Kind Kids are Cool Kids. Making sure your child isn’t the bully.

Kind Kids are Cool Kids Making Sure Your Child Isn't the Bully

Along the way to being the best grown up version of themselves they can be, all kids will make plenty of mistakes. It we adults are healthy and flourishing, we’ll make plenty too. It’s how we learn and grow. Mistakes just set us all up for the wisdom, insight and strength that it takes to lead a beautiful, full life, free from regret and stagnation. 

Finding out that your child is a bully can trigger all sorts of feelings – shame, self-doubt, confusion, fear. The temptation can be to hurl your parenting badge into the fire – ‘It’s not them, it’s me. I’m a crap parent and where did I go wrong and why is this happening and what did I miss?’

Maybe you missed something and maybe you didn’t. One thing is for sure though, we all miss things with our kids now and then – even the parents who look like they have it all figured out (they don’t by the way – none of us do). It one of our rights as parents to stuff things up now and then, to miss things, to get it wrong. It’s in our job description, so really, it’s a necessity that you fall short of perfect. 

Now that we’ve cleared that up, you need to know that kids who bully aren’t bad kids and they don’t necessarily have bad parents, though it will always feel that way if your child is the one on the receiving end of their cruelty. Somewhere along the way, the children who bully have learnt bad behaviour, sometimes from the bad things that happen to them or around them, but it can be unlearnt.

If yours is the child who is making life miserable for another, the most important thing is to catch it and respond to it. Feeling guilty, sad or defensive won’t help because there’s important work to do. All kids deserve to know when they’re doing something that will set them up to be miserable one day – and bullying will do for sure. The people they deserve to hear it from are the people who love them. The rest of the world tends to deliver these types of messages in a way that is pretty awful to hear.

The difference between the bullying kids who get through and grow into amazing humans and the ones who don’t lies in how their parents respond. It makes all the difference, and that’s not overstating it. Parents who ignore the behaviour are effectively steering their kids into an anti-social ditch. They are setting them up for loneliness, unhappiness and the excruciating pain of wondering why people don’t like them – because people won’t.

Here’s the kicker though, eventually, those parents who don’t make kindness a priority for their children will one day wonder why their children are awful to them. On the other hand, those who notice anti social behaviour (and let’s face it, all kids will go there at some point) and respond to it in a way the children can grow from, will be well on the way to building awesome little humans that the world will be grateful for.

Despite parents saying that kindness is one of the most important qualities they want their children to have, Harvard psychologist, Richard Weissbourd, has found that kids tend to be more focussed on how well they’re doing, rather than how they treat the people. 80% of the kids he surveyed reported that achievement or happiness was the most important thing to their parents – and the most important thing to them. Only 20% said that caring for others was their top priority.

That’s not to say that caring doesn’t matter for our kids – it does – it’s just overshadowed by the push towards good grades and personal happiness. All of these things are important, but there’s a gap between what parents report as being a top priority for their children and what the children perceive those priorities to be.

Bearing in mind that all parents do the best with what they have, there are a few risk factors that can lean kids towards bullying behaviour. If any of these look familiar, don’t feel put down, feel empowered, because nothing is permanent and everything can be turned around once you know what that ‘thing’ is. The risk factors are:

  • lack of warmth and involvement from the parents towards the child. Kids need attention, love and guidance. They’ll always struggle without it. Parents who don’t openly show that they care will have kids who don’t care. 
  • parenting that is overly permissive. Kids need to know where the edges are, and they’ll keep pushing against boundaries until they find them. The further away the boundaries, the harder they’ll push to find them.
  •  a parenting style that’s authoritarian and uses physical or emotional punishment (shaming, withdrawal of love). Parents who try to control kids by being physical, shaming or by withdrawing love (‘I can’t believe you did that. Just go away from me.’) will have kids who try to control other kids using the same measures.
  • older siblings who bully the child. Well if it works for the older ones …
  • friends who are bullies. We all want to feel a part of something bigger and kids are no different. For them, belonging to a group can be the most important thing – even more important than the approval of parents and teachers. Kids will model what they see and they’ll do what they need to do to be accepted by the people who are important to them.

