‘It is easier to build strong children, than to repair broken men.’ – Frederick Douglas
In a previous blog, we gave a broad overview of the ‘peace in the home’ diagram and elaborated on the first of 6 questions that parents need to ask of themselves to achieve this seemingly elusive peace that they long for.
These 6 questions are:
- Could the problem lie with me (as parent)?
- Could it be them (the children)?
- Could it be us (our communication)?
- Is the time invested in our relationship sufficient?
- Is this particular issue negotiable?
- Do I need to step back (regaining objectivity)?
Now that we’ve dealt with the first question, we can move on to the next:
Section 2: Could it be them?
This section of the chapter in Andalene Salvesen’s book: A Brand-New Child in 5 Easy Steps deals with the hindsight of ‘’could’ve, would’ve, should’ve.’’ Once we have established that we as the parents are not the problem (by answering question number 1), we need to question whether the children could be having a problem, such as:
- Struggling to handle emotions;
- Eating problems;
- Sensory issues; or
- Feeling like Dad is never home.
Part of emotional intelligence entails being able to pinpoint and describe exactly how you feel. Instead of simply being ‘angry’, can our child for instance point out whether they are disappointed, worried, jealous, fearful or sensitive? Only once the feeling has been identified, can you learn to guide your child through it.
From here on the ability to empathize, as well as a sense of self-worth is established. It is important to help a child to realize that everyone is unique, and has different needs, abilities, desires, likes and dislikes. This helps them not only to accept others but also to develop empathy towards them (which is the first step towards coping with bullying on the playground).
How can parents help?
- Draw or download some emoticons, or look for different facial expressions in magazines to assist children with identifying their actual emotions.
- Discuss with them how they feel by letting them choose an appropriate emoticon/image to go with their current emotion and how they can react when they feel that way.
- Encourage your older child to keep a journal of their emotions.
- Make practical suggestions by asking questions such as what they can do to feel better when they are feeling down, e.g.:
- Enjoying a bubble bath
- Putting on earphones and listening to music
- Going for a bike ride or a run
- Hitting a punching bag or engaging in a pillow fight
- Calling a friend
- Having some quiet time
- Writing a poem
- Breathing exercises
Remember that this is your child’s problem and although you can guide him/her through possible suggestions, it remains his/her responsibility to ‘’fix’’ it by implementing the strategies you’ve discussed.
We have no control over the emotions that rise up in us; we only have control over our actions in response to the anger.
You can use the following analogies to explain this to a child by asking relevant questions, such as the following in reaction to a child’s negative reaction when he is called sensitive:
- Did you know a coin has two sides? There are different pictures on each side. Sensitive also has two sides. When you told me you cried when you saw a boy at school who was sad because he didn’t have any friends, that was a really good side of being sensitive. When Mommy asked you to wait and not to come in her room and you screamed and cried and said ‘I just wanted a hug’; that was the wrong side of ‘sensitive’. We call that manipulation. That is using your tears to get your way. Can you see the difference?
- It is also like a fire. When it is in a fireplace it is nice and warm and comforting. When it is raging in the forest or burning a house down, it is destructive.
Generally speaking, the bullies are often extroverts who draw supporters to back them up. The bullied are generally the quieter children who try to be inconspicuous.
Children need to understand empathy before they are able to truly understand the concept of being a bully, being bullied and being a bystander. The part of the brain that helps a child understand empathy is more likely accessed closer to around 6 years of age.
My child is being bullied
- The better response to bullying is mostly to equip a child to deal with bullying, versus removing him from the situation (if he is being bullied at current school, chances are they will be targeted at a next school as well).
- Equip your child by teaching him to develop an assertive attitude.
- Practise expressions such as, ‘Stop, I don’t like it when you do/say that.’
- Role-play can be helpful for younger children – take out stuffed animals/puppets and pretend to be him, while he gets to ‘be the bully’. Talk through the different scenarios using examples of what could be said. Help him to realize that the bully will target him as long as he has no reaction or is standing alone.
- Encourage your child to talk about and empathize with his emotions.
- If necessary, do not hesitate to see the teacher and/or principal to work out a plan of action.
My child is the bully
It is very embarrassing to find out that your child is the local bully. There are various reasons why children bully:
- A bad example at home.
- Too much sugar in the diet (this can affect behaviour).
- Lack of teaching in the home.
- No effective consequences in place.
- Lack of a strong authority figure.
