You Won’t Always Like What You Hear

Has your child ever said anything that shocked you?

Immigration has been in the news a lot lately and I am very clear on this topic with my kids — we are a country built on immigrants. We wouldn’t be here if our ancestors hadn’t migrated here, a majority of us wouldn’t. Immigrants are what make our country great, and we need to be welcoming and embrace the diversity we have in this country.

So imagine my surprise, when during a meal, while the kids were telling jokes, my son said, “Why did Trump build the Wall?” “I don’t know, ” I said bracing for something silly like, “because he couldn’t find a chicken,” or “because he wanted a new house,” he said, “to keep out the Mexicans!” He started to laugh. My face went from eager anticipation to fury. “That’s not funny,” I said sternly. “That is why the wall is being built and it’s not right and it’s not funny.” I continued, “When you refer to a group of people by their country, it makes it sound like you are saying something negative about them, and there isn’t anything negative about people from Mexico. They are just like you and me.” I was angry and I clearly was getting my point across. My son’s face crumpled and he began to cry, “I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t know what I was saying was wrong. I didn’t mean anything by it.” He repeated himself several times. In situations like this, I would normally want to console my son and tell him “it’s okay” but I felt this situation required a different approach. It wasn’t okay, and I would never be okay with anyone in my family repeating what my son said. I was reminded of a time when I was his age and watched a TV show that I’m sure my parents weren’t aware I watched. I used to draw cartoons as a kid, and I drew a cartoon using a word that I didn’t know the definition of — rape. When I showed the cartoon to my parents, I was anticipating them to laugh (like they normally did when they read one of my cartoons), instead I can remember how upset they were. “This isn’t funny. Where did you hear this word?” I hated that I had used a word that was so hurtful to so many, and stupid because I didn’t know what it was or meant, and the worst part was that I’d clearly disappointed my parents. I sensed my son felt the same way. I shared with him that I had had a similar experience when I was his age with my parents (though I didn’t share the specifics). I let him know that I understood how he felt, understood that he was sorry and that it wouldn’t happen again. I told him that what he had said was serious, and there was no sugar coating it — it was wrong and I wouldn’t be doing my job if we didn’t have a serious discussion with him about it. After a few minutes, he calmed down and we finished our meal. After some time passed, my husband and I broached the topic of immigration again — asking the kids what they understood about it, and asked them what questions they had. I’m hopeful that we’ve shed more light on the topic and our sons are more informed.

Part of growing up is making mistakes and having people who care — whether it’s your parents, a teacher, mentor, caregiver or coach — guide you along the way. You’re not always going to like what you hear, but if the advice or teaching helps you be kinder, wiser, more appreciative or just better, its worth listening to.

How do you respond when your child says something counter to how you are raising them? How do you guide them back to the person you want them to be?

The Comeback

Has your child ever made a remark that has stopped you in your tracks?

When my oldest son entered middle school he struggled with people who made unkind comments. We talked about strategies for how to handle and one way we discussed was to have a comeback. Not an equally unkind comment (e.g. an eye for an eye), but a smart comeback, a clever comeback. One that shows you caught the person’s unkind comment and you’re handing it back to them (with the intent of getting them to become more self-aware and be more careful with their negative comments and how they use their words in the future).

Examples:

Unkind comment: “You’ve got a big nose.
Smarter comeback: “The better to smell jerks like YOU with.”

Unkind comment: “You’re weird.”
Smarter comeback: “Everyone’s weird, including you for saying that.”

I didn’t realize how far my son had advanced in his comeback skills until we were looking at some apps he’d downloaded. I was asking him to show me what each app did (as a parent, I wanted to ensure that there was nothing inappropriate). He showed me an app where you race cars, but the app’s title implied it was about wrecking cars. “Are you supposed to wreck the cars?” I asked. “Sometimes,” my son said and proceeded to show me how you could do it.  I commented, “Oh, you lost a wheel!” I laughed because the car appeared to be racing just fine even though a wheel had fallen off. “Well, you lost your youth” my son replied. It was matter-of-fact and direct. I don’t think he liked that I had laughed at the wheel falling off and was treating my comment as ‘unkind’ vs. an honest, non-emotional observation. “My youth?” I said. He smiled, “well, yea!” He looked sheepish as if he realized he may have had a disproportionate reaction to the situation. I couldn’t help but laugh, “Well, I know someone who better watch it or they may lose their youth if they don’t watch what they say to their Mom.” We both laughed at that.

When I grew up, I would and could have never had this conversation with my mother. It would have been seen as being very disrespectful. I’m not sure I was excited being told by my son that I’d lost my youth, but I was impressed by his comeback. It was clever, a bit out of left field for the situation, but I had to give him credit.

Self-advocacy can be hard to navigate as you age. Asking for what you want is key, defending yourself in a way that gets your point across without escalating the situation is another. My son is gaining ground in defending himself. I have to applaud him for that.

How do you help your child self-advocate? How do you help them respond when people direct unkind comments at them?