Monday, November 11, 2013

When Your Child Comes Home Crying

Nothing can bring out your inner Mamma or Pappa Bear faster than when your child comes home crying.

You know what I am talking about--the time when your daughter is upset that no one wanted to play with her at recess or the time your son is upset because friends of his made plans without him.

It's hard for any kid to escape childhood without hearing "I don't want to be your friend anymore" or "Other kids will stop talking to me if I stay friends with you". You know the hurt your child is feeling. 

You've felt it. 

For the moment, your child's heart is broken and yours is, too.  

It's scary sitting in that moment.  You feel pressure to "say the right thing" or "have the right answer".  You're thinking to yourself "I've got one shot at this.  Don't let me screw it up".

You want your child's hurt to evaporate quickly and you want to be the one to make the hurt go away.

Of course you do.  You're the parent and that's exactly how you're supposed to feel! Your child is going through what one of my college professors used to call "a little trial of childhood".  Kids need these life lessons to understand relationships, to develop resiliency, and to learn how to cope when life doesn't go their way.

In these instances, I am not talking about bullying, abuse, or a pattern of your child being mistreated. Those situations require a different type of parent involvement.  I am talking about the kid hurts that come with every day living.

Let's face it.  As adults, we usually stink at "breaking up" with our friends.  If we don't want to hang out with a certain neighbor or go to coffee with the town gossip, we become masters at artful dodging and convenient excuses.

Kids don't have that level of "sophistication".  They haven't learned how to avoid conflict.  They call it like they see it and as a result, other kids often get hurt.  Sometimes, the hurt kid will be yours.

The challenge here is to not have an exaggerated reaction.  If your child is coming to you with hurt feelings, you are already doing something right.  You are already the safe place for your child to seek comfort so take comfort in that and try to avoid having a huge, emotional reaction.

Any large reaction on your part may inhibit your child from expressing him/herself

Kids don't want you to worry . They fear that you'll fly off the handle and do something crazy that will make the situation worse for them.  They are also measuring your response as a barometer for how they should be responding.  They'll decide if they are being "too sensitive" by how you react.

Stay calm.  Steady.  Use a calm voice and say something like "Aw, kids can be so mean sometimes.  I used to hate when I got my feelings hurt at school. I'd have to hold it in all day until I came home.  Tell me about it.  What happened?" 

Just listen and hear your child's story.  Don't problem solve. Ask questions and learn how your child is experiencing this.  As I said in a tip recently, it is best not to problem solve, especially in the moment. Just be there to comfort and soothe.  Validate.

Once your child has calmed down a bit, ask if they'd like some help figuring out what to do next. They may say no and that's ok.  What's important is that they know they can talk to you.  Try not to rush in and talk to other adults on behalf of your child.  This is your child's hurt and he/she needs the time and space to figure out how to deal. 

It shouldn't surprise you that kids are very much like us grown up kids.  They will want to avoid, brush the hurt under the table, and pretend it never happened.  I think that's ok.  Your child needs to find his/her own way. 

You can offer an alternative for consideration, though.  You can tell you child that you respect his choice while also suggesting something else that is more consistent with your point of view.  You can explain that it is really brave to confront people or situations that hurt our feelings.  Offer different ways you might have your child's back while still allowing him/her to determine the response.

This is also a good time for your child to learn about natural consequences.
Hang on.  I am not talking about consequencing your child. I am talking about creating a teachable moment out of the situation.  You can walk your child through how it might go if they just ignore the problem.  Likewise, you can play out how it might go if he/she were to confront it.  You might need to become the master of "Plan B". If your child has plans to attend a party with the person who was hurtful, going to that party presents new challenges and your child will need your ideas for how to approach it or may need your support in not going. 

Of course no parent wants their child to miss a party because some other kid was mean.  However, this may be your child's turn to learn a natural consequence.  By not facing the conflict head on, he/she has to miss a party.  A tough life lesson for any parent to witness but an important one for your child to have.

Hurts like these are so hard to navigate.  If you stay calm, validate, and offer possible solutions without forcing your answer, you will open the dialogue.  Your child will learn new ways of moving through hurt and your parent/child relationship will strengthen.

I get it.  Life is rarely this cut and dried.  If you are struggling with navigating this maze, let me help.

I can give you the tools necessary to help your child.

Until next time,

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