This article was originally published on LDS Parent's Toolshop. It has been republished here with permission.
Criticizing, hurtful and mean-spirited comments seem to be a growing norm in society. These cutting words are a form of emotional bullying that can harm our children. The media is full of tragic bullying stories.
Recently I learned my son was struggling with verbal attacks at school, and knew something had to be done. I share our story to empower you with a solution to use for your own children.
As I walk into my son's room, he looks up from his homework. "How is school going?" I ask.
"Oh you know, it's alright," he replies. He is attending a new school because we recently moved. I hope he feels a sense of belonging and has friends. "Do you have friends in all of your classes?" I enquire.
He pauses as he considers my question. "Actually, some of the classes I don't even say anything."
"What? You love to share and answer questions."
"Not in two of my classes. The kids make fun of me and one of my teachers is really mean whenever I make a comment."
A sharp pain cuts through my heart. "No," my brain screams, "This can't happen. I won't let it happen. They can't tear down my son!" I picture myself marching into the school and telling those students and teacher off. I shake the thought from my mind, and think, "What can I do? How can I protect him?"
Later I remember what author Brene Brown said about how she handles the critics and rude comments. Hope surges through me. "That's it! I can teach that to my son so he can protect himself."
Bully-proofing my son
As I call my son to my room, I tear a 1" x 1" piece of paper. I ask him, "Who really knows you? Who understands your value and who you are?"
"You and dad," he responds. I smile as I write the words Mom and Dad on the paper.
"I guess my brothers." I write his brothers on the paper.
"How about all of our relatives?" He questions.
"That's a lot of people and this is a small paper. How about your grandparents?" I suggest. He nods his agreement. I write grandparents on the paper.
"Who knows you best of all? Even better than you know yourself?" I ask.
"Most definitely. I will add Him to your paper too." I hand him the small square. "Put this in your wallet. When someone says something hurtful or mean, just remind yourself they are not on your list and they do not know who you are."
He smiles as he reaches out for the paper.
The next day
After school as he climbs into our van I ask, "How was your day?"
"Great! When someone was mean, I just thought 'Hey, you are not on my paper.'" His confident smile fills my heart.
A few weeks later I ask if he is still using the paper.
"Yes Mom, and it is helping."
The steps to take
Cut or tear a 1" x 1" paper. Ask your children who really knows them and values them as a person.
Write down the individuals they name. This list is not to make them feel popular by filling it with as many names as possible, but a list of who really and truly knows and loves them.
Encourage your children to include immediate family and maybe one or two others. It is wonderful for them to remember that God loves them and to make sure He is on their list.
Have them put the list in their purse, wallet or backpack and refer to it when someone says hurtful comments. The bottom line is that if that person is not on your child's list, their hurtful comments do not matter.
Nurture an open, honest relationship with your children so they feel comfortable talking to you. As you handle situations calmly, it fills them with peace and confidence.
We cannot let our children become victims of society. Let's empower them with coping skills so that they can thrive.
If you have a child who is being physically bullied, please speak to teachers and school principals to get the help you need. Your child's safety is your number one priority.
If you use the method I taught my son with your own children, I would love to hear back about your own experience. Feel free to send me an email.