My child is being bullied – is it a curse or a blessing?
When our child is bullied we feel how emotional our responses can be. We feel angry, vulnerable, sad, and helpless, and a whole other range of emotions. This happens because we identify with our child on the deepest level. We seek a solution and even sometimes for revenge; we take initiative and act in the name of our child. This reaction is natural and aligned with our instinctual protective nature as parents.
Assuming our child’s point of view also leads us to assuming her role as victim, in addition to taking on the responsibility of solving the problem on her behalf. The significant piece here is that this approach requires that we focus specifically on the bully and what he/or she is perpetrating. Furthermore, we see the situation as a curse.
A different approach, however, involves viewing this situation from a new vantage point; one which requires us to take the unfortunate situation and transform it into an opportunity to empower your child. What if you had the ability to refrain in part from feeling all of the feelings listed above and, instead, was able to offer new possibilities for your child? The obvious response might be: “it’s instinctual to identify and protect my child and that’s my role as a parent! Why should I try to refrain from identifying with her?”
Identifying with our children is something that is partially instinctual and partially habitual. We habitually activate the emotional part of our brain while at the same time neglect to use the part of our brain responsible for higher functions, like sensory perception, spatial reasoning, conscious thought and language.
When bullying occurs and your child feels and acts like a victim, it’s a great opportunity to empower her and encourage a shift from victim to proactive mode. As a parent you have a choice: you can either overidentify with your child and be emotional about the situation, or, you can choose to objectify the situation for the sake of your child. This way you are not inside the situation and you can therefore rationally act to support your child.
Before we dive into the ways of shifting your child from victim to agent of change, it is important to recognize that navigating such a situation requires a multi-leveled approach. As parents, drawing on your support system- your child’s teachers, a life coach, a counselor, other parents/friends etc., and working collaboratively with them with the permission of your child- will greatly help.
When your child confides in you that she is being bullied, it means that she trusts you; that you have a good rapport with her. It also means that she is seeking guidance on how to handle the situation. Your child feels victimized, and that there is nothing in her own capacity that she can do to control or resolve the situation. It is this very moment that presents a great opportunity for you to have a transformational conversation with her.
The goal for you is to guide her to see the situation from a different point of view as well as to help her use her higher more rationalized brain functionings and not only the emotional part of it. This different point of view will lead to a more resourceful and empowering state for her.
When your child approaches you, this is your opportunity to ask powerful questions, like the ones below. The aim of asking such questions is to shift the emotional self-centered victim-oriented thinking into rational and proactive thinking capable of facilitating perspective to view the other person (in this case, the bully) in the situation. This unique way of thinking can ultimately facilitate the empowering shift for your child.
1) Ask your child just to imagine that the bully actually has a self serving positive intention behind her behavior. As a parent, you may need to modify the language according to your child’s particular age, level, etc. If it is hard for your child to be able to imagine this and to be able to consider a particular positive intention, you can offer a few possibilities: “Maybe the bully is looking for attention and doesn’t know how else to get it,” or, “Maybe she needs to feel powerful and doesn’t know how to do that,” etc. The importance of this question is that by focusing on what might be the bully’s positive intention, it also addresses the possible needs of the bully and therefore shifts the child’s internal dialogue of: “What is wrong with me? Why does she pick on me? What did I do wrong?” to a more resourceful state of: “What does this bully need? Can I help her? Can anybody else help her?” This is a huge shift for the child. She understands that she is not to blame in this situation; that she is not the cause, and that it is about the bully and his/her issues, rather than her own. This realization empowers your child greatly.
2) “Imagine that the situation is solved in the best way possible, what could you do to make this happen?” Again if your child needs guidance with responding to this question, you may want to offer a few options like: “Maybe you talked to the bully and stood up for yourself,” “Maybe you found good friends that helped you cope with her,” etc. This question is valuable since it places the responsibility of solving the situation and the manner through which to do this in your child’s hands. Through this question you stimulate the visual part of her brain that draws on visuals to come up with a plan.
At this point, your child is beginning to transform from passive victim to resourceful participant involved in altering her own future. Now is a good time to formulate a plan for the next steps to be taken. You might say:
3) “You have everything you need to make a plan. What could be some first steps?” Continue to guide your child with generating possible responses, if needed. Give her a few options to choose from, like: “Do you want to start by thinking what you want to say to the girl? Or do you want to think who among your classmates can be a good friend who will help you cope with her?”
4) “What do you need from us (the parents) to make your plan work? Do you want us to come and stand by your side while you talk to that girl? Do you need us to talk to her parents?” This question allows the child to continue to create her own desired future while feeling the unconditional support from you, her parents.
