My daughter called me on my lunch break yesterday. I answered quickly, only to be greeted by a heavy sigh on the other line.
“Mom, I’m having the worst day ever…I had to do a presentation this morning and everyone was staring at me…the boys started laughing…I got so nervous, I cried in front of the whole class.”
I felt a lump form in my throat.
Part of me was angry at the boys for laughing, and at the teacher for allowing it to happen. The other part of me was asking, what can I say to help my daughter feel better right now?
Parents can help children navigate difficult situations by responding effectively. Using my coaching experience here at Empowering Parents, I put together the four steps I applied when responding to my daughter:
- Pause and breathe. Even though I felt angry at those responsible for my daughter’s bad day, I knew it wasn’t worth it to get worked up. Save your energy for listening and finding ways to help your child.
- Ask yourself, “What does my child need from me right now?” My daughter didn’t need me to call the school or get mad at the boys in her class — she needed a supportive ear. As parents, sometimes we have to put our emotions on hold in order to see what our kids really need from us.
- Listen. Let your child tell the story. For me, this was tough — I wanted to respond and ask questions right away. Ultimately, however, your response will be more effective if you know the full picture before weighing in.
- Get the facts. Ask questions in a business-like way. For example, “Then what happened?” or, “How did you handle it?” Try to understand your child’s perspective.
Remember, your role as a parent is to balance reassurance with coaching — your child’s experience may feel large and life-threatening, but you can help by reinforcing that the feelings are temporary and common. This is called “right-sizing” the problem.
While it can be difficult, this is also an opportunity for your child to learn how to problem-solve appropriately. Encourage your child to talk through what they did that was effective, or how they might handle the situation differently next time. Together, you can plan what their next steps will be.
In my case, my daughter mostly needed a safe space to vent her frustrations. Depending on your situation, further steps may be necessary. Use your best judgement. If your child is being bullied or you have additional concerns that require parental involvement, contact your child’s school for more support.
Darlene Beaulieu is a parent to two teenage daughters, ages 13 and 16. She has been an Empowering Parents Coach since 2009 and has helped thousands of families in that time. She earned her Master’s Degree in Counseling and has worked in school and community settings helping children and families with academic, social, and behavioral issues.