It can be so hard to know what to say when your child tells you that someone has been mean to them, hurt their feelings, or embarrassed them. Kids don’t always offer up many details for you to go off of and your well-intentioned responses may make hit on unseen trigger points that can cause them clam up even more. So what’s a concerned parent to do? In the following excerpt from Queen Bees and Wannabes, 3rd Edition, author Rosalind Wiseman offers some tips for having a supportive and loving conversation with your daughter — or son, for that matter — about dealing with aggressive peers.
What to Avoid Saying
If she starts off by saying something vague, like, “Those girls were bothering me,” ask her to give you more specifics so you’ll have a better understanding of what happened. Once she tells you, here are a few common things I suggest not saying.
“She’s jealous of you. She’s insecure.” This response is ineffective because there’s nothing she can do with this information. Even if it’s true, that doesn’t stop the other kid from making her miserable. And you never want a girl telling other girls they are jealous of her because that will be seen as a declaration of war.
“Be nice.” Accommodating people who are mean to you doesn’t look like you’re being nice. It looks like you’re weak and easily manipulated.
“She probably comes from a bad home. You should feel sorry for her.” While it’s sad that some kids have really tough home situations, that doesn’t give them an excuse to lash out at other kids. Additionally, encouraging a child to pity another child or to think herself superior can only bring up more problems.
“Are you sure? Maybe you took it the wrong way.” Without meaning to, you can come across as if you don’t believe her or you think she’s overly sensitive or overreacting.
“Use your words.” How? What words? What happens if the person doesn’t listen?
“Just ignore it. Walk away.” By the time she comes to you for advice, she’s probably been trying to ignore or walk away from the problem, but it hasn’t worked. That’s why she’s coming to you.
“Forget about it.” The message is, if she can’t forget about it, then she must be weak.
What You Should Say Instead
Remember, your go-to response should be some combination of:
“I’m so sorry.”
“Thank you for telling me.”
“I’m going to help you think this through so you can come up with a plan to feel a little more in control.”
What if your child says “I’m going to tell you, but you have to promise not to do anything”? This is an incredibly confusing moment. You want her to tell you what’s wrong so it’s understandable to feel if you don’t make this promise, she’ll shut you out. But you don’t want to make a promise that you might have to break because she may tell you something that you have to tell someone else, or you might have no idea what to do and need to get another adult’s advice. Instead, this is what I want you to say:
“I would love to make that promise, but I can’t. The reason I can’t is because you may tell me something that’s too big for us to handle alone or I don’t know what the best thing to do is. But this is what I can promise: If we need to get another person’s opinion, you will know about it and we will decide together who is the best person to go to.”
If you include your daughter as part of the process, she can tolerate your decisions, even if she really disagrees with them. When a young person stops talking to you, it means they feel that you failed to appreciate that this is their life, this is their problem, and they are the ones who have to deal with any repercussions. And of course they’re right.
Adapted from Queen Bees and Wannabes, 3rd Edition by Rosalind Wiseman. © 2016 by Rosalind Wiseman. Harmony, Crown Publishing Group, Penguin Random House LLC.