5) “How do you feel now about this situation?” At this time you can expect the child to sound more optimistic, more proud of herself, more empowered.
Through just a few powerful questions such as the ones above you teach your child a great lesson: that she is responsible for her life and that you are there for her every step of the way as much as she needs you to. She is in control of her fate and your family unit is committed to helping her achieve this.
This is an especially useful set of tools transmit to your child, considering that 37% of Americans (around 54 million) and around the same percentage of Canadians (around 5 million) experience some form of bullying (according to a survey conducted workplace bullying institute in 2007 in United States).
So then, is being bullied a curse or a blessing? It’s both. It’s a curse because your child has already been hurt, but it is also a blessing because of the rare opportunity it offers your child to facilitate a shift from a state of passivity to a state of empowerment.
Keep in mind that every challenge in childhood, when addressed thoughtfully, will prepare your child for adult life- and that’s a blessing.
Helping parents meet goals
Mirit Murad believes more effective communication is possible.
Doesn’t everyone wish that they could speak to their kids so that they’ll listen? Earlier this month, registered life coach and neurolinguistic programming practitioner Mirit Murad gave an insightful presentation to a room full of parents gathered at Richmond Jewish Day School, eager to learn techniques to enhance communication with their children.
After RJDS principal Rebecca Coen introduced her, Murad got right to the point. “My intention for tonight,” she told the crowd, “is to inspire you to be proactive parents; to be the best parents you can. It’s the beginning of a journey, not something you hear tonight and then go home and forget about, but something that I want you to work at with your children.”
Murad shared some of her background and talked about her decision, after 11 years of teaching elementary school, to change direction and concentrate on helping parents meet their goals and aspirations.
One of the traps parents can fall into, Murad warned, is when they assume that negative behavior will occur.
“You have a choice: you could focus on the negative and remember all the bad things or, instead, focus on what we aspire to have, but, for this, you have to be proactive. The brain is extremely goal-oriented and once you have a goal, the brain goes for it … it’s all about mastering your feelings and making a choice: how do I want to be?”
To make this change, Murad encouraged parents to first recognize their values and then, based on these, each family can create a “family vision.” To illustrate the importance of creating a shared vision, Murad compared it to working on a ship. What does the crew expect from the captain? That he or she has direction – a vision of where to go.
“You are the captains of your ship,” Murad said, “and your house its own ship, and if something happens, be it sharks or wind, we need to stick together.”
Murad discussed the undesirable impact that reacting emotionally can have on successful communication. “When our values are violated, we tend to react very emotionally,” she explained, but “one of the key elements of being the parent you’d like to be is to have [fewer] situations when you are out of control…. The big shift happens when you stop thinking about ‘what [my child is] doing to me’ and started thinking about what they need instead.” By changing one’s state of mind, Murad argued, effective communication can materialize.
To effect that change, Murad recommended that parents take on a coach-like point of view and “mentally step out of the conversation, maintaining a detached position, being calm, having no judgment and listening to all elements from a neutral point of view.” She suggested that parents think about their children “as employees for a second … look at them as ‘I am their employer’ – this takes all emotion out of it.”
When individuals are not reacting emotionally, Murad said, they are more in control and can lead the conversation in a more positive direction.
Murad asked parents to bear in mind that, “Every behavior has a positive intention … and we need to think about what [the child] needs. Maybe [your child] behaved a certain way because he needed to calm down. Even if it was not an appropriate behavior, if we realize that there is a reason he did it, then we can talk to him. ‘What do you need? What happened?’ This helps the child know that we are there for them and on their side, [and this] will cool us off immediately and we will not take things personally…. Sometimes, the intention is really deep and primary. Maybe [your child is] testing your unconditional love or maybe they wanted attention.”
This doesn’t make the behavior acceptable, Murad continued, but it does help parents react without emotion.
Even with a plan, parents can still run into difficulties communicating effectively with their child, Murad said. She advised parents to try some verbal strategies to alleviate some of the struggle. According to Murad, using positive language – “Pour slowly,” instead of “Don’t spill your milk,” for example – is important because “our brain doesn’t understand negation,” so whatever a parent said not to do is likely to happen. Instead, parents need to express what they do want.
Ultimately, it comes down to creating and sticking to the family vision and behaving in ways that show children their parents are there to support and love them unconditionally.
To learn more about Murad, visit www.parentwithchoice.com
Elizabeth Nider is a freelance writer living in Richmond.
Your New Year Resolution – No more YELLING!