The good news is that kids really do want to do the right thing. They really do. They’ll get confused about what the right thing is or the most effective way to meet their needs, and if there’s no guidance, this confusion can send them of track. Bullying behaviour can always be unlearned. With the strong presence and gentle guidance of a loving, attentive parent, kids who bully can always be steered towards being the kind, empathic and socially savvy humans they’re all capable of being. Here’s how to do that:

  1. Make kindness a priority.

    It’s not enough to tell kids that kindness is important – they need to hear that it’s the most important. Make sure that everyone in the family is held to high standards in relation to the way they treat each other. They can be angry, grumpy, stressed or tired, but speaking to anyone disrespectfully is a no-go. They’ll slip up and so will you – none of us are beacons of kindness all the time, but when you snap or hiss, apologise as soon as you can so they can see how it’s done and that it’s really okay to admit that you get it wrong sometimes.

  2. Encourage them to think of what other people need.

    You don’t want to raise a narcissist – the world has plenty – so help them learn how to turn the focus away from themselves and their own needs, to others and what they might need. Sometimes these will conflict. Knowing how to look after your own needs while respecting the needs of others is a such an important skill. Teach them this and you’ll be nurturing them along to happy, healthy relationships and a strong sense of self.

  3. Encourage gratitude.

    Research has shown that people who practice being grateful are more likely to be helpful, generous, compassionate and forgiving. Ask your kids to name three things they’re grateful for. Then let them know three things you appreciate – make sure at least one of them is about them and something they’ve done that is kind or generous. The little things are just as important as the big things. Turn it into a bedtime ritual or a dinner time ritual. Kids love hearing the things about themselves that you’re proud of, so you’ll have them well on board for this one.

  4. Provide opportunities to care about people (or pets!) they’re close to.

    Ask them to help with dinner, feed the family pet, read a story to a younger sibling, help with lunches. Then, make sure they are also looked after and shown nurturing by others in the family so they can feel the kindness coming back to them.

  5. Then widen the circle.

    It’s easy for kids to care about the people who are firmly established as members of their tribe – parents, siblings, friends – but it’s important for them to care about people outside that circle too. They need to notice the people they are close to, and then zoom out and notice those people who are more distant. It helps them to be aware of their shared humanity and it’s important. Talk to them about what’s happening in different cities, countries and cultures and about different social issues. Let them see you show concern when kids on the other team get hurt, or ask them how the new child in class is going and what they can do to help them feel included, even if it’s just making an effort to say hello. Make sure they’re friendly and grateful to everyone who helps them, whether it’s the waiter, the bus driver, the tuckshop helper or the young guy who packs your groceries.

  6. What need is it meeting?

    Everything we do is to meet a need, even if it’s a spectacularly ineffective way to meet that need. Try to understand what need your child is meeting – there will be one and it will be a valid, important one. The behaviour can’t be redirected in any meaningful way until there’s some understanding of the need it’s meeting. Needs don’t just disappear when you ignore them – they actually tend to push harder. To get to the need, ask ‘what’, rather than ‘why’. What does your child get from doing what they’re doing? What happens in them? To them? For them? What good feelings come and what bad feelings disappear when they do what they do? Is it retaliation – does your child’s behaviour even up the feeling of power? Is he or she feeling insecure or disempowered at home and is trying to make up for this at school? Are there some big changes at home – a new baby, moving school – that might be causing your child to feel as though things are a bit out of control and pushing a need to control people at school? Ask – what’s one thing you would change if you could to make your life different? But make sure you say it’s a serious question, otherwise don’t be surprised if you get, ‘well, like being allowed to sleep on the roof would be fun’.

    [irp posts=”160″ name=”How to Help Your Children Build Healthier Friendships (and Deal with the Tetchy Ones)”]

  7. Kindness is a muscle.

    Kindness is like a muscle. Use it or lose it. Kindness with strength is one of the greatest things we can nurture in our kids. That means being kind to others, expecting kindness from others, and being kind to themselves. If they can get that sorted, they’re pretty much well on their way to ruling the world, their part of it anyway.

  8. Conversation is key. And kind of magic. 

    Conversation changes things. It changes people, lives, paths. Everything. And it’s not all about the big conversations – the incidental ones you have along the way can be just as important – in the car, while you’re cooking dinner, while they’re playing outside as you peg the washing. Talk about the things you see or hear in the news that show people being kind or uncaring. Anything to get them thinking about how other people do kindness. Or how they don’t do it.

  9. Be open. They can handle it.

    Chat to them about any ethical dilemmas you might be having and how you’re dealing with them. Make sure the dilemmas are age appropriate of course, but invite them to think things through with you. Any insight you have into the way their minds are working is a great thing. Same with any insight you can give them into yours. Talk to them about people saying or doing mean things about other people at work or maybe about people taking credit for something someone else has done. What do they think? what do you think? What should you do? 

