July 27, 2019

As a parent it is hard sometimes to hold back when you think your child is being treated unfairly. It’s your job right? to protect your child always…. The problem is that by stepping in for every little conflict your child faces you are sending the message to them that they are weak and can not stand up for themselves.

It doesn’t matter if its the fact that someone cut them in line in the playground or that a child said something mean to them or did not treat them “fairly”. The moment your child runs to tell you what happened your inner “Momma Bear” goes into fight mode. Who does this child think he is to talk to my baby like that? Who does he think he is not to share with MY child? I’m going to run right over there and set things straight!…Sound familiar?
I hear this over and over in the office.

Complaints from parents about how their child is having trouble making friends, crying easily in the classroom when things do not go their way and becoming more and more of an introvert. In fact, the other day a child (7 years old) told me that there was a “really mean” girl in camp that was bothering her and her mom quickly reported how she had to take her out of camp because of this “mean girl”.  Yes, this 7 year old girl could no longer enjoy the fun she was having in camp with the other girls she liked because of this one mean girl!

Running away from conflict or having you come in to scoop them up to safety is not doing your child any good. If you stop to think about it, you are essentially telling your child that when a mean person comes around, unfortunately you can’t participate in that activity anymore even if you are enjoying it. This is how we give all of our power away.

Instead, empower your kids to have a voice and help them come up with solutions on how to best manage this situation in the future. Consider these moments as “teaching moments” and help your child navigate through them when they are young so they have the tools they need when they are older.

Here are some ways that you can help your child:

  • Help them understand that you are not in control of other people’s actions. Even if sometimes we wish we could, we simply can not. The only person you are in control of is yourself and how you chose to react.
  • Help them shift the focus away from what they are thinking to what others could be feeling/thinking. Usually people that are nasty or mean are unhappy people. Think about it, if you are truly happy inside you would never be so mean or horrible to others.  This changes your child’s thinking about the person that they are focused on.
  • Encourage your child to initiate conversations. Encourage them to seek out other kids in the class, playground or camp that are perhaps playing alone, or nice and have them try to start conversations with them. Teach them to ask other kids questions. People love to talk about themselves and kids are no exception! Have your child come home to tell you something new they learned about a couple of kids in their class. It’s funny because until you really start conversations with others you may not know how much you actually have in common! Make this a goal!
  • Teach them to act how they want to feel. It’s not being fake, it is helping to shift your thoughts into the way you want to feel, which then affects how you act and show up. If they want to have friends and be friendly then work on imagining what a friendly person would do and how they act. Do they come into a room and sit in a corner alone? Do they spend more time looking down at the floor than at others? No! Instead of waiting for others to approach you, try smiling a little more and maybe starting a conversation with a new student every week.
  • Encourage them to try to be helpful. If a child is working on a project and is looking for markers and your child has some, encourage them to offer their markers. These gestures of kindness are usually welcomed and in turn this can be the beginning of a real friendship.

In the end we want our kids to have meaningful relationships with others. This has been proven time and time again to be one of the keys to living a happy and fulfilled life. Learning how to deal with conflict and difficult situations will serve them well in the future when they have to deal with this as young adults and essentially forever!

Give your child the gift of confidence and help them develop the skill of making friends. For some it’s easier than for others but it is never impossible!

Elizabeth Vainder, M.D. 

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