels like to hurt and what it feels like to be hurt. They taught that they too, can make a difference.  It’s what they are able to do.

And I remembered we are One.  We all have the ability to teach.  We all know what it feels like to hurt and be hurt. We are both the cause and the solution and we are in this life Together.  We learn from Each Other.  Them, Me, You.  It’s what We are able to do.

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Q&A My Perspective: Why Don’t You Listen To Me?

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Q&A My Perspective: Why Don’t You Listen To Me?

QUESTION

I have three daughters, 13, 16 and 18 and the oldest two have strikingly different but very strong personalities. Throughout their childhoods they have fought and they have grown older the words hurt and wound more profoundly. I have always had a keen interest in the subject of emotional intelligence and have regularly explained to both daughters the importance of explaining calmly what is upsetting them, rather than resorting to being nasty and bitchy.  I explain that becoming unpleasant means they lose any power they may have had if they had remained calm, forthright and clear.
So in essence they have been parented well and attentively and yet they seem unable to put my advice into practice! Is it normal for their age, this inability to communicate their needs effectively, despite my regular discussions on the subject?

 

MY PERSPECTIVE

First off, let’s define “normal.”  If we are looking at “normal” as being a common occurrence, then YES, it is perfectly “normal” for children to seemingly completely ignore everything that is coming out of a well intentioned lesson by us, the parents and others.

But let’s get down to basic human behavior.  When we are hurt or threatened, our typical reaction is to defend ourselves from our perceived aggressor.  In all stages of development, the typical response to pain and discomfort is to find a way to stop it.  Depending on our personality and what behaviors we have deemed “work for us” this can be a different response in everyone.

Typically,  when someone with an introverted personality feels attacked or threatened, they may withdraw and try to become invisible, hoping that their aggressor won’t see them or notice them if they don’t say a word. They protect themselves with silence, and often quietly let their insecurities brew.

Someone with an extroverted personality who feels attacked is more likely to strike back against their aggressor to make the pain stop and defend themselves.  They may do this by attempting to make the other person feel just as bad, if not worse, than themselves.  Their goal is to create injury to keep the aggressor away.

Of course, there are always exceptions and combination personality types, but the fight or flight reaction is generally the same.  The introverted personality may let their frustrations brew to a point where they have reached their limit and unleash on their aggressor when their normal reactions aren’t getting anywhere.  Just like the extroverted personality can change their tactics and withdraw.

Our children’s automatic reaction is to respond in some fashion to stop the aggressiveness and threat. In your experience with your children, their reactions aren’t pleasant or effective, but in their mind, their responses are working to their advantage.  Until they see and learn the alternative methods themselves, it will be hard for them to acknowledge otherwise.

But here’s the best part.  They ARE listening.  They do hear what you have to say and most likely it makes sense to them and they respect it because, it’s true.  However, they are in a developmental stage of life where they have better luck trying on ideas and behaviors for themselves to truly learn and “get it.”  This is incredibly hard for parents to accept because we just want to protect our child and intervene when we see the pain in their lives.  Of course! But in reality, they have to try on the behavior to truly understand the pros and cons of each, and they have to do it on their terms.

However, once they start to experience the truth of your advice and knowledge, they will begin to acknowledge that it does work and that you are very, very wise. (don’t be surprised if they choose not to tell you or allow you to relish in the satisfaction of your own greatness).

Just the other day, I had a 17 year old boy, who knows my counseling style very well, tell me how he was feeling about a situation he didn’t feel in control of.  Before I could offer a suggestion or analysis, he interjected, “I know exactly what you’re going to say and I know you’re right, but I don’t want to hear that right now. I just want to be angry.” And there it is.

So keep talking to them about it, keep modeling the behaviors that work well and keep the faith that they will get it.  If you can hold on to that, you have nothing to lose….except sleep, hair and possibly a few years off your life.  😉

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