- The only place where he feels he has a sense of belonging (amongst the group of bullies).
If your child is the bully, take full responsibility and take action
- Work together with the teachers and/or principal to eradicate this.
- Reassure your child of your love and commitment to help, but make it very clear that the behaviour will not be tolerated.
- Work out age-appropriate consequences with the teacher that can be reinforced at home.
- The earlier this is addressed the easier it is to eliminate that problem.
- Take a positive firm approach. Start by changing the food at home – removing ALL treats, explaining that they have a way of affecting behaviour.
- Take a trip to the local reformatory where children have very strict schooling almost behind bars, explaining that this will be where he will be heading if he does not cooperate.
- Avoid any angry outbursts, as this could have been one of the contributing factors to his bullying.
My child is the bystander
- This is the child who does not want to be involved and remains like a spectator on the sidelines, not knowing how to help the one being bullied.
- Children have to be taught the correct responses. They do not know instinctively how to handle these situations.
- Children who fall into this category are often the sensitive ones.
- They can be encouraged to feel sorry for the bully, realizing that he is probably having a bad day/week/life and needs a bit of empathy.
- Often a bully feels quite isolated and would welcome being introduced to and accepted by another group.
- The bystander can also unobtrusively slip away and alert a teacher. This is an appropriate time to tattle.
- He could also be encouraged to gather the other normally bullied children on the playground and form a group to support the one being bullied.
Guilt and shame
Guilt is a very important and healthy emotion. We can hold it up in contrast to who we want to be, thereby realizing a need to change our behaviour.
When we have done something wrong, our human nature actually longs to be found out, pay the price, be forgiven and move on. When an offense is overlooked, ignored, or kept secret, shame is the outcome.
- I have done something wrong.
- I deserve punishment.
- I can be forgiven/relieved of guilt/make restitution.
- I can learn from this.
- I can become a better person.
- I am bad.
- I don’t deserve to be forgiven.
- I feed judged.
- I hate myself and understand why others hate me.
- I deserve it because there is something wrong with me.
- I cannot talk about it, nobody will understand.
Shame can lead to all sorts of other problems such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), addictions, violence, bullying, suicide and perfectionism. It can be paralyzing (reference: Brene Brown).
It is important for a child to be able to distinguish between having done something wrong and being someone bad. When you are guilty of something, you are able to change it, but when you are bad, it is out of your hands. This brings about a feeling of hopelessness. This is another reason Andalene believes in focusing on the child’s behaviour (‘You are not listening’) instead of who he is (‘You are naughty’).
Food affects behaviour
‘You don’t have to like it, you only have to eat it!’
What we eat affects the way we behave. The two go hand in hand. You cannot discipline a child who is being fed incorrectly, and conversely you cannot enforce healthy eating if you have no discipline in place.
Feeding a child sugar and expecting them to sit still is like expecting an intoxicated person to walk a straight line. We need to train our children in healthy eating habits so that as adults they will not be picky eaters but rather enjoy the full spectrum of fruits, vegetables, proteins and other foods that are freely available today. If you do not teach this, who will?
We however never start with an eating problem with children and believe that parents need to be in charge in all areas, as they have more wisdom and the bigger picture. Therefore the authority needs to be established before sitting at the table.
This is why Andalene co-authored Raising Happy, Healthy Children with Sally-Ann Creed, a Clinical Nutritionist, which is highly recommended for more information on this complex subject.
It is also why she does practical, interactive and fun-filled Healthy Lunchbox demonstrations to equip parents with the tools needed to get them started on thinking differently about preparing healthy meals.
Lovingly known as Super Granny, Andalene Salvesen travels the world as a speaker and parenting coach. She was the owner and principal of a school in Cape Town for 8 years. Being mostly a stay-at-home mom, with a passion for children, she compiled a parenting seminar combining extensive knowledge and valuable experience. She has been presenting this course for more than 16 years in a variety of venues and locations. Out of this, arose the need for families to have personal one-on-one attention for their particular needs. For the past decade, she has helped families by coaching them through common parenting challenges such as healthy boundaries, tantrums, sleeping, eating, discipline, sibling rivalry and much more, in the privacy of their own homes.
Munchkins is a powerful resource to assist you with every step of the parenting journey. We believe in empowering parents with the right tools to transform family dynamics and offer a range of practical solutions for your family. This includes providing parenting talks, home visits, healthy lunchbox sessions and online parenting courses with simple and easy to apply advice for all ages.