070: How do you respond when your child is uncertain?

In the previous post, I shared a story about Jay, a 10-year-old who to some degree was being bullied on the school bus. Read it here if you didn’t get a chance to see how this situation became an opportunity to support, guide, and give Jay more choices to handle this uncertain situation in his life.

For this post, I feel like we should talk about other ways parents handle situations where another child’s misbehavior is affecting their child. This is one of the situations I am asked how a parent should respond. When talking with parents, here are two common responses I hear …

“I talk to the other child’s parent about the situation and ask them to address this with their child.”

“I tell my child to give it right back. For example, if someone pokes you, poke them right back. Treat them the way they treat you. If someone says to you ‘you’re stupid,’ then say something to let them know how stupid they are.”

Can you relate to either of these strategies? The first strategy focuses on taking matters into your own hands, not having your child be a part of the solution. The second response focuses on educating the child about the principle of retaliation. This is often expressed as “an eye for an eye.” In other words, penalizing the person who injured you by responding with what you think they deserve in return.

Before I go and challenge these responses, let me add there may be a time and place where each of these seem appropriate, like when the misbehavior is between a very young and older child. If your child is the younger and the misbehavior is beyond your child’s comprehension, you should take over.

Similarly, I know when the retaliation response has ended in a positive result. My mother tells a story about my brother being hit by a boy across the street when he was 7 years old. My mom told my brother to hit that boy right back next time, and my brother did. She says this gave my brother confidence to stick up for himself; however, she added the two of them also talked about this not being the only way to handle these situations.

So now there have been three strategies for handling a situation where your child is being affected by another child’s misbehavior: role playing to learn a way to respond, the adult addressing the matter for the child, and retaliation. The question I would like to ponder in this post is: what is best for the child in this situation? What is best for the child’s personal growth and development?

If the situation is one your child can potentially address successfully, then use the opportunity to T.E.L.L. better choices. Use the opportunity to guide, support, and help develop a strategy to address the uncertain situation. Role playing is effective for children at all ages. Have the child practice a possible successful resolution in the current situation.

When our first response is to take care of a problem for the child, we rob the child of an opportunity to personally grow and address uncertain situations. We don’t give the child an experience to think through and find ways to improve a situation.

This is among the difficult concepts I faced in raising my three children. I did not want my children to suffer. I did not want them to face controversy and drama. I wanted them to just be children and have a happy childhood.

Then I realized I was limiting their personal growth, not giving them opportunities to learn while I am there to help guide, support, and provide better choices. It was better if I could be there to help them make better sense of uncertain moments in their life.

The next time you see a child feeling uncertain, pause for a moment and ask ‘Can I use this moment to guide, support, and allow my child to be stronger? How can I T.E.L.L. my child?’ Can you role play the situation so the child can better understand and feel more certain?

Strong child with muscles drawn on chalkboard in elementary school

If you have one of those moments, please send us an email and let us know!

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