Today’s Question: Kid Holding a GrudgeHello! I LOVE and look forward to listening to your podcast! I have three girls: 13, 11, and 9. My 9-year-old is a very bright, confident, gregarious, and tenacious young child. I do think that these are very strong qualities, but wonder if they get in the way of peer relations. She has a wide variety of friends. I used to be worried that she did not have that one special friend, but realized after listening to one of your podcasts that that is okay. The issue lies in that if a peer says or does anything negative to her, she A: doesn’t forget it, B: continues to remind her peer of it, and C: tells her peer that she is not her friend. Like any 3rd grader, this peer is now hurt and upset. It’s as though my child does not care and sees no remorse. I have conversations with her about this and it’s so hard for her to change. I don’t know what to do! Thank you so much for your guidance! – Andria
Parent Educator Answer:It is so hard to watch your daughter behave in ways that are not aligned with your values, but it’s a great opportunity to talk about empathy.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Some kids naturally pick up on social cues and don’t need to be taught how to use empathy to connect with others.
Other kids do need to be taught. It doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with these children, they are perfectly normal, but it can make a supermom cringe when she watches her child navigate the nuances of friendships.
Kids who struggle to show empathy usually do so for two reasons.
- They aren’t easily hurt by others so can’t relate.
- They are VERY deeply hurt by others.
I asked Andria which category she thought her daughter fell into.
Her initial reaction was that her daughter was “unaffected” but after further consideration, she thinks perhaps she is deeply wounded by slights from friends and that is why she is so dismissive.
Andria said she is very caring with young children and animals which signals a profound sense of empathy.
When we feel hurt, it is human nature to want to hurt back. Picture a porcupine, whose quills lay soft and flat until threatened, then stand sharply to deter anyone from getting close.
Instead of crying, and showing her hurt, it sounds like Andria’s daughter shoves it down and gets “prickly” like a porcupine.
There isn’t a lot that mom can do to change her daughter’s personality. This is how she is wired. But I will give you some tips to support her softer side.
- Acknowledge her hurt. Even though she will deny it, you can show compassion to her saying words like, “Boy, if someone said that to me I would feel hurt.” or “I feel so sad when my friends leave me out.”
- Find opportunities for her to hang out with children, animals, the elderly, or the disabled. She feels safe letting her vulnerable side show around these sensitive souls, encourage it! Kids like this turn into advocates for social justice! Find volunteer opportunities for her to let her softer side show and start effecting change in her community.
- Make her rigidity work for you. All kids think in black and white, “If I’m not smart, I must be dumb.” “If she said something mean, she’s a mean person.” This good/bad, right/wrong thinking can keep a kid stuck in a negative pattern. You can use this to your advantage by asking black and white questions like:
“Do you want to live in a nice world or a mean world?”
“Do you think people should be kind or rude?”“Would you prefer to have no friends or some friends?”
If she wants to live in a nice world, then it’s up to her to be nice, no matter what everyone else does.
If she wants to have friends, it’s up to her to act like a friend even when they don’t deserve it (in her opinion).
Letting her think about the kind of world she wants to live in, moves her attention from this small little hurtful comment (where she feels powerless) to the big picture where she can do something about the injustice she feels.
Life Coaching Answer:What gets in our way when our daughter is cold, prickly, and mean? All sorts of fearful catastrophic thinking! “She’s never going to have any friends” “She’s a b*tch” “Nobody’s going to want to be around her” “She doesn’t care about people.” And of course, whenever we see bad behavior in our kids, we fall into the conclusion that “I must not be doing a good enough job as a mother.” When we think these dramatic thoughts, we get scared. When we get scared, we get mad (hello porcupine!). We start telling her to be nicer, stop holding a grudge, forgive and forget. There’s nothing wrong with this advice except that it’s rooted in our own fears. She picks up on our judgmental, “you need to change now” energy, feels a feeling, and shuts down. She acts cold and aloof. This makes us get meaner, in order to try and get an emotional reaction out of her. We escalate our words, trying to break her down, which only makes her more cold and aloof towards us. We’ve got to keep an eye on our thoughts, making sure they help us feel like the parent we want to be. In order to allow our sensitive kids to show their softer side, we need a soft place for them to fall. How do you get a porcupine to lay down her quills? Sit still, be calm, and give her time to feel safe again. This personality trait of your daughter has nothing to do with you as a mom. If you can be soft and gentle with her, she will know you have her back, no matter how many people say mean things to her. Eventually, she may look around and find she doesn’t have any friends. Then she may be receptive to your helpful advice. More likely, she will be the one who befriends the kid on the “buddy bench” at school, advocates for the disabled kid, and is friends with the bad boy no one wants to be with. The world is made up of all kinds. You can teach her appropriate social behavior from a place of acceptance and gentleness. Instead of “futurizing and catastrophizing,” share your vision of her in the future. Say things like: “Someday, you will realize that most people mean well, even if they don’t always say the right things.” “People make mistakes all the time, someday you will learn that forgiveness feels better than being right.” “You care so deeply about others, it’s this compassion of yours that is going to make the world a better place.”
Supermom Kryptonite: Parenting from FearThis is a sneaky one. Our words and actions can be exactly the same, but when we are rooted in fear, our kids pick up on our neediness and push us away. For example, your 14 year old daughter comes downstairs looking sexy in a short skirt and tube top, ready to go out. Your mind immediately jumps to “OMG NO! Too sexy. Sexual predators! Kidnapping and human trafficking! Boys! Dirty old men! What will people think? Embarrassed.” The words that pop out are, “No. You are not wearing that. You need to change NOW.” She argues, complains, then pops her outfit into her purse and changes as soon as she leaves the house.” If she comes downstairs wearing the same outfit, you might get a different result if your thoughts are calm and inquisitive… “Is that outfit aligned with our family values?” “Would I have worn that when I was her age?” “What is the statistical probability that something bad will happen to her because she is wearing that outfit?” You might say, “No, that outfit is not aligned with our family values. Go put on something more modest, please.” This calm, clear, confident energy is much more likely to yield a positive result. She might argue, but she would match your energy, doing so calmly and logically. Whenever there is behavior you want to change in yourself or your child, be sure you are rooted in positive emotion rather than fear.
Supermom Power Boost:Choose a spirit animal. Do you have a favorite animal? Do you find yourself intrigued by certain animals? Learn more about them and see what they have to teach you. ‘ If you love sloths, it could be your higher self saying it’s time to slow down and chill. Are you drawn towards elephants? Maybe you are yearning to feel supported by a larger community. Andria’s daughter could learn more about the porcupine as a compassionate way to learn more about herself. We don’t argue with reality thinking, “porcupines shouldn’t be so prickly” we accept them for who they are and learn to live with them peacefully.
Quote of the day:“Everybody is a Genius. But If You Judge a Fish by Its Ability to Climb a Tree, It Will Live Its Whole Life Believing that It is Stupid.” -Albert Einstein
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