Whenever it comes to parenting, I’m always trying to think of new and different ways to communicate key principles to my kids, that they will be able to understand. Some days, this is far easier said than done. Some concepts are hard for even me to get my head around.
Just lately, one of my concerns has been trying to work out how to develop a thicker skin in BJ. The boy is very sensitive, which is great on so many levels, but also so hard on others.
On the one hand, he has a beautiful, compassionate heart and thinks of others almost constantly.
On the other, he takes things very personally and can be quite easily offended; a problem which I’m trying to minimise as much as possible.
In recent parent teacher interviews, I was discussing with his teacher a way to build resilience without him ‘toughening up’ so to speak. My concern is that in future years he will either be prone to bullying, or possibly just carry all the nasty words spoken to him in his little heart, and allow them to define him. Neither of those outcomes interests me very much, so we were discussing strategies to prevent that from happening.
The big thing is words. We have all been destroyed at some point by a negative comment, and had to work hard to ignore the vitriol and just soldier on. For most of us, those words have come specifically and nastily aimed at us for a particular reason. For others, all words seem to have much more power and the potential to wound. My little mate fits into this second category. A simple ‘no’ can at times break him.
The challenge for me then, is to teach him to not let all the words hurt him. To let things go and ignore them. Talk about the pain, absolutely, but don’t let those words drag you down and tell you who you are. A hard enough lesson for me at 30. A seemingly impossible one at 5.
How on earth do you teach a little guy to protect himself, and deflect the negativity? What tools can I possibly give him?
I’m thanking the teacher for the answer for this one.
In the course of our interview, she remarked that the remarks and such will come, and they are like arrows. They can pierce the skin and harm you. We need to somehow teach him to deflect those arrows, and not let them draw blood. It was a good way of thinking about it, and I began mulling over how to illustrate that concept to him.
As always, the chance to talk about it came quickly, when one of his siblings spoke nastily to him, and he burst into the kitchen in tears over those misspoken words.
“BJ,” I said, struck with a sheer stroke of brilliance. “Come here and talk to me.”
He came over willingly, but he was still upset.
“You know when people say mean things to us, it’s like they are shooting arrows. Those arrows can hurt us if we let them, but if we stop them reaching us, they won’t hurt.”
He was, of course, totally confused, so I pulled out the big guns.
“Can you remember what special thing Captain America has in The Avengers?” The minute I say those words his countenance changes and he looks up excited.
“He’s got that big shield remember? What happens when he holds up his shield?”
He’s smiling at this point, excited that I’m talking super heroes with him. Waiting for the point of the conversation.
“I don’t know….”
“Yes you do! It protect’s him! So when the bad guys shoot stuff at him, he holds up his sword and it stops them hurting him!”
He is all grins by this point.
“That’s what I want you to do. When people are mean to you, I want you to pretend you are Captain America, and hold up your shield so those mean words can’t hurt you.”
At this point, a little light switched on his eyes. Whether it was because it was a glimpse into understanding he can protect himself, or because he could suddenly see his own super hero potential, I’m not sure, but that light was hope. A realisation perhaps that he doesn’t have to accept the negativity of others; he’s allowed to fight back if just in himself.
Now obviously this is a long road, and an issue he is going to fight for years, and it’s going to take more than one talk about super heroes to help him move forward. We are aware of that, and are equipping him as best we can by constantly encouraging him, and fighting the negativity with truth and positive thinking.
But for now, things are looking up. We have an end is sight, and this will not be a defining factor in my son’s life.
Cause my little mate is a Super Hero.
And no one is going to take him down.