  10. Talk about you.

    Talk to them about any experiences you’ve had of people being unkind. Talk to them openly about what it was like for you. Also let talk to them about times you’ve been unkind and what you’ve done about it when you’ve realised what you’ve done. Nobody is perfect, and there’s so much wisdom and freedom that comes with understanding this. You’ll be giving your kids something wonderful if you talk to them about the mistakes you’ve made, what made you realise they were mistakes, and what you did to make things right.

  11. Be the person you want them to be.

    Role model kindness and empathy. Be careful with things you say about others, even the throw away things you say in passing. Kids pick up on everything! The context won’t matter – if you’re unkind or judgemental, it will give them permission to be the same. 

  12. So pretend you’re watching a movie …

    Invite kids to look at a situation as though they’re looking at a movie. What do they see. What are people feeling?

  13. How would they feel?

    Explore with your child what it would be like if someone teased him or her. Empathy is an important social skill and is key in relationships. Helping your child to put this into words will help him or her to identify the fact that other people have feelings which are different to theirs.

  14. Try a visual.

    Take a piece of fruit that bruises easily on the inside. An apple, a banana, a pear. Drop it a couple of times – hard enough to bruise the flesh but not hard enough to be visible from the outside. Then, open the fruit to make the bruises visible. Explain that this is what bullying does. Just because you can’t see the damage on the outside, without a doubt it’s doing damage from the inside. Explain that bullying makes people depressed (‘which is when people are so sad that they can’t stop being sad, even when they’re doing things that used to be fun for them’) and that it can make people hurt so much that they hate themselves and their lives. Tell them you never want them to be the reason someone changes in that way, because you know that they’re better than that.

    [irp posts=”161″ name=”The Proven Way to Build Resilience”]

  15. ‘Catch’ their feelings.

    Catch their feelings as though the landing in your palm of your hand, safe and sound and ready to have a look at gently and with an open heart and an open mind. If your child is angry, let them know that you can see this and hold them in the space without having to change it or solve the original problem. Just hold the feeling. ‘I can see that you’re angry. I understand that. It can be frustrating when people won’t do what you want them to do, can’t it.’ This validates what your child is feeling and takes away the need to defend or explain the feeling. It also lets them know that when they share their feelings with you, you’ll understand. This is a powerful thing, and is a wonderful way to model empathy and compassion. Children need to know that what they are feeling is okay, because it is – so okay! The feeling isn’t the problem, the behaviour is. Once they are able to accept what their feeling without having to defend or change it, they can start to either let the feeling go, or turn their attention to what other people are feeling. This in itself will encourage healthier behaviour. Feelings don’t disappear until they’ve been felt.

  16. Be consistent and attentive.

    The more attentive you are to your child, the more open they’ll be to looking at their feelings and experimenting with a different way to be.

  17. Anger never exists by itself. What’s the feeling that’s holding it there?

    Anger is the emotion people grab on to in order to avoid feeling other more difficult emotions. People use anger as a way to keep those other feelings buried. Common ones are jealousy, insecurity, fear, anxiety, confusion, grief. Look at what is happening around the child and offer some words for feelings that might be underneath, but be quick to move on if your child doesn’t grab it as feeling right for them, ‘It’s exciting having a new baby in the house but it can be a bit scary too. Is there anything that you worry might change with a new baby in the house?’ ‘I understand that it’s a big change having Daddy not live here any more. Do you feel sad about that? Are you worried about what else might change?’ Telling a child not to be angry without finding what’s driving the anger can be a bit like telling them not to breathe. Let them know that what they’re feeling is absolutely fine, but what they’re doing with it isn’t okay and that you’ll work with them to find a better way to do that.

  18. Don’t over-inflate them.

    People used to think that bullies were kids with low self-esteem, but now there is evidence to suggest that many children who are bullies actually have an inflated view of themselves. As parents we’re told to build our kids up, and absolutely we do, but this needs to be tempered with having compassion and kindness for others. Self-esteem without that is the early beginnings of narcissim. Take the focus away from self-esteem, which puts emphasis on achievement and comparison with others, and turn it more towards self-respect and self-compassion, which is behaving with grace, dignity and kindness to themselves and to others. Teach your child that they are a good person, that one of the best things about them is that they treat other people well, that they are wonderful, but not superior and that like anyone else, they have their limits and their challenges but that they also have the resources to deal with those.

