You know the one. He’s the kid who curses at the teacher, throws things when he’s mad, and screams at his classmates when he doesn’t get his way. She’s the student who struggles to regulate her emotions, steals the ball from her classmates on the playground, and has no one show up to her birthday party. He’s the one that teachers struggle with, parents talk about, and kids call “the bad one.”
But there’s something missing in the conversation about that kid: She is just a kid. She is a kid who is learning how to navigate this crazy world. She is an athlete, an artist, and a dancer. That kid is a boy whose mom and dad love him with every fiber of their being and are desperate for him to find his way. He is a kid who wants to be accepted and liked more than anything else in this world. He’s pretty incredible, actually, when you take the time to get to know him.
The thing is, that kid really isn’t much different from yours or mine. If there is one thing I have learned from being a mom it’s this: Where one child is weak, another is strong. Where one child is advanced, another child struggles. We tend to think of this in regards to academics and athleticism, but it very much applies to behaviors and emotional regulation as well.
Our kids look up to us. When things get tough, they immediately turn to their parents seeking guidance, wisdom, and direction on how to react. When it comes to dealing with that kid, we must remember that little eyes are watching us and relying on us to show them the way. Just like we teach our kids how to open the door for someone in a wheelchair and how to befriend the lonely new kid at school, we have to teach our kids how to deal with people who may be challenging to be around.
So, let’s have some real talk. Your son is in class with that kid. You have heard the stories, and maybe even witnessed one of her meltdowns. Every fiber of your being wants to request a class change and encourage your son to stay away from her on the playground to simply make life easier. But is this really the best way to move forward?
We have a duty to protect our children, but we are also responsible for doing what we can to help them grow into awesome humans, and this situation is an amazing opportunity to teach your own child some valuable life lessons.
There Are No Bad Kids, Just Bad Choices
Prior to having kids, I spent a little more than six years in the public school system working as a behavioral interventionist. My entire classroom was filled with that kid in every age, size, and race. While all of their stories were very different, one thing remained the same: They had all been labeled or called “bad kids.”
From an early age, we begin to create our identity. Much of this identity comes from what the outside world says about us. However, the interesting thing about these identities is that it is often just a matter of perspective. The child who is a climber could be told he is mischievous or that he is a natural athlete. The child who loves to read could be told she is book nerd or that she has a thirst for knowledge. Those words we use to describe kids get embedded into their subconscious and quickly become a part of who they are.
If you ever hear your child referring to that kid as the “bad kid,” stop the discussion and begin to ask questions.
Did that situation mean that he or she is a bad kid, or just that he or she made a bad choice?
Have you ever done something bad? Did that mean you were a bad kid? (No!)
Remind your kids that bad choices do not equal bad kids, and then begin to steer the conversation towards the things that child does well. Every child has something to praise. Challenge your child to “catch them being good” and give them a compliment when they do!
Dig a Little Deeper
All behaviors have a driving force. Sometimes it is attention, sometimes it is the need to control a situation, and sometimes it is a result of trauma or emotional distress, and sometimes it stems something physiological. It isn’t your job to figure out why that kid acts the way he does, but sometimes having even the smallest bit of background information can go such a long way.
Most of the time teachers are limited by privacy laws in terms of sharing any details about students. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t ask for guidance or help in navigating the situation. Talk to your child’s teacher. Ask them for guidance, and demonstrate a desire to help. Volunteer to come read with that kid once a week, or try to find a common interest between that kid and your own. The goal is not to force a relationship or friendship but to help our kids realize that we can find redeeming qualities in just about everyone.
Empower Your Child
The reality is this: No matter how kind and accepting your child is, it is very likely they will be on the receiving end of hurtful words or actions on more than one occasion. While it is so tempting to shield them from that, it is so important that we instead lean into those feelings and then empower them with the skills to stand up for themselves.
What was hurtful? Was it their words or something they did? How did it make you feel?
After you help them identify what was hurtful, give them the tools to stand up for themselves.
Wow, that must have really hurt your heart. Would you like to have some safe words for next time that won’t hurt their heart but will let them know how they hurt yours? Next time, maybe you can say “That is not something a friend says, and it really made me feel sad. I am going to go play somewhere else now.”
Not only does this help them feel more confident in knowing how to respond, but also helps to model appropriate ways to handle situations we may not like.
Moms, Dads, let’s link arms together and commit to doing our part in showing our kids how to love more, judge less, and be the change we wish to see. That kid needs you more than you will ever know.