It is a different world now than it was twenty years ago, and childhood is different in so many ways that it’s common for parents to feel unprepared. The new normal is to fill half of their dinner plates with vegetables, turn them into algebra wizards and computer hackers by the fifth grade, and to hire an expensive private consultant to begin preparing them to apply to college when they’re freshmen in high school. The dangers are greater, too. In the new world, children bully each other via social media which means that the schoolyard bully has moved into their victims’ homes. What’s more, people now have a lower level of civic duty and it’s common for children to witness incidents in public that should not happen, such as teenagers fighting in the streets or allowing their shopping carts to roll into other peoples’ cars. It’s worse now than it has ever been.
Examiner interviewed author Richard Greenberg who published “Raising children other people like to be around’ to spread his helpful parenting advice to raise strong kids. Here it is:
Katie Mallory: What can parents do to protect their children from being harassed?
Richard Greenberg: Parents worry about bullies – online, on the playground, and sometimes in the classroom. Building your child’s “emotional scaffolding” is the best way to give them the ability to defend against bullies – cyber and otherwise. What are the elements that typically go into that scaffolding? A BELIEF IN OUR OWN GOODNESS. We can teach our children that they are “good” by setting boundaries for them in which they need to live. I believe that “rules are the arms with which our children can hug themselves.” Starting at a very early age, it’s important to teach our children that following the rules (or living up to Mommy and Daddy’s expectations) makes them “good” children. It’s often as easy as praising them when they are behaving properly, or ambushing them with compliments like “I really like the way you are sitting quietly.” Or “I really love it when you are so nice to your sister.” These doses of appreciation give our children an inner sense of “goodness” that strengthens them when others try to make them feel badly about themselves (which is what most bullies do).
K.M.: How does one teach a child to tell the truth, which can be extremely difficult to do even for adults.
R.G.: Do you remember hoping your parents wouldn’t find out about the window you broke, or the time you got in trouble at school? It felt a little creepy in the house, didn’t it? It’s scary for kids to keep secrets or to feel like they’re about to be in trouble. We can give them relief from that anxiety by giving them a pathway for telling the truth. My parents did this by saying, “If you ever do anything that you think might get you in trouble, come talk to us about it. If you bring it to us before we discover it on our own, then we will not punish you.” That seemed to make sense and, kudos to my parents, it always resulted in a conversation about how to avoid doing it again. They even gave me a word to shorthand the opening… I could ask for an “Armistice” – which meant I had something to confess, and that we’d be chatting about it. At its most basic, this gives our children the ability to believe in justice, and gives them the hope that “cheaters (and bullies) never prosper.”
K.M.: How does one teach a child that other people will have behavioral problems that will have a direct impact on him or her, and that he or she will have to be “The Responsible Adult” in the situation.
R.G.: I don’t know how many times my wife and I have had to say this to our kids but, “The only person whose behavior you can control is yours !!”
When your child comes home upset, or has been humiliated by their peers, it’s important to help them understand that they are in total control of the way they react to those feelings. Kids (and adults) often blame the person whose mission has been to get them upset. Ironically, those people get great satisfaction from succeeding. The best thing a parent can do is to help our children contain their reactions and give them the tools they need to ease their feelings of self-doubt or unworthiness.
All of us have been victims of mean people, and it’s important to teach our children that the behavior of insensitive people is more their problem than ours. Typically, we’d tell our kids “You are a well-mannered, intelligent, and friendly person. You tell the truth, you care about our family. What possible reason could that person have for being mean to you? Either your child will agree (as they cry in your arms), or they will confess as to why it is the other kid was really being mean. Either way, it’s a win-win. ” In this way we “script” our child with a self-affirming pep talk that they can use to protect themselves from those who question their character.
K.M.: How can parents help a child understand that they are only human and they make mistakes?
R.G.: Nobody’s perfect. Nobody lives perfectly, and, certainly, nobody parents perfectly. It’s our job as parents to share with our children the fact that there are times when we have feelings just like theirs. As I believe my cab driver should know where he or she is going, so I believe our children should know that we are confident in our roles as their parents. However, every once in a while, it doesn’t hurt for them to see that we have to ask for directions or look at a map.
Confident parents are still able to listen to and value the opinions of their children. A child who is old enough to be bullied, is also sensitive to the opinions of others. For most children, there are few more important opinions than those of their parents. By being loving, fair, and firm, we create a home for our children that is safe and reliable. This place where they are valued and respected by parents who listen, and explain, gives them very solid footing out in the world.
K.M.: How can parents make their children more resilient when they’re in a poisonous environment?
R.G.: Children deal better with negative influences when they feel secure about who they are and where they come from. By providing them with an honest home, where they know they are loved and feel secure in asking or telling the truth, we help them develop a foundation that will hold them up when the forces or peer pressure or bullying try to push them off course.
We can’t control the bullies in life, but by maintaining an honest and open relationship, we can give our children the armor and strength they will need to overcome the many adversities they will encounter in their lives.
K.M.: For Examiner’s readers, Mr. Greenberg’s website is at this address: commonsensedad.com