Three Plus Ways to Help Your Kids Through the Bump of Being Ostracized

I don’t know about you, but there have been times I have wanted to pull a child aside and get right in their face and tell them to stop being mean to my kid, or else….(fist up knuckles forward.)

One time, when my oldest was about 6 or 7, I spent days begging her to try swim team to see if she would like it (and I was feeling a little isolated and needed some new mom friends.)  FINALLY she agreed to do it, but it was an arms crossed and I’m going to hate every minute of it type of agreement.  But I did as I instruct my clients to do and I just listened to the words, not the non verbal behavior. So, “fine” with an eye role meant, “yes.”

So, we get her all suited up, new goggles in hand and a look like she’s going to melt down faster than an ice cube in a hot frying pan.  But I pretended not to see it and get her there, dragging her by the hand as she lagged behind with grumpus face.  I pulled up a chair, phone out with camera app open all ready to enjoy my parenting accomplishment of having an involved child.  I look over and this little (but appearing big) girl is standing between her and the one friend she knew (and who I had used as a tempting bribe to get her there) with her arms crossed and a horrifically mean look on her face.  This is a girl that used to be her friend. I watch but I’m not smiling anymore.  She then proceeds to turn her back toward my daughter and as my daughter tries to move to get around her the mean girl moves from side to side to block her.  The crestfallen look on my daughters face almost moved me to tears except it didn’t because I was too mad and was considering allowing my fight or flight response to propel me toward the girl to yell at her (and maybe just a little grab of the arm?)  Instead I looked at the girls mother to see if she was watching what was going on but she was busy chatting and laughing and being all popular.  My teeth were gritting together and I felt hate toward that child (and honestly, her mother too) that one should not admit, much less write down for all eternity to know.  But now you know, I wanted to bully that child right back. Mamma bear instincts full throttle.  But I didn’t.  My evolved brain over rode my ancient brain and I reminded my self that what doesn’t kill us….and deep breath.

Needless to say she did not go back to swim team, and I was fine with it.  I saw how it was more self serving than a true act of paying attention to who my kid really is.  Parenting fail number 307 out of 10,005.

But how do we help our kid when they are being ostracized or shunned by their once friend group? Especially when our Mamma or Papa bear instincts are flaring up which could potentially cause us to make a mistake we later come to regret (calling the parents before talking to your kid and then being hated by your kid for a week straight because you made the problem worse 🙋‍♀️ ,parenting fail number 650 out of 10,005.) I’m going to give a little spoiler here, yelling at or grabbing another child by the arm (even just a little grab) IS NOT the answer to the how.

There are a couple things I have learned about this from my fails and success as well as coaching countless parents through the same thing over the many years that I am happy I can share with you.

Step 1) (Wouldn’t that be so nice if parenting tips were always broken in to steps for us:)

We have to start with recognizing our own response. Recognize, pause, think.  Recognize the emotion that comes welling up inside of you when you hear the news.  Emotions are great, they are an indicator of where we are but they are not useful to lead with.  The more we make decisions when we are in an emotional state, the more problems we seem to create.  Often, a strong emotion we feel in regards to an experience our child is having comes from our own childhood experiences. We want to help our kid avoid the same uncomfortable feeling we went through and therefore we place more importance on the experience than perhaps is warranted.

For example, I was talking to a mom who was feeling very sad/mad about a recent experience her daughter went through on the first day of 8th grade.  Her daughter had been shunned by her friend group (welcome to this fine age when the shifting and reorganizing of friend groups is in full effect) and she was crying, which of course will break every parents heart.  I asked this mother if it reminded her of anything and she remembered not being invited to a birthday party and feeling very hurt about it.

These early childhood experiences are powerful and shape us in ways that aren’t always positive but contribute to defining who we are and the lens through which we look at life.  Of course we want our kids to have perfect experiences where their egos are left in tact and their self esteem soars through the air with the greatest of ease.  But this isn’t always reality. I have never in my life met one person who didn’t experience feeling left out or having someone be mean to them at some point in their lives.  Have you? Even the mean ones are acting the way they are because of their fear of being left out and needing some control. Therefore, we must control our own emotions so that we may assist our children thoughtfully through the inevitable challenges of social discord.  Handling it well will help them move through it, not get stuck in it.  Being a non-anxious presence in your child’s life is one of the greatest gifts you can give and the key to what goes in to handling it well. So Recognize (I’m feeling very reactive right now), pause (take a deep breath and release the emotion with your out breath) and think (what would my best, most thoughtful parenting self look like right now) RPT. There you go, let’s turn that into the next LOL, BRB, ILY, ETC.