As parents and human beings we take New Year’s resolutions seriously. One of the most popular resolutions is the promise that during the year to come we will not be yelling at our children. We tend to envision our next-door neighbors or friends as calm, understanding and open-minded with their children and we want to become just the same!
When it comes to yelling, most of us strongly feel that parents should not yell at their children at all. First, I would like to distinguish between two types of yelling. One type is yelling in the face of safety issues; this is instinctual and a normal and healthy response to perceived danger. For example, when your curious toddler is approaching the fireplace, it is a good thing to yell, “stop,” to prevent your child from getting hurt.
The other type of yelling, which is born from frustration and/or anger, reflects a moment when we lose control and react, usually against our better judgment. No parent voluntarily yells at her children. So what is happening exactly? How do we “lose it” and how can we regain control over our reactions to challenging situations with our children?
When one of our children “is not behaving” it actually means they are violating values, which we as parents and as human beings possess. When that happens, our part of the brain responsible for manifesting emotions, starts to run the show. Ironically when that happens we are most of the times beside ourselves and then we too, as parents, react against our values. Then we feel guilty, approach our children, and embrace them in apology. These actions confuse them by showing them inconsistent behaviors and mixed messages. This unfolding of events becomes our habitual way of parenting and reacting.
The good news is that we can break this automatic loop and have a CHOICE of how to react in such situations. You can choose to SUPRESS your child’s curiosity, empathy, creativity and so on by succumbing to your frustration and yelling. When you do that you are communicating to the child your inability to control yourself and your frustrations; subsequently the rapport between you in this relationship is broken.
On the other hand you can choose to ENCOURAGE your child in his exploration and self-development. Consider the following statements:
- Behind every behavior there is a positive intention
- Every person is making the best choice he can at every given moment
The power of this new perspective lies in focusing our attention on the positive rather than the negative. This shift creates empathy and forces us to step out of our emotional state and exercise a more rational approach.
Let’s imagine that you are in the kitchen making supper and when you enter the living room you see your pre-school child drawing happily on the newly painted wall. In the past your habitual and instinct reaction would have been start yelling at him to stop and continue to yell at him saying things like: “What have you done?!” “Are you crazy?!” “Go to your room immediately!” etc… However, you can be aware of a CHOICE and can rationally react in a different and more positive way by using the following tools.
Stop and think:
1) What is the positive intention behind this behavior? My dear child wanted to draw a big picture for me on the wall so it would stay there forever for every one to see it.
2) What does s/he need? Everything we do is to fulfill a need. Knowing what your child needs will increase the rapport between you two. He probably needs to feel acknowledged for his creativity and to be reminded how important he is in my life.
3) Find two or three positive and inspiring things that s/he is already doing. The aim of this tool is to focus on the other person’s positive qualities instead of focusing on our selves and what are you feeling as a result of the situation. Shifting the focus will cause your part of the brain responsible for higher functions such as sensory perception, spatial reasoning, conscious thought and lamguage to act, instead of our emotional part of the brain.
A) Wow he is so smart and he put all of his markers in a box not to stain the carpet.
B) He worked on his art project 20 minutes straight; he sure has great level of concentration.
C) He wrote his name very neatly.
4) Remember and believe that the child is making the best choice he can in every given moment. This assumption gives us the opportunity to see the unfolding of the situation through the eyes of the other person in this case our child. I was in the kitchen and he wanted to surprise me and he was not able to think of another way to have his drawing there like using a big poster or board.
When you stop for a minute and use all these tools, you are in control; you are resourceful. You are now able to react to the child according to your own values as a parent; clearly you are capably, effectively and respectfully running the show. And by doing that you are communicating to your child the following:
1) Your ability to separate his/her behavior from identity by saying that this behavior is wrong instead of him/her BEING a bad boy.
2) Your ability to commend him/her for the great things he is capable of and for his/her positive intentions by praising his creativity and initiative.
3) Your ability to understand his/her needs and your will to meet them by saying how important s/he is to you and asking him about other creative thoughts s/he has in mind for you to help him/her realize them.
Making the right choice for you in challenging moments like that will change your parenting experience forever. You now have the power to control your reaction instead of letting the reaction control you. Using these tools consistently will create a new habit for you to cope in similar situations. It exercises your ability to consciously shift from your emotional part of the brain to the more resourceful and rational part and as a result you are CREATING the response that is aligned with who you want to be as a person and as a parent. One of the most important gains of using this method is realizing you are becoming an inspiring role model for your children. Just remember, every moment in parenting is an opportunity for growth.
