My teachings to parents and children alike always begin with recognizing what we have power over and what we don’t. When life presents challenging times this concept becomes all important.
In order to help you guide your children through challenging times and come out on the other side having gained valuable life lessons I have developed 3 Key steps.
An example of implementing these occurred in my own family recently.
My sister, Kaitlyn, age 15 had her iPod stolen at school during a morning study hall where students are allowed to use their electronics once their work is completed. As Kaitlyn was working on her Algebra assignment she let one of her friends borrow her iPod. Shortly before class ended, while Kaitlyn had gone to the bathroom, her friend returned the iPod leaving it on top of Kaitlyn’s book-bag.
Needless to say that was the last anyone saw of it. Kaitlyn, devastated, raced to the on-campus Deputies office in tears to report it. They took down her information and sent her on to her next class saying they would handle it from there. Soon students began coming up to Kaitlyn saying they knew who took it, they saw who took it and gave her the name of the thief.
Because Kaitlyn is a positive trusting person she felt confident that it would all be okay and she would get her iPod back.
I knew nothing of this situation until I picked her up at the end of the school day. Kaitlyn was confused because she thought the Deputies were going to call me.
I called the school immediately when we got home. I was met with a dismissive attitude focusing on the fact that they believed Kaitlyn had been careless by allowing a friend to borrow it in the first place. Their final words to me were “We have done all we can, we cannot search students based on hear say as that would violate their civil rights.”
As you can imagine this added frustration to the upset and devastation Kaitlyn was already feeling…
She immediately began to get angry…at the student who took it, the Deputies for seemingly not to care and herself for sharing it in the first place.
It was the latter that concerned me the most. I wanted Kaitlyn to use this experience to grow and learn but not to change the core of the generous, loving and kind person that she is.
Step 1. Acknowledge the negative feelings without judgment
I encouraged her through conversation and journaling to write about her feelings…holding nothing back. Pent up feelings never create a positive situation. And so I listened as she spewed out her feelings of hurt and anger and sadness.
I comforted her as best I could as she recanted all the extra chores and jobs she did to earn the money to purchase her iPod. This was one of the very first things Kaitlyn worked to buy for herself. She had great pride invested in the fact that she did it herself.
Although our goal as parents is to guide our children toward maintaining a positive attitude through life, there are times when negative feelings must be acknowledged and expressed. There are times when they are warranted and completely appropriate. However, those feelings must be released.
Step 2. Seek to understand what you can and accept what you don’t
I allowed her all the time she needed to ‘feel’ what she was feeling…and watched for that moment when I felt she was ready to move to the next step which was to acknowledge that our control is limited to what we do and how we respond to the choices of others.
By bedtime that evening Kaitlyn was out of energy…she was exhausted and hadn’t felt like eating a thing. It was then I could see she was ready to take a different path.
I began asking her why she thought people steal from others. Once she got passed the judging feelings …’selfish’, ‘mean’ and ‘cruel’ she began to think about the real ‘why’. Our conversation evolved into talking about the sadness of someone not having a family who raised their children to respect others, hold value in being honest or understanding the importance of being considerate.
By the time Kaitlyn was ready to go to sleep she said, “I guess only a very sad, angry and unhappy person would steal from someone else.”
I could see kaitlyn was learning a valuable lesson about the blessing of having a positive loving support system in her life.
Step 3. Find closure in the lessons
When I picked Kaitlyn up after school the next day I noticed she was exceptionally quiet. I asked her if she was okay and she replied, “No not really but I am working on it.” I asked if there was something she wanted to talk about and she said, “I am just trying to figure out how to be in the same class with the person who stole my iPod and not feel angry.”
I reminded her that anger is a negative emotion and that by looking at the opposite feeling of anger might help her get the answer she was looking for. And then I asked her, “I wonder what was done to the girl who stole your iPod to make her so angry and unhappy that she felt okay about stealing? I don’t know what it could have been and we will probably never know for sure and there is really nothing we can do about what motivates her to make the choices that she makes…”
From that Kaitlyn realized that her power was in her choice of how she chose to see this horrible experience. She could let it change her in a negative way or a positive way.
Later that evening she announced that she was working on two things…the first to forgive the girl who stole it and the second to figure out what she could do to earn enough money to buy a new one.
But it was when she said, “I don’t like feeling angry” that I knew she was focused on what she could control and that was how she chose to view this experience.
Teaching our children to work through their feelings, validating them and guiding them to a positive outcome does not always mean the wrong can be righted. Many challenges in life will seem unfair if you focus only on the negative…
I am very pleased at the life lessons Kaitlyn learned through this experience. (To be honest there were times when even I needed to remind myself of many of the things I was hoping she would come to realize…which just shows that we are always a work in progress!)
After a few days Kaitlyn posted the following on her facebook page…
‘To the person who has my iPod: I am sorry that you don’t understand how hurtful it is to take something from someone that has never hurt you. I am sorry that you don’t have anyone in your life who loves you enough to teach you that stealing is wrong. I am sorry that you are so angry and sad that you do things to make other people angry and sad. I am not angry anymore, just sad for you. I will get another iPod one day, I know I did it once and I can do it again. I hope one day you stop being angry and can be happy too.’