Step 2)

Listen.  Listen with out interrupting. Be quiet except when you say,  “Tell me more.”  Stay calm and feel the desire to yell at the other child, call the parents, email the principal and… release.  Listen to their story.  Allowing them to process the story through language is very important.  Don’t offer solutions right away, don’t problem solve but listen and insert words that indicate their feelings are normal and tough and being heard.  I’ve said, “Wow, really?” “Ugh that is SO tough” “Then what happened?” “What did you think at that point?” I’m engaged in the story but not taking it over. At this point, after the story is over and the tears are causing the nose to run into their mouths, ask, “What can I do for you right now? Is there anything in this moment that would make you feel better?” See what they say and if they can’t think of anything you might say, “When I’m feeling like that all I want is a hug.”  There is nothing else you can do at this moment.  Even if you say the most brilliant problem solving ideas from your parental perspective, they won’t remember much of it because memories are stored in a different place during high times of emotion.  It isn’t retained in a meaningful way.  Not having to do anything but listen at this point also gives you the time to think about how you can be your most thoughtful self as you decrease emotion around it.

Step 3)

When the time is right, (later that evening or whenever you have asked if you can share some thoughts) teach your child they have control over how they perceive things.  With children, I use the analogy of different colored glasses.  I say, imagine there is a box in front of you that has loads of glasses that have lenses that are different colors.  Each pair you put on allows you to see the world in a totally different way.  Yellow makes everything bright and sunny, blue makes the same things look mysterious, and red makes those things look exciting.  If you are looking through the grey lens of feeling left out and hurt, make a choice to take those glasses off and put the yellow ones on.  Through these you might see the same situation as an opportunity to make new friends who are kinder, or you might be motivated to have a small gathering at your house with friends who you’ve been wanting to invite over. Or as you wear the yellow lensed ones you might even be able to see this situation and say, “Eh, their loss.”  Empower your kid with the knowledge they have control over their response to the situation.  Give an example of a time when you made a conscious choice to change the way you saw something. I use the example of when I’m driving and I notice my shoulders are up and I’m getting super pissy at the incompetent drivers around me, I choose to say, “Stop it.  I can’t do anything about this traffic so I may as well just be calm and happy.”  Let them know they can take control over how they see things or be a victim. Being a victim is NO fun. Giving kids the knowledge that they have a choice empowers them in many areas of their lives.  Ask them to try an experiment and see how it works for them.

Other various ideas of what you can talk about and do while being your child’s consultant is:

  • Encourage outside activities like sports, art classes, after school activities, church/synagogue groups, and yearbook or newspaper involvement at their school.  This allows them to have friends that go to other schools and make connections beyond their own small communities.  It also decreases phone and social media activity which, needless to say, does not help with FOMO.
  • Encouraging kids to write in journals, draw it out or any other right brain activity is very helpful in processing.  Every once in a while I’ll just buy my kids a nice new journal or sketch book and encourage them to write or draw.  We process the same issue very differently when we think, talk and write.  Cycle an issue through those 3 channels and see what emerges.
  • Social skills work.  Most of the time a kid being ostracized is the result of other kids being mean, but sometimes your child may need some help putting your suggestions you’ve taught over the years to practice. A colleague of mine, Kate Kelly runs some great groups for teens in the DC area. Things that we might assume children know, like making eye contact and smiling and asking questions or complimenting someone isn’t easy for all kids.
  • Reach out to other parents in the friend group for support if you are friends with them.  I DO NOT mean calling them in a reactive state, but rather a calm moment where you can share your child’s struggle in a non-accusatory way.  I had one mom do exactly that. She shared that her daughter was struggling socially in general, and the mother she shared this with was so grateful.  She could then encourage and remind her own daughter to be kind and inclusive to people.

I think the most important advice I can give around watching your kid struggle in any situation is not to get too anxious about it.  When kids have the added burden of worrying about your worry, it robs them of being able to process and live their lives in a meaningful and data collecting way.  That may sound a little strange but every single day your child’s brain is making meaningful connections and even the struggles are important for growth and autonomy.  Please don’t take over your kids problems.  It never has a good result long-term (or short term, please be reminded of my parenting fail 650 out of 10,005.)

We’re all just trying to do the best we can do and watching your child suffer is hard.  Be their safe place, their net, their biggest and best supportive consultants, walk along side of them but know that even the toughest of times are part of life and in the end, what doesn’t kill us… (keeps us in our seats at the pool so we don’t bully children back.)

Off you go to be your best-self parent ❤️

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

🍁Back to school! Who is Your Kid?🍁

It’s the start of a new school year and we want fresh starts, fresh motivation andback-school-vector-card-with-owl_109327-121.jpg
excitement from our kids! Rooms clean, clothes laid out, lunch stuff on the counter the night before and a beaming smile that says, “I’m going to conquer the $h*t out of this school year!” 💥💥💥

Some parents might get this from their kids and kudos to you!  You have a courageous and positive kid who manages to stay in the moment and not let anticipatory anxiety and negative thinking get in the way of their visions for themselves. That’s right, I said visions for themselves because these kids actually have one.  Your kids, parents, are in the minority, and the only thing you have to be aware of is when they are working TOO hard and may burn out.