Have a Happy and Calm New Year!
Kids are amazing!
Last week I went to a parent meeting at my four-year-old’s school: Paddington Station. While Miss Olga, the director was talking about the year’s program, I was busy appreciating all the work these children have done, and the sophisticated and developed curriculum they had. Then something the director said really caught my attention. She began speaking about how infinitely smart and capable these young children are: “We don’t even know how smart they are. You can engage in deep conversation with a three or a four year old. You can expect from them much more then we think.” And then it hit me.
People, parents included, have all sorts of assumptions when interacting with another person or with their child. The reason and use of having these assumptions is to help up taking the right approach when communicating. But this positive goal, which is meant to help us, might hold our children, in this case, back.
As parents we have this assumption that our children are too young to understand complex concept, that we need to simplify, omit, alter information for them, and so on, so they can understand better, or not to overwhelm them. The beauty of the director approach is that she is holding no such assumptions. Her assumption is that young children are very intelligent, they are capable of reading books at the age of three, they are able to learn about inventions, composers, geography. They are extremely curious and can do almost every thing.
My daughter has been in this school for three months now in which she has been learning French, yoga (she knows all the poses), geography, phonics, math, music, drama, dance, art and much more. Having this assumption that she can learn anything made her so much more mature and knowledgeable. I can keep on raving about this school, about the program, the director and the staff that helped to facilitate my child’s amazing development. But mostly, I want to thank them for teaching me the following:
1) Believing in the infinite potential of a young child and for sharing that with me.
2) Reminding me the how powerful the impact of an assumption is on the way we communicate and influence other people’s potential.
3) Thank you for demonstrating how holding assumptions and expectations about infinite capability, hope and conviction can change the life course of our students, our children, our employees and so on…
Lets remember as parents that our children will behave according to our assumptions and expectations. If we treat them as curious capable human beings and will stretch their knowledge they will prove us right, if we treat them as babies, as human beings that need to have it all simplified and sheltered they will prove us right as well.
I am so grateful for the inspiration I got from this school’s team and leadership. I delight in my hope and trust that all of us, as adults, will treat our young ones with the proper respect and admiration they deserve.
Using the right type of glasses and asking the right kind of questions:
In our society we place high value on the traditional concept of family. When we go through a separation process, it is often perceived by us as a failure. This feeling can be magnified even more when children are involved in the process.
If your goal as a newly separated/divorced/single parent is to maintain a good relationship with your ex partner, with your kids, with your friends and above all with yourself, and if you would like to move forward with your life, I invite you to take off the “failure” dark glasses and to put on the feedback transparent glasses so you can get a clear view.
What do I mean by that? Wearing failure dark glasses tends to make us very emotional, our vision becomes deformed and blurry and the reality is tinted in dark colors. Now, would you be willing to try on the transparent feedback glasses instead? When wearing these kinds of glasses, you minimize the engagement of the emotional part of your brain and you become more creative and rational.
By utilizing the following powerful questions, I invite you to modify your habitual way of analyzing your life using your separation in this example -, in a way that will support you in your personal growth:
1) Instead of looking back at the past, please look forward to your compelling future. Rather than focusing on all the things you did wrong, focus on all the things you would like to do from now on.
2) Instead of wondering whose fault is it, ask yourself: “How can I help to improve the situation?” Instead of blaming yourself or your ex-partner for the situation, think of how YOU can improve it?
3) Instead of asking yourself why did it happen, come up with an idea of how did it happen? When examining the HOW you learn a lot without being so emotional.
4) Instead of letting your current situation limit you, a powerful question might be: How is this an opportunity? Focus on the positive aspects of your situation and act on them
Shifting your focus from previous ways of questioning, which tends to bring us to an emotional and an unresourceful state, to future questions, which grant us control of the situation, will transform your relationship both with yourself and with the people around you. You will cease to be vindictive, passive and sad and will become a proactive resourceful person. You will become a person who does not take situations personally, who does not use the term ‘failure’, a person who is not stuck helplessly in negative thinking patterns. You will develop the habit of looking at situations through the feedback lenses, a habit that will support you as you change your future.
So remember to put on your transparent FEEDBACK glasses so you can see the past and the future in a clear, rational and resourceful way and move on into an amazing future.
All they need is love?
Loving your child unconditionally is part of being a parent. We all know it and feel it and yet sometimes our children question it. How does that happen? Where do we fail at times in expressing this?
