Sitting by the pool, a friend and I were watching our boys somersaulting off the diving board when she mentioned – “A friend of Ryan (not his real name) has been telling him: ‘You suck at basketball’ and this has hurt his feelings. I’m not really sure what to do about it.”
Innocuous enough. Yet hurtful for any tween accustomed, as they are these days, to having his self-esteem stroked consistently by parents and coaches in the Trophies for All, #FutureAllAmerican world we live in.
“Kids often just say things.” I say. “Sometimes they just want a reaction. Sometimes they need to make themselves feel better about their own lives so they put others down. Adults do it too. It comes from insecurity for the most part.”
“Should I say something to his mom?”
“My feeling is, in this case, no. These boys are friends and chances are comments like this will stop on their own.”
She agreed with me. Getting feelings hurt happens. Often. We, as parents, cannot jump in at every juncture to protect our kids every time this happens. Indeed we must not. Learning to handle hurt feelings when you are ten years old makes you a tougher teenager and a more confident competitor in this cut-throat game we call Life.
What we can do is give them workable advice on how to respond to petty little ego-bursting wisecracks.
“I would tell Ryan,” I went on, “if it happens again to ask himself honestly : Do I suck at basketball?”
I know for a fact that Ryan is a pretty good player.
“Then to answer himself truthfully along the lines of ‘No. I know I’m actually a good basketball player.’ The trick is knowing who and what you are. If you know this, it really doesn’t matter what other people say or think. You’ve got to be supremely confident inside you or what you are.”
Out of interest I asked my own son what he would think if someone said that to him. Incidentally, he and Ryan are pretty much the same ability level, basketball-wise.
“I wouldn’t mind that because he probably wouldn’t mean it.” He said.
Kids say stuff. All the time. Sometimes its rude. Sometimes its mean. Sometimes its intentional bullying.
Sure you can leap in. Confront the child. Confront the parent. Threaten legal action against the school unless they do something ……
The simplest and most long-term solution is ……… So ?
You suck at basketball ……. So?
You’re ugly ……. So?
A calmly uttered “So” is an easy and confident response. It shuts down the conversation or at the least puts the ball firmly in the other’s court while not specifically agreeing or disagreeing with the antagonist and stooping to his/her level.
Often there is really no comeback and the antagonist sulks off, a bit confused.
A particularly aggressive response from a particularly insecure bully might be along the lines of :
So go do something about it loser!
Which can be effectively countered with “Why do you care?”
Ultimately kids say stuff ….. Most of the time when the “stuff” is negative it is coming from a place of personal insecurity and has nothing to do with how the recipient of the unkindness looks or acts or plays a game.
Teaching a child to be self-aware – confident in his/her own strengths and understanding of his/her weaknesses – is the armor against the ‘Stuff Kids Say’. Failing that, let it be …… So?