Others may have kids who feel anxious, nervous, and stressed.  That anxiety may come out in hideous behavior that you have to work hard to translate and respond accordingly with love and connection even tho you want to strangle them. They are acting out what they are having a hard time putting in to words, so along with moving toward someone you want to run away from, help them find the language by asking questions that may help them identify and verbalize their stress.

Or the stress may actually be voiced and communicated and you will do your best to listen and not dismiss or problem solve. If you have a thought to share about what you’re hearing, ask permission to share it. These kids just want to talk and process, so shhh.

Others may be feeling it in their heads or stomachs, they may be quiet and distant and have an overall lack of energy. You will let these kids know that you are there whenever and however they need you, and you may test the waters with a few gentle question or a story of your own about being nervous about something in your past. Kids are never too young to learn about the mind body connection and how their anxiety may be contributing to their physical pain. But be sure not to dismiss their aches and pains as not real. They are. Here is an article written by a teacher for students to work on the mind body connection.  There are some very useful tools in there.

Still others may be acting “cool guy/gal” and pretending not to give two hoots about going back to school.  These kids remind me of Danny (John Travolta) in Grease when he acts all cool around his friends instead of the lovely guy who was able to show his softer side to Sandy during the summer.  Parents of these kids will let them know that they notice their confidence and they too have confidence they will do the best they can do, but also remind them that a lot of learning comes from making mistakes and messing up. How we learn from mistakes is what really defines us.  Collect that data about what works and doesn’t work and apply, now that’s cool 😎  

No matter how your kid is approaching this new school year, your job is to let them know you are there for them, and whatever emotion they are experiencing is normal and A-OK.  As a reminder to you parents, there is no right or wrong emotion or way of being when starting something new, and in fact, anxiety does serve a positive purpose to some degree. Here is a great Ted Talk which teaches you to reframe anxiety to have it actually work for you. There are some fabulous ideas in here that you might even be able to share with your kid.

As we all know at this point, kids frontal cortex is not fully developed.  Executive functioning for your kid can be like slogging through mud on a really hazy day.  But you are here to help! Not do for, but help (This is the basis for my upcoming class on September 18th, you should come!)  Help by asking questions that will help them engage their frontal cortex.  We ARE their frontal cortex! We can tell them things until we are blue in the face but a very, very small percentage of what we tell them will actually imprint in their memories.  Thinking for themselves, coming to their own conclusions, learning from their own mistakes, THESE are the things that will make our kids great. And don’t forget of course, leading by example.  If you yell at your kid to get off their phone while you’re on yours, well…you know who you are.

Here are some questions you can ask your kid to help them continue on their journey of the developing frontal cortex. You can ask kids as young as 5 and as old as 25 these questions.

  • What was one thing that happened last year that was good and you’d like to repeat? And what was one thing last year that actually didn’t work out for you that you DON’T want to repeat?  
  • What have you noticed about your best time of day to concentrate, morning? Afternoon? Evening? Before exercise? After?
  • Where do you think you are the most productive in getting your homework done? Dining room table? Room desk? Library? (If they say bed, challenge them to an experiment. One week of homework in their bed, versus one at a desk or table.  Then they can collect the data and decide.)
  • How do you handle your stress when you are at school?  What do you do or think?
  • If you could close your eyes and imagine your school year going exactly as you had wanted, what would it look like?
  • Which friend of yours is a good source of support for you? Who tends to be less available?
  • Are you a good friend to people? How?
  • Who has been your most important teacher so far?
  • What’s your plan for getting your work done? 
  • What’s the likelihood you would reach out to a teacher during their office hours if you needed help?

The questions could go on and on.  The best time to have conversations is in the car when they are trapped and can’t get out 🙂 You also don’t need (and shouldn’t) ask your kids these questions all at once…ease in.

Get to know your kid.  Put your fear for them, their future, all the worries you have had over the years away and get to know who they are.  We live such fast paced lives, I think we forget to pause and really look at them and learn who they are as individuals.  They are not just extensions of ourselves, they are SO much more than that.

If you ever wonder if a therapists kid has issues or wondered what a therapist may text their kid, here you go.  My own daughter expressed some concern and worry with me over text about the upcoming school year at her new high school.  She was feeling unmotivated, stuck and in a rut.  after she texted me a bunch of negative thoughts she was having,  I asked her if I could share a few ideas that she could take or leave and when she gave me the green light I texted this:

“I’m very glad you voiced that and wrote it out.  Now you need to do the reverse. Get your journal out and write out what you do want.  I want to feel focused, I want to feel motivated, I want to do my best in school.  You could work on switching your mindset now. Admitting that you’re stressed is the first step, but it’s too uncomfortable to just sit in that. Instead of negative, “what if’s” like what if I get lost, what if school is too hard, change it to what if I do great, what if the school is actually easier to move around than I thought! You have to work at life and your perception of it!

Her response was, “thanks mom.”

Teaching your kids that they are in charge of and able to shift their perceptions of what’s in front of them is a very valuable gift.

Good luck to you parents, I hope you have a VERY successful school year.  Listen more and do for them less.