Ya know, when my kids were younger I kept looking forward to the time that they would be elementary aged thinking that somehow things would get a bit easier. While they have gotten easier from a disciplinarian standpoint, it has gotten much harder to watch them struggle with making good choices for themselves when it comes to peers and school.
As I looked back to my own elementary school experiences, I quickly recalled how difficult it can be building and maintaining friendships, negotiating clicks, and dealing with bullies. Wanting to spare our kids the pain we experienced during these years, we want to step in, give advice, tell them our own experiences, etc. I don't know about those of you out there reading this, but I have never had any real success in "getting through" to my kids using these methods -- their eyes start to roll back in their heads, drool starts to drip from the side of their mouths, well, you get the picture.
Although our intentions are good, kids have a tough time understanding or recognizing that we actually may know what we are talking about when it comes to such matters. They cannot believe that at any point in time we felt powerless, insecure, and the like when it comes to interacting with peers. Their view of us does not include the fact that we were ever kids, thus we have no clue.
The other difficulty we have to overcome is their always wanting to look good in our eyes. Have you ever tried to show your elementary aged child how to do something they have never done before only to hear "I know, I know! I know how to do it!" (when they clearly don't). I remember when my husband was trying to teach our son how to play baseball. He would come in the house so frustrated after a few minutes saying "That kid won't listen to me!" To add insult to injury, imagine his frustration seeing our son respond to a little league coach who was telling him the same thing that my husband had tried to teach him.
So, how do we help our kids learn how to navigate these difficult kinds of situations? The most effective for me personally has been one from the Love and Logic Institute. They believe in guiding kids through the problem solving process. In this technique you serve more as a coach or consultant to your child. The benefits of doing this are that 1) your child takes ownership of the problem; 2) they are doing all the thinking; 3) they are learning important problem solving skills that will help them later in life. Click here for a down-loadable printout of the technique.
I first used this technique with my son when he was having problems with another kid at school who was pushing him around:
- Step One (empathy) was easy as we'd been using some of the other Love and Logic techniques and empathy is the cornerstone of the program. Using empathy aligns us with our child, i.e., we are on their side.
- Step Two (send the power message) was easy as well as it is no more than asking the child what they are going to do.
- Step three (offer choices) was a bit trickier as it required some quick thinking to come up with several choices ranging from bad to good. I came up with these: 1) some kids decide to do nothing and be the kids personal punching bag until they graduate from high school; 2) some kids decide to try to avoid that kid on the playground, at lunch, during assemblies and all that until they graduate from high school; and 3) some kids decide that they are going to stand up for themselves and by telling the kid to knock it off, walking away, or telling a teacher. Of course, each option was followed by the question "how would that work for you?"
- Step Four (give permission to the child to solve or not solve the problem) was probably the most difficult as it left it up to my son to decide how to handle the situation, e.g., "Good luck with that and let me know how it works out." I'm happy to report that he handled the situation beautifully by standing up for himself.
An interesting outcome in this particular situation is that he and the boy he was having problems with are now pretty good friends. I can't tell you what a relief it was to know that he learned the value of standing up for himself at such a young age (he was only six).
One of the things that I like best about this approach is that it really helps kids learn how to make decisions. When faced with a tough decision, most of us weigh our options and pick the one that is going to cause us the least amount of pain or grief. We can start laying the foundation for weighing the pros and cons with our kids from a young age!
Have you struggled watching your kids try to deal with the drama of peers and school issues? How did you help them through the process? What was the outcome? Share your thoughts and tips!