There’s no shame in having a child who is a bully – no shame at all. The shame lies in suspecting your child is a bully and ignoring it. All kids deserve someone who loves them enough to steer them back on course when they start to veer off – and bullying is one of the sharpest veers of all.  With love, attention and guidance, even the harshest bully can become someone kind of wonderful.



My daughter just finished Kindergarten and she had problems with a boy bullying her off and on all year. We know this boy doesn’t have the best home life so we try to be understanding and I want to teach my daughter we are nice to everyone because we don’t want to make it harder on him and if we are nice to others they will be nice to us. At the same time I do not want to teach her that it is ok for other kids, especially boys, to treat her bad. Not really sure what to do on the other end of the bullying.

Karen Young

It’s great that you are teaching your daughter empathy and compassion. The important lesson is to be kind to everyone, but be kind to yourself first. If people feel bad to be around, it’s okay not to be around them and it’s okay not to be open to them. This becomes more important as they get older when they are confronted with peer pressure or more intense bullying. Not everyone will like them, and they won’t like everyone – and that’s okay. Be kind, be compassionate and be clear about who you open up to.

Doing Good Together

Thank you for this article! These tips complement many of the ideas we share on our nonprofit website where we empower families to raise kind and caring children. Indeed, kindness and empathy CAN be learned, and as you point out, there are ways to prevent negative behavior such as bullying. And it’s so important to teach kids that sharing kindness with others includes kindness to oneself as well.

Mary Anne

Thanks for a well reasoned and insightful article. As an elementary classroom teacher I will include a link to this piece in my next newsletter. Not because there are bullies in my class but because my kindergarteners will naturally at times be and/or come across a bully in their school years. If all parents have your advice beforehand our children will be all the stronger and kinder.

Karen - Hey Sigmund

Your students are lucky to have you! None of us were born knowing everything and one of our biggest jobs as the adults in their lives is to guide them gently towards being the healthy, happy, kind adults they are all capable of being.


I have only just discovered you, but really enjoyed reading 2 of your brilliant articles. I, too am a grandmother and whilst I have 3 fantastic adult children, I wish my husband and I had this support when they were young. We have 6 grand children and as a retired teacher, I retain a keen passion for welfare and wellbeing. Will look forward to more of your great articles. Thankyou.

Elizabeth H.

Thank you so much for this article! Are there any articles you could recommend if your kind child is getting teased or put down by a bully? My 6-year-old daughter is repeatedly treated like this by a female classmate. Seems like a competitive response to me, but I would like to read more about how to counsel my child to respond.


Hey Sigmund! I’m in my late 20s and afraid of being a parent and passing on the many mistakes my own parents made.

It’s websites like these that give me the confidence to know I can become a good mother despite the lessons I was taught as a child. You will give me the guidance I was lacking from my own family.

Thank you

Hey Sigmund

Sophie I love that you’re so open to this. Every generation of parents makes mistakes that the next generation learns from. What’s important is that you are open to doing things differently, learning and growing, which is the very essence of what it takes to be a good parent. It means a lot to me that the articles have given you the confidence to be a parent one day. I am so sure you will be a beautiful mother.


I appreciate the insight as we are seeing our daughter starting to become one of the “other b-words”, bossy – With us, her little sister and with friends, and getting very upset when she is not in charge or things don’t go her way. I read th article swapping those two words and found it quite insughtful. Thank you.

Hey Sigmund

It’s not unusual for kids to experiment with their own independence and often it can look like bossy. It’s great that you have identified that it’s happening and are working on helping her measure her behaviour. Your gorgeous girl will be all the better for having you guide her through.

Laughing Leopard Press

Wonderful, well written article with fantastic advice. It saddens me when people villainize children who bully, forgetting that they are hurting and still children in desperate need of guidance. Honestly, many of the tips were good reminders for monitoring my own behavior! Thank you so much for this article.


This article is so inspiring. I have one parent who was very kind and instilled this in me. My father, not so much and sadly I now see I have chosen a similar father for my children. He has so many wonderful traits and I love him dearly but I do feel as much as I try to role model kindness and tolerance to our two girls, he undermines it. My oldest is 13 and she makes me proud every day by being kind to others. If we all made a vow to show one small act of kindness to another person every day the world would be a much nicer place.

Hey Sigmund

You’re so right about the difference one small act of kindness each day would make. Kids will learn different things from each of their parents, and that’s okay. It’s so important that your girls can learn about kindness by watching you – you’re making a wonderful difference.

Janine Halloran

What a wonