What I’ve learned, I think, about helping kids (and others) in pain, in seven steps

bullyA friend’s teenager recently became the victim of ridicule and taunting. Not a little sarcasm or practical jokes. Brutal, denigrating comments that spread like a virus through his school. A scenario that all parents dread. No one wants his child to be the brunt, or hurt, or the prey.

For more years than I care to remember, I always thought a situation like this called for sympathy and protection for the target. I provided lots of both plus advice out the ying-yang.

I’ve gradually changed my mind. Remembering how my kids learned to walk, they fell plenty of times. Certainly I tried to prevent them tumbling out a window or down a flight of stairs, but I knew bruises and cuts were inevitable, and that’s the way they gained experience. Ditto bike riding, skating, skiing.

Our job as adults is not to insure children are never hurt; it’s to help them learn how to handle the pain. Not to rush in and defend them or solve the problem. Experience and thought are great teachers, even through heartache.

We do have techniques we can use that might smooth the path a bit:

* Some kind of positive action almost always helps the sufferer deal better with the situation. My guess is he gains a sense of control over his life. Again, we can help him identify methods. This turns the pain outward rather than inward, where it might fester and cause problems such as suicide attempts. Ideas: write a story expressing emotion, help another kid in trouble, draw a picture of the incident.

* Almost never does a casualty want advice. He wants acknowledgement of his pain, feedback on his perceptions, and assurance someone cares. This goes for adults as well as kids. How often have you told a friend what to do to get rid of the jerk she’s with? Has she ever listened and acted?

* Asking questions is almost always better than making statements. “What did you think?” “How did you feel?” “What else might you have done?” “What could you do if this happens again?” Then you’re using the incident as a teaching opportunity. Educators call this “the teachable moment.”

* Bullying, torment, discrimination, and abuse are universal. We can’t eliminate them. Acknowledge they can be learning experiences with positive results, as we gain strength and knowledge about human relationships. Such diverse resources as Harvard, the Marines, and business consultant Jim Collins mention crucible events in their work, the fires in life through which we pass and either melt or grow stronger and better. When we realize bad experiences can, indeed, help us, we may be able to pass this along to our kids.

* Humans learn so much more from failure and negatives than we do successes and positives. Appreciating this reality helps us deal with our kids’ pain. And stories about our own similar incidents (“There was the time someone called me four-eyes.” “There was the time I was the only one not invited to the party.”) can give subtle support to our kids.

* Because bullying, torment, discrimination, and abuse are universal, we need to help kids gain the tools to deal with them independently. We’re not always going to be around. Talking with them, researching resources, directing them to books, movies, and websites dealing with the topic are avenues for their adjustment.

* We all know kids learn from our examples and responses. We model our belief that positive change is possible, how to deal with rejection and failure, and the methods we use to move beyond and better.

Years ago, Rick Nelson gave the world his advice, once and always true. “But it’s all right now, I’ve learned my lesson well. You see, you can’t please everyone, so you’ve got to please yourself.”

Hey, I take my philosophy where I find it.

Who’s the Old Bitch Now?

old woman Me. Never thought it would happen. When I was young, I’d see old women in non-action at committee meetings and on the job, even in my family. I always had two questions about them.
1) Why did they apply rouge or blusher in bright blotches on their cheeks? And,
2) Why were they often so grouchy?

With age comes wisdom. Sometimes. Or in this case, at least answers. I’m here to tell you that old ladies apply uber-color on their cheeks because their eyesight isn’t good. They can’t discern how heavily they’ve applied it.

As for the grouchiness, this, too, appears to be a function of aging. I’ve lived and learned. The older I get, the more impatient I am with people who have yet to understand the things I have. For example, a group planning an event refuses to prepare a detailed list of responsibilities and assignments. When essentials are overlooked and supplies go missing, my inclination is a motherly “I told you so.” A young friend delivers a lecture to me about packing and scolds that miniature lotion and shampoo are unnecessary. I crow after my return and report the number of hotels failing to provide these essentials.

This extends into public issues and creative efforts. Politicians of all stripes forget what has preceded them, ignore the many solutions that have been implemented in the past, insist on re-visiting the same old debates. Writers believe they’ve uncovered secrets of the universe when a little research would show just how over-used an idea is. Artists brag about their individuality when a visual style is actually a return to days gone by.

Of course criticisms about inexperience and immaturity could flit through my mind and not out my mouth. But maturity also makes me aware that time is fleeting. I don’t want to waste energy and effort being diplomatic. If I blurt out my opinion, get to the heart of the matter without fussing around, I’ll save precious minutes. Unfortunately, I might offend some people in the process.

So before you wonder, “Why is she such an old bitch?”, pause to consider the words of George Santayana (and others who’ve said nearly the same thing), “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. Maybe you can actually learn something from someone older than you.

On the other hand, you could remind me, courtesy of Kurt Vonnegut, “We’re doomed to repeat the past no matter what. That’s what it is to be alive.”