Tuesday, January 14, 2014

When Words Hurt Our Kids - 5 Ways to Build Them Back Up

I truly never realized until I was a mom how much words hurt.  Obvivously, I have been hurt with words numerous times throughout my life (and know that I have hurt others too), but there is something so heart-breaking as a parent to hear (or hear about) unkind words spoken to our children.  It seriously feels like a punch in the gut. Oh - and that is what I usually feel like telling my kids to do - "just go punch the kid in the gut - then he/she will stop".  I will pretend that we have not actually said that at some point to our kids.  Hey - we aren't perfect as parents, and they haven't actually hit anyone, so that is good, right?

It is my opinion that most of the time kids say mean things to other kids is because they are insecure and struggling with their own issues or identity.  Confident, self-assured kids do not feel the need to beat others down (you can apply that to grown-ups too).  What is so hard to witness is how quickly those words can destroy our children - who just days, weeks or months before were self-confident and happy.  When these things happen, we have to help build them up.  

Over the last few months we have seen situations where this is happening or has happened to one in our own family.  We have been talking a lot lately at home about choices and how to respond to times that we are hurt by others.  As we have talked over the last several months, there are a few things that continue to return to the conversation that I think we could all try with our kids.  My ultimate goal when my children are struggling in this area is to build them up and try to bring back their confidence in who they are.  We cannot protect them from everything - they have to grow up, but we can reassure them of who they really are - God's perfect creation and our loved chid.  These are the 5 things that we try to do at our home:

1.  Build them up with our words - both my husband and I tell them all the time how much we love them and how proud we are of who they are.  Period.  It doesn't matter if they struggle academically, socially, athletically or in any other way - We love them.  I don't think we can ever tell our children too much how proud we are of them.  They may act totally annoyed as they grow older - but they still here it and bank it somewhere in their brain for later.

2.  Explain to them that they are exactly who they are supposed to be - if you are a Christ-follower,  explain to them that God created them to be exactly who they are.  Now I know this can seem like a trite "Christiany" response, but it is so important that they understand this.  They are senstive, caring, compassionate and loving and God is going to use them in amazing ways.  He made them in His image.  God chose for them to excel at certain things and not at others.  When you are good at everything, you can not relate to others as well.  God has even prepared them for the struggles that they will have and will use what seems like weaknesses to them for His ultimate plan.  "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."  Jer 29:11 

3.  Listen to them - make sure they know they can share anything with us - even when it is something they did that hurt someone else.   Pay attention when they are talking.  I sometimes find myself busy on my computer or phone and saying "uh-huh" when they are trying to talk to me.  It does get exhausting at times and I am clearly no 'mom of the year'.  However, I know that I am sending them mixed messages when I do this (If I am telling them that I love them but than cannot give them my attention when they come to me, what does that tell them?) - the more we give them our attention and love and affirm how important they are to us, the more confidence they will have in who they are.  We don't want to miss that small window of opportunity when they are actually wanting to talk to us.  I am trying to put my phone down or my computer to sleep when they come to talk to me.  That way, they will get all of me and they will know it (and I will remember what they were talking about).

Also, sometimes kids are too embarrassed to tell us what someone said to them or about them.  If they don't share with us, we can't help them walk through it. The more they internalize things - the more it is going to continue to impact them.  I know that a lot of times they won't share - but when they do - listen and support them.  Discuss with our kids what matters to us - that they be kind and compassionate to others, be a friend to those who don't have friends and to treat everyone with respect. Listen to them when they have to share about making wrong choices too - if they will share (sometimes they are forced to because teachers or principals call). The more we listen now, the more they may share later.

4.  Support them in their interests.  This builds confidence.  Confidence helps our kids be secure and treat others well.  So maybe you are not into karate and really want your son to play football - but your son lives for karate.  Support him.  Even if you financially cannot support the sport or hobby they want, there are many ways to still help them move forward with their passion.  Let them know that you are completely thrilled with who they are and what they are passionate about.  I am so proud of my husband in this area.  He comes from a very athletic family - he, his brother and dad were all great soccer players (his dad still holds college records).  Soccer is in his blood, but does not seem to be for our kids at this point.  Our older son played some soccer until he became sick with Lyme disease 3 years ago and had to stop all physical activity.  Our younger son loves animals -  I mean really loves them.  He could spend the rest of his life working with animals and running a sanctuary that rescues animals.  He also loves horses and riding.  He is involved in a 4H riding club and it is amazing to watch him on his horse (well - the one that we partially lease).  His other love is art.  Neither my husband or I have much experience in these areas - but we are doing what we can to support him.  Fortunately we can afford this partial lease for a horse for now...  We have watched our son gain so much confidence through horse shows and working with these amazing animals.  

5.  Tell them you would much rather they be kind, honest and loving towards others than try to fit in to feel more popular.  This can be a hard one for some of us because we do want them to fit in.  We may even care about them being perceived as popular because of our own securities.  However, living through our children this way is never going to help them or us.  One of my sons shared awhile back how much it hurt him to hear friends say mean things to another kid.  Many times, there are other kids that follow along and add to the hurt.  We tell him how proud we are of him - that instead of choosing to go with the crowd, he is choosing kindness and sensitivity - even in situations when he is not friends with the one getting hurt.  Since our kids are in middle school, we are using these types of conversations to talk about the choices that they will continue to make as they move forward with high school.  We tell them that the decisions only get harder as they grow up and have to choice whether to follow friends to "fit in" with drinking, sex, drugs, breaking laws, etc. The more choices they can make now to be individuals and not follow others will only help them as they grow up.  I think that we can influence that by encouraging right choices in the smaller things and affirming those choices. 

Obviously they won't always make the right choices in how they treat people - but it is awesome when they do.

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