When a Child Hurts

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Well, it’s happened. Maybe you were afraid it would. Or, perhaps it blindsided you butââ?¬Â¦.your daughter didn’t make the dance team. Your son was passed over for the scholarship. Your child didn’t get the part or solo or moment in the sun which he or she worked so hard! Now what do you do? You call upon your own Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Liz. So, your son is hurting. Your daughter comes to you in tears. And as a parent you’re supposed to make it all better. Where do we start?

My sister has always said that being a mother is like having your heart running around in the world on two little legs.” When your child hurts, you hurt. Before anything comes out of your mouth, it’s a great idea to first take an inventory about how you feel about your child’s setback. Your attitude makes all the difference in how a child reacts. If you see rejection or disappointment as a problem, that’s a problem! Your child will then certainly be hindered by how well they manage life’s challenges. Think about how you’ve handled disappointment or rejection; that is a part of life that we can all relate to. We can’t fix normal!

Listen to Learn

Children don’t always fully understand what they are thinking and feeling. They can’t always say exactly what they mean. “I hate the new baby,” may really mean, “I’m afraid that you don’t love me anymore.”

We may not always like what children have to say. Sometimes we won’t agree. Sometimes we won’t know how to respond. But children need us to listen. So let them lead the way, respect their feelings, listen to their point of view, and try to find out what’s going on inside them. Things are not always what they appear to be at first glance.

Where does your mind go when a child says, “I don’t want Mrs. Smith to come and take care of me anymore?” Alarm bells could go offââ?¬Â¦what has Mrs. Smith done to my baby? Or, you could pause and say “oh?” prompting him for more information. You might here, “Yeah she’s a stupid babysitter. She thinks Bobby is so nice and I don’t like Bobby either.” If we’re actively listening we’d then say something like, “So you’re angry at your older brother, too.” And then you may hear how Bobby thinks he’s such a big shot because he got to go to the movie and Mrs. Smith wouldn’t let the younger brother go because he wasn’t old enough.

“Life Is Not Fairââ?¬Â¦and We’ll Survive!”

Despite hard work and determination, one does not always get what their heart desires or deserves. It is a hard truth, but one we all learn one way or another. When it comes to hard work, attitude or any other virtue, what a person deserves is not always what he or she will get. The good news is that while I don’t always get what I might deserve, I know I don’t always deserve what I get!

One of the more painful experiences of childhood or adolescence is peer rejection. My good friend, and mother of 8 says that “When someone hurts your child, the Momma Bear in you wants to go over and rip that person’s head off!” I think most parents can relate.

In the course of a school day children are met with a number of challenges and even setbacks. They may not do well on a test; or perhaps they weren’t picked for a game they wanted to play; or they’re struggling to keep up with everyone else in class due to a learning disability. One study determined that even popular children experienced some type of rejection about one quarter of the time when they approached their peers at school.

Model Confidence & Optimism

Model optimism. Watch how you present the world to children, as they will pick up on your view. Tell them how you’ve managed rejection and disappointment. Help them remember how they bounced back from disappointment in the past and that those strategies can be used again. Laugh together. Humor is a great coping mechanism that helps put disappointment in perspective. Things will get better. They always do.

Brainstorm Choices and Alternatives

No experience is ever wasted; especially disappointments. The disappointment does not define us but our reaction to it does.

One of my friend’s teenage daughter is on an excellent dance team and they recently were in a dance competition and finished second place which, to these competitive dancers, was devastating. How helpful would it be for my friend to have said, “Oh, Sara, those judges were clueless!” Or, “Your pirouettes were the worst I’ve ever seen you do. What were you thinking?” Instead, what would be more useful and instructive would be to say, when the time was right, “I’m sorry you didn’t get first place in the competition. Was there anything the 1st place team did well, in your mind? Is there anything you think your team could work on for next time?”

We hear a lot about bullying these days, which is certainly difference than peer rejection. In my opinion, we use the term too broadly at times. Another great mother I know makes a habit of taking her child and meeting privately with the other parent and child after some type of fight or argument. The truth is always a bit more revealing when youââ?¬Ë?re standing before your peer and your parent. Resolving conflict is a necessary part of emotional development, teaching responsibility and accountability for one’s actions and one’s responses to another’s actions.

Teach Responsibility & Accountability

With helping a child understand bullying, my favorite line and belief is,”hurt people, hurt people.” Sometimes a simply “kill ââ?¬Ë?em with kindness” approach often worksââ?¬Â¦.unless the bullying is more violent then school administrators need to become involved in interrupt this destructive cycle. Becoming a bully in response to confronting a bulky is never the answer.

Dr. Liz Hale is a licensed clinical psychologist and a regular Studio 5 Contributor. Your comments and questions are welcomed! Please visit www.drlizhale.com to add your thoughts to today’s discussion or learn more about her private practice.