The Best Advice My Kid Has Ever Gotten

Have you ever experienced a moment in hands-on parenting that was so profoundly successful you wanted the ceiling to crack open and one of those Hunger Games ships to fly overhead and sound the cannon so that the entire world knows how well you handled something? BOOM-FLASH, LET IT BE KNOWN THIS PARENT JUST EARNED A MAJOR GOLD STAR FOR THEIR AMAZING ACHIEVEMENT IN THE CATEGORY OF ‘CHILDHOOD SOCIAL CONFLICTS.’ I had this happen recently — only it wasn’t my amazing skill set that was put to the test, it was my husband’s.

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Here’s what happened: my 9-year-old son came home from school one day a few weeks ago, and he was just in the worst mood. He acted like a pill all night, to the point where I finally told him he was hurting my feelings and behaving totally out of the norm and what on Earth was UP?

After a lot of poking and prodding (we always enter into this game where he says, “Nothing’s wrong,” and I’m like, “Dude I know there’s something wrong,” and he’s like, “...I’m fine,” but he keeps looking at me and everything in his body language says he has something to unload and I just want to say CUT TO THE CHASE but I play my part and ask repeatedly and gently until he’s ready to talk), he admitted he’d had a really tough day at school because a schoolmate was bothering him.

It turns out the problem had been going on for a while, this schoolmate giving him trouble during recess, and we talked a lot about conflict resolution and what choices he’d already made and what options were still available to him. We had a healthy discussion about the differences between tattling and asking an adult for help, what words he could try using when this kid was bothering him, and when you might choose to walk away as opposed to standing your ground.

These are all tough subjects, right? This is the kind of parenting territory that makes me reflect on how I thought the baby and toddler phases were so hard, but I really had no idea how much more challenging the road would get. I really love parenting older kids and I greatly prefer it to the infant/very young kid stage, but I’m also starting to see the light: for the most part, little kids = little problems.

At some point, my husband came in our son’s bedroom while we were talking about all this, and I kind of thought he was going to weigh in with the typical male perspective: if someone’s giving you a bad time, defend yourself. Punch them in the face if you have to. Handle it macho-style, because bullies don’t back down until they realize you aren’t going to.

But he surprised me. He told our son that every difficult person he’d ever known throughout his entire life, starting way back when he was a kid, was fighting their own battle. People who go out of their way to pick on other people almost always do so because they’re hurting inside. They’ve got their own crosses to bear, and whatever their situation is, they want to bring misery to those around them to drag others down with them.

“You know how you felt bad today, and you made your mom feel bad, even though you didn’t really mean to?” my husband said. “It’s like that.”

Talk about an Oprah Aha! moment. You could almost physically SEE the lightbulb appear above my son’s head as he considered that example.

I later learned that the kid who had been bothering my son had divorced parents. He cried easily during sports practices. He is surely a hurting little boy in some ways, and that’s likely why he’s stirring up these playground kerfuffles.

And who knows what role my son played in these disagreements. I have his back, but I don’t automatically assume he was 100 percent perfect in the way he dealt with conflict. It seems like whatever was happening has improved, because I don’t see him coming home upset anymore or talking about this boy.

But here’s what I really want to say: how awesome is my husband for sharing that perspective? It was just absolutely perfect and framed in a way our kid could understand. One MILLION gold stars for that particular Dad talk, because holy crap it was a good one.

Have you or your partner ever had a major Aha! moment with your kid like this?

Image © iStock.com/tzidanic

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