FOUR Seas blog
by loretta crawford
Recently my son came home from school looking pretty glum. A boy he had been nurturing a new friendship with had turned on him, calling him a loser and leaving him adrift in the playground at lunchtime.
My son told me this as he sat in the car, staring out of the window.
“How did that make you feel?” I asked him.
“Worthless, Mum,” he said to me. “I felt like nothing.”
My motherly instincts instantly went on high alert. I felt an unruly mix of despair and blind fury - I wanted to cry and throttle the little twerp who had been so unkind to my boy at the same time. But I took a few deep breaths to transform myself from wild mamma bear to patient, mindful mum and said the following:
“What do you know about this boy?”
My son shrugged. “He has five big brothers I think. But no Mum.”
“Hmm,” I said. “Do you think his big brothers talk to him like that?”
“So maybe that’s normal for him. Calling people a loser and stuff. Maybe his brothers say that to him a lot.”
“Yeah,” my son said thoughtfully. Then: “That would suck. I kinda feel sorry for him.”
“Me too,” I agreed. “Especially seeing as you’re not a loser. You’re a great kid - you’re funny and you have really good ideas for games. You’re just still looking for your tribe.”
My son turned to me and gave me a hug, said thanks and then asked for a snack (that’s usually a pretty solid indicator that he’s fine and chat time is over).
I tell this story because it’s not the first time we’ve had a conversation like this. My son has struggled to find his tribe since starting school - that solid group of friends he can rely on to hang out with at lunchtime or have play dates with on the weekend. Instead, he’s floated around the edges of groups, flirted with a few friendships, and fallen in and out with people.
It used to really hurt him. He used to feel the absence of friendship keenly, and as a result would make a beeline for kids, sometimes throwing his arms around them, trying to pull them into his game and, ultimately, his friendship. His exuberance would sometimes be a bit much for other children, and they would bolt, leaving him more confused than ever.
So we talked about the importance of giving people personal space and the difference between a friendly pat on the back and a crushing bearhug. We discussed ideas for good topics of conversation with new people. We tried activities outside of school in the hope it would help him broaden his social skills away from the school environment he was used to. I facilitated play dates with other parents with kids his age. I talked to the school to see what support they could offer.
But the most important thing I have done by far is to talk to him about how to manage the pain of rejection. How he feels when kids don’t invite him to birthday parties and how that it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with him - those kids just aren’t his tribe. I tell him I didn’t meet most of my tribe until I was a bit older, and how I am proud to now have a loving, supportive group of friends. I tell him not to settle for anything less.
When he cops criticism or teasing for not being a good runner or falling behind in maths, or any of the other myriad reasons that kids pick on each other - I remind him of his good qualities. We go through and list them together.
Then we talk about why people are mean to one another; perhaps they are jealous of one of his other achievements; perhaps someone else was mean to them that day; perhaps they don’t hear a lot of kind words at home. I go through this process with my son because when we talk about the reasons that someone is unkind, it often removes the sting. If we can turn an insult or unkindness to compassion for the other person, it enables us not to take it so personally - and the resulting wounds to our sense of self is considerably lessened.
To the parents out there who want to fix this for their kids, whose hearts are breaking, torturing themselves with visions of their kids wandering the playground alone and sad - let me offer you something else I’ve learned: this will not break your kid. This, in fact, is a wonderful chance for you to help them develop their emotional resilience. It’s an opportunity to talk about the fact that not everyone is going to like them, and that’s okay. That as they go through life, they will come up against kids, teachers, bosses and colleagues that will not warm to them, despite their best efforts to be friendly and likeable.
This is your chance to tell your kid that good friends are worth waiting for. Remind them that there’s a big world out there, and that there are kids just like them, feeling the same feelings and looking for their tribe, too.
And while they are waiting, they can still like themselves because they are amazing and funny and talented and it’s only a matter of time before others see it too.
These opinions are entirely my own and not intended to replace the advice of your health professional, friends or your own gut instincts. That being said, I hope you find these stories helpful in some way and please feel free to share or connect on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/fourseasbooks/
If you’ve got a little volcano at home, negotiating the simplest things - like putting on shoes - can become a waking nightmare.
Before you and your child get overwhelmed by their emotions, try some of these emotional management strategies.
1. Play “feelings” charades
Try writing down some emotions on a piece of paper (surprise, frustration, confusion, anger, etc) and fold them up. Then take turns picking one and acting it out while the other guesses the emotion. This is a fun game, and will give you a good gauge on where your child is at with their own emotional intelligence, and also their ability to read other people’s emotions.
Also try labelling emotions in other situations, for example: “I can see you’re feeling frustrated right now, do you want to talk about it?” or “I can see you’re disappointed that Lucy didn’t share her toy, do you want to take a break?”
These are great ways to increase your child’s emotional vocabulary so they have words for what they are feeling. Once they have a name for what they're feeling, it should make it easier for them to talk to you about it.
2. Deep breathing
A deep, slow breath in and out can help children manage the tiny frustrations that pop up every day and threaten to blow them off course. Practice doing this with them, focusing on filling their bellies up with air and blowing it out their mouths. Try a technique called “milkshake breathing”, where the child pretends they are blowing their breath through a straw (or use a real one). A few deep breaths can help them calm their little bodies, and provide a distraction from whatever it is that has upset them.
3. Start a mindfulness practice
“Smiling Mind” is a free app which covers a range of short, guided meditations or mindfulness practices for children, from pretending they are a bee in a garden to wiggling about like a piece of seaweed on the floor. This is a fun and easy way to introduce them to a mindfulness practice, especially if they are very young. (If you’re unfamiliar with mindfulness, check out the work of Dr. Kristen Race at www.mindfullifetoday.com)
4. Try calm down yoga
The Childhood 101 blog has free printable posters of yoga posters for kids. The poses come with simple mantras like: “I am calm” and “I am brave.” Just the distraction of the practicing the pose, along with taking a few deep breaths, could be enough to calm your little hurricane before they reach the meltdown stage.
5. The pizza massage
A soothing massage is a great way to manage stress, but this is an extra fun way to do it.
Start by spreading on the pizza sauce (long strokes on the back) and then sprinkle the cheese (dot with the fingers), add the mushrooms (a gentle prod on the back) and so on. Kids love this, especially choosing their own toppings! Experiment with different pressure levels and then ask your child to do the same to you.
6. Role model
This might be the hardest for you, but it is probably the most important tip for you to try.
Choose a time when your child is calm and you can demonstrate how you manage your own frustration. Being stuck in traffic is a good opportunity. As you’re sitting there (running late, your blood pressure rising) remember the little pair of eyes on you. Take a deep breath and say calmly out loud, as if no-one was there: “I am feeling very frustrated by this traffic. I am going to take a deep breath to calm myself down.” Take some deep breaths and then follow up with: “Ah, that feels better.”
And keep doing it. At home, while you’re trying to do 30 things at once, surrounded by chaos, take a deep breath and say: “I’m feeling a bit stressed out. I am going to take a deep breath to calm myself down.”
Will you feel like an idiot? Most likely. But those little eyes will be watching you demonstrate how to keep a lid on it and practise positive self-talk which is another invaluable skill.
As a bonus it will calm you down too and that’s got to be good for everyone.
The first of our titles, The Horse and the Hurricane King, will be printed in June, thanks to our generous Pledge Me supporters.
Where to get it:
If you are in New Zealand, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are outside of New Zealand, please visit the Amazon page to order. Currently only the ebook version is available, but the print version will be available soon.