My son came home from elementary school recently very upset, which was kind of surprising because he’s usually a pretty happy-go-lucky kid. In this case, he was actually able to show me what had happened (and a picture is worth a thousand words, right?).
Two kids from his class had written something mean and hateful about him (using his name), in permanent ink, on one of his school folders. It was shocking as a parent to see this, as yes, kids can be mean, but this was directly in your face mean. This was loud and clear mean. This was I want you to see how much we dislike you mean. This was third grade mean, third grade!
As parents, I think we’re often much more prepared (and maybe we even expect) to see some of these types of behaviors in middle school. I mean, middle school is hard; people often start showing their true colors. Middle school is also typically when people realize that not everyone likes them, but that it’s okay because they don’t necessarily like everyone either.
But, to hear this for the first time when you’re little is so very hurtful and can be so damaging if not handled in the right way.
As we all know, many things could be going on with the kids that wrote these very unkind comments, problems at home, a cry for attention, envy, jealousy, etc. And that part is now in the school’s hands, as my son did advocate for himself and showed his teacher the folder.
So, what happened to empathy is this case? As parents, we’re all concerned about bullying. Bullying behavior, kids being bullied, kids doing the bullying, kids on the road to becoming bullies, etc. But underneath all of this is an opportunity for kids to really see their actions from another kid’s perspective. How every single one of our actions can be helpful or hurtful. How everything we do, especially in a classroom setting, has an effect on the other kids in the room.
Rachel Macy Stafford writes in her book Hands Free Life: 9 Habits for Overcoming Distraction, Living Better, and Loving More about many different situations her two daughters went through, and how challenging they were for her daughters, but also how challenging they were for her when her kids were going through something that she just couldn’t fix for them. Something they needed to go through and handle on their own, and all a parent can do is support them from the sidelines.
And, as parents, when our kids are hurting, aren’t we hurting too? Probably just as much, if not more! As parents, when your child’s in pain, all you want to do, with every cell in your body, is take their pain away. To somehow transfer that pain to you so you can bear it for them. What do you do when none of this is possible?
Well, I met him right where he was in that moment. I let him talk it out with me for awhile, and then he asked to go outside in our backyard to be alone, not to play or look for bugs like this nine year old loves to do, but to sit and think. His devastated mom was close by, keeping watch from inside the house, hurting too.
Then, as we all know how important self-care is as adults, but it is also equally important for our kids as well, I took him to his daily sports class to let off some steam, and then to Target to pick out a notebook for writing, drawing, art, etc. A safe place for him to express what was going on and how he was feeling. It got used as soon as we got home. That night, he had extra time for reading and talking and hugs and snuggles before bed.
As resilient as our kids are, he did go back to school the next day, which was not one of his best days and not one of his worst, just “fine.” Which I take to mean that he did the best he could, which is really all any of us can ever do. (Proud mom moment!)
As for me, what did I do for my own self-care when my child was hurting, which meant I was hurting too?
- 3-minute meditation– quiet meditation is my favorite/most helpful for me
- Journaling– I sure had a lot to write about in the days that followed this event
- Exercise– always a great way to get rid of pent up energy
- Eating healthy foods– I tried really hard to make this a reality, but why does unhealthy food taste so good when you’re hurting?
- Talking it out– I spoke with a few supportive people who are close to me and really “get it”
None of this completely took away the pain I was feeling for my son’s situation, but it all helped me feel better in the moment. I do wholeheartedly believe that as parents we need to take good care of ourselves so we can take good care of our kids (think of the airplane safety message here, where you’re told in case of an emergency to put your face mask on first and then help your child with their mask).
So, what’s one thing you can do to take good care of yourself, each and every day, so when your child is hurting, you’ll be in a good place where you can listen and support them to the very best of your ability?