Before you rescue your child from a mean kid, consider letting them be their own hero

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Before you rescue your child from a mean kid, consider letting them be their own hero

It’s a tough world out there. As parents, it's our job to protect our kids as well as prepare them to deal with life's struggles on their own.

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Cheer the good stuff. When you notice your child doing something helpful or nice, let him know how you feel. It's a great way to reinforce good behavior so he's more likely to keep doing it.

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  • Parenting
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Eva Dwight, BA, MEd, ACC, CPDT, Contributor Published 6:00 a.m. ET Dec. 13, 2018
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It’s a tough world out there. When a child has been the target of unkind words or behavior, it’s easy for parents to jump straight into protective mode. It's easy to take it upon ourselves to be their knight in shining armor, charging in to rescue them from the horrible person who hurt their feelings. It's easy to label other kids as bullies.

This is actually the last thing we should be doing , for two important reasons:

  1. When we rush in to fix the situation, the implicit message we send to our children is, “I don’t think you can handle this.”
  2. As soon as we classify another child’s behavior as “bullying,” we automatically place our child in the role of “victim.” When kids see themselves as victims they’re likely to also see themselves as “powerless.”

Children who believe they’re powerless open themselves up to more victimization, so the most important thing we can do is teach them how to rescue themselves. Here's one way parents can do just that:

First, define what happened

Was this actual bullying?

Bullying is marked by aggressive behavior that’s targeted at a specific person for the purpose of causing physical or emotional harm. The behavior may be repeated, and there’s at least the perception of an imbalance of power between the bully and the target.

Warn children about the importance of privacy and the dangers of predators and sexting. Teens need to know that once content is shared with others, they will not be able to delete or remove it completely, and includes texting of inappropriate pictures. They may also not know about or choose not to use privacy settings, and they need to be warned that sex offenders often use social networking, chat rooms, e-mail, and online gaming to contact and exploit children.

Or was this a mean moment?

Bullying is always mean, but not all meanness is bullying. Sometimes, just like adults, kids have a bad day and lash out. Whatever happened hurt your child’s feelings, but if mean behavior from that particular child is not a regular occurrence, then it might have been just a mean moment. Determining whether the problem was bullying or a bad moment will impact on the strategy your child uses to resolve the problem.

Find out if this is a conflict in which your child played a role.

Are you only getting half the story? This isn’t to say that your child is lying. They may have unknowingly offended the other person, so from their perspective, the mean behavior appears to be “for no reason.” A little investigating is warranted before deciding how to proceed.

Next, create an action plan

Help your child brainstorm strategies on how to move forward. Make sure the plan puts them in the driver’s seat. Encourage them to include confident thoughts to go along with their courageous actions:

  • Next time I see this person, I’ll remind myself that their problem is their stuff, not mine.
  • If this person says something mean to me again, I can say, “I’m not sure why you would say that. Did I do something to make you mad?” I’ll take a deep breath and remind myself to stay calm.

Role play the action plan a few times.

Practicing in a calm environment can help your child grow confidence in their ability to follow through in the more stressful, real-life situation.

"Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them." - Oscar Wilde

Report the incident, if necessary.

If the problem warrants adult intervention, support your child in bringing it up to a teacher or appropriate authority. Keep your child in the driver’s seat. Help them prepare what to say and write down questions they have. Then, when the time comes, allow them to do most of the talking while you provide moral support.

Focus on skill development

It would be nice if we could reassure our kids that, once they turn 21, mean behavior stops and adults are always kind and respectful to each other. But let’s face it: human beings of all ages can be mean. Successfully navigating the challenges of social interaction requires using a whole boatload of skills, including emotional regulation, conflict resolution and respectful communication.

When we don’t have those skills — or when we forget to use them — we resort to behaviors that drive a wedge between us and our fellow human beings: gossip, criticism, name calling and fighting. These hurtful behaviors are not relegated to the world of children, so the sooner kids start learning how to respond to them, the more likely they are to emerge from social storms with confidence and self-esteem.

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Be strict about bedtime. A study published in 2013 in the journal Pediatrics found that seven-year-olds who had irregular bedtimes had more behavioral problems than did those with consistent bedtimes. And the longer the lack of a strict bedtime went on, the worse the problems became. If you work outside the home, it's tempting to keep kids up to have more time with them. But as much as possible, stay the course—even if that means you sometimes miss lights out. "We all make sacrifices," says Heather Taylor, Ph.D., a psychologist at the Morrissey-Compton Educational Center, in Redwood City, California. "Call or video-chat to say good night. Just be part of the routine."