When looking closely to the way parents interact with their children it is clear that some of us think that showing our love through deeds and small sacrifices is enough for our children to feel the love. Unfortunately we assume that our children can infer from our deeds how much we love them. Even if our child is extremely bright it is not the logical/rational part of the brain that is active in this type of thing but the emotional part. This part is auditory based and it needs to hear the words over and over again. Hearing it so many times can support in balancing the internal dialogue that is normally mostly negative in the child.
Some of us think that repeating to our children how much we love and care about them is enough and we don’t take seriously our behavior which sometimes contrasts our verbal message and sends opposite or confused messages to our children. As a result of this conflict, the child’s belief in the parent’s unconditional love is questioned.
The key for a coherent and consistent message of love to your child is to verbally say and congruently show them that you love them unconditionally. Combining the auditory message with the experience builds a strong message.
The obvious question to be asked is “How we do that?” “How do we show them our love? Will buying the latest toy, Nintendo PS, pair of jeans, or car do?
I strongly believe that the best way to show your love is to show bounds of RESPECT to your child from the day he is born and to treat him as a separate human being rather then an extension or a duplicate of yourself. Even at a young age your child has his/her own needs, desires, worries and personality. If you want to show your unconditional love you want to respect all of that and be there for him/her as a loving and experienced parent who wants the best for your child.
Assuming respect is the doorway to love how do we foster respect with our children?
Be mindful that flawed COMMUNICATION is the source of human interactions and conflicts. That means that the meaning of any piece of communication is the response we get. So when, for example, your teen-age girl who wants to go out on an overnight trip with her friends shares her plans with you and you react “No way! End of discussion,” what you meant to communicate, probably, is that you are worried about her and that you want to protect her. Using flawed communication your daughter might understand that you don’t care about her wish, about her social life and about her. You came from a place of love but communicated the opposite. In this case, it doesn’t matter what you meant, rather, all that matters is that she got the exact opposite message.
So how can you communicate better with your child in a way that will manifest your respect and will lead to the same conclusion that you love her unconditionally time and time again? You can do it by using the following tools to create this mutual respect, respect that encompasses love, trust and openness. One of the assumptions you want to hold as a parent is that “Every person has already all the resources within him”, including your child.
1) Listen to your child without having an agenda: As parents when we deal with our children and their challenges, we tend to operate from our emotional part of the brain. This means that everything we hear we immediately identify with and treat through our own eyes as it is about us. Doing that, we are reacting from our own experience, value system and emotions and are not truly hearing what the other person wants us to convey. Reminding ourselves that our child has already the resources within him/her will allow us to listen to our child with no personal agenda, personal values or opinions. Holding this space for them is one of the greatest ways for us to show love and respect.
2) Feed back your child’s key words to him/her in order to make sure you understood him/her correctly. In doing this, you are deepening the rapport between you. It also gives the speaker, in this case your child, an opportunity to hear his/her words relayed back to them from someone else’s perspective and therein gives them a chance to reflect on what they have said. In the example of the teenage girl who wanted to go on the trip with her friends, it might sounds like this:
Daughter – “Mom, three of my best friends are going on a trip for two days and taking Sarah’s parents’ car, can I go too?”
Mom: “So from what I am hearing, you want to go on a trip for two days with your best friends in their parents’ car, is that right?”
3) When communicating you want to explain in the most accurate way what you mean. Make sure you are not making any assumptions such as “I am sure the other person will know what I mean.” That way your child will get the message of love and respect that you aimed to convey to her. In our example instead of saying: “No way! End of discussion” you might want to say: “I am a bit worried, four girls alone spending the night by them selves and riding with a new driver doesn’t sound safe. Have you guys thought of that? If yes, what did you come up with?”
4) Mind your tone. Changing your tone and using harsh tones is the direct way to target the emotional part of the brain. This part is not rational, and activating this portion of the brain will prevent your child from hearing you fully and completely as she will feel threatened or rejected and she will be busy questioning your love for her. The reaction will be a burst of emotion, the discussion most likely will escalate, and the communication will likely cut off for a period of time. On the other hand, taking an approach like the one suggested in clause three, and using a soft voice, will most likely lead this girl to hear her mom out and to address her concerns.
So, “all they need is love”? Really? Yes. But this love is not one-dimensional, it is more complex. The love your child needs has to be expressed in many ways; simply and clearly through words on a daily basis, through deeds, through physical affection and through RESPECT. As parents, we COMMUNICATE love to our children by using all the techniques discussed above. By loving them this way we support them in becoming a confident person; a person with positive self – esteem that has an unshakable belief that their parents love him/her unconditionally. In becoming that kind of person, nothing and no one can stop your child. That’s the kind of person I want my child to be. Don’t you?