There is probably nothing more difficult for a mother than seeing her child hurting, particularly when he is hurting because of something he cannot help. And especially when the hurt has been caused by someone else.
Kids can be pretty tough on each other sometimes, and struggling learners are often an easy target. As moms, we see and understand our children’s learning struggles better than anyone. We see how diligently they work, how hard they try, and any time their efforts or their progress is belittled or berated it is both devastating and infuriating.
Though every circumstance and every child is unique, there are some basic principles to keep in mind when you find that another child is demeaning your struggling learner:
Seeing our child hurt brings out the “mama bear” in each of us, but it’s important to realize that going ballistic on another kid for saying something mean is rarely appropriate or effective. Doing so on the child’s parents is usually even worse, though that’s a subject I’ll deal with more in a moment. Unkind words can be very hurtful and in no way would I ever wish to minimize their effect, but learning not to be controlled by our emotions in dealing with them is very important to real conflict resolution.
So before you act, give yourself some time to calm down. Certainly there may be situations in which the issue must be addressed immediately, but reacting in anger is rarely, if ever a good idea. Give the situation some thought and prayer before acting, so you can be sure you’re handling things in a reasonable and sensible manner.
Extend grace if at all possible
We have to remember that kids, even those we consider the mean ones, are just kids. It’s the nature of children to say and do foolish, uninformed things. Sometimes, mamas, we are too sensitive and too quick to jump in and try to solve problems children could very possibly work out among themselves if only we would allow them the time and space to do so.
Now I don’t mean to condone bad behavior on the part of any child, but I also realize my own kids are not sinless in this area. Extending grace is always a good idea. There’s a constant power struggle that goes on between kids, (between adults, too!) and sometimes children belittle one another because they think it helps hide their own shortcomings. That doesn’t make it right, of course, but it might do us all good to remember that some of the most unkind children, (and adults,) are also some of the most emotionally insecure.
Don’t immediately run to the offender’s parents
You usually do nothing but look foolish when you take it upon yourself to “straighten out” another mom or dad for the actions of their children. First of all, in many cases parents are just as mortified by the words of their children as you are, yet approaching them in an attacking, accusing manner will put even the most reasonable of parents on the defensive.
When bullying of this kind has become a recurrent problem, however, or the things being said are particularly cruel, going to the offender’s parents may be necessary. The attitude of your approach is likely to make all the difference, so always address the issue calmly and with respect, carefully considering how you would wish to be addressed if the tables were turned and it was your child saying the unkind things.
Don’t share the offense with other moms and dads, either!
Some parents would never dream of taking their complaints about a child to his mom or dad, but they have no qualms whatsoever about taking them to every other mom and dad they know, as if in an effort to form some sort of alliance against the offender and his family.
Sorry, but that’s wrong, wrong, WRONG!
I wish I could say I’ve never seen it happen, but it is possible to completely isolate a child and his/her parents by spreading around stories of a kid’s offenses. Doing so is entirely unfair, especially if the parents have never been told of the situation or were only told in a manner of disrespect and anger. There are ways to handle hurtful comments from other children, but spreading slander, (and, yes, that’s what it often is–slander,) is not the right way to do it.
I realize there could be a situation in which parents are respectfully informed of unkind remarks and yet the demeaning continues. In that case a teacher, group leader, or other adult directly involved with both children might need to be made aware of the problem for the sake of the struggling learner, so they can be on the lookout for potential abuse. But certainly sharing your complaints with every mom in the homeschool co-op or in your child’s Sunday school class is not acceptable and it’s not necessary.
Kids need to know that, no matter what anyone says to them, they are not “dumb” just because they struggle to read or they can’t memorize math facts or they are below grade-level in their learning. They need to know that “smart kids” aren’t somehow better just because learning comes easy to them. They need to understand that every human being has strengths and weaknesses, and every child has to grow and learn at their own pace in their own way.
Helping children to recognize their worth in the eyes of God is essential, I believe, to self-acceptance and self-confidence. Kids can handle a lot if they really realize their worth, regardless what others say.
If we moms realize it, too, it’s amazing how much better WE can handle another child demeaning our struggling learner.