My son, age 8, came home the other day upset because someone he thought was his best friend was having a party, and he just found out he wasn’t invited. He was super upset. Any suggestions for how to help him when this happens?
You aren’t alone in struggling with this challenge. When our child is upset because they weren’t invited to their best friend’s party, of course, we just want to take away their hurt and make it better. We often try to fix it with statements like.
Oh, sweetie, I’m sure there must have been a mistake; I’ll call Marco’s mom and let her know you didn’t get invited. You weren’t invited to one party, it’s fine, or you can have a get-together with a different group of people next weekend. I’ll take you to the movies instead.
We do that because we feel uncomfortable with our kid’s discomfort and distress. But the message we end up sending to our kids is you shouldn’t feel this way, and I’m not someone you can talk to about this.
This isn’t the message we usually want to send to our kids. Next time, try saying,
I’m so glad we’re talking about this. I’m so glad you came to me with this and are sharing this with me. This is so important.
These words are a message to your child that you are there for them, that you see how big this is, and that you aren’t jumping right away to a quick fix. I would also take it one step further and validate the intensity of the emotion with something like, wow, this stinks; this is such an awful feeling. I believe you. When we tell our kids this is important, I’m so glad we are talking about this, this really stinks, and I believe you, our kids feel our presence.
This is everything to a kid in distress. The feelings our kids have aren’t the problem; being alone in those feelings is a big problem. When we essentially say, I’m here with you in this, that takes away the part of their distress from the aloneness, and then their distress immediately becomes more tolerable.
Does it take away the moment of pain? No, we can’t take away the moment or the pain, and frankly, we wouldn’t want to because when we join our child and support them, not only do we help them at the moment, we actually build their resilience for life because this is not the last time you child will feel rejected or excluded. The memory of this experience will now be encoded in their brain with your presence and support connected to the memory.
In addition to the memory being encoded in their brain, the experiences are also stored in their body. Their brain may not be able to recall the memory, but their bodies will store the memories of the feelings and sensations associated with the experience.
When your child’s body stores the memories of support and presence and how your compassionate words feel, when he’s an adult, he will be wired to have compassionate words for himself in those moments when his ideas are rejected or his boss doesn’t give him the promotion he hoped for. That is what resilience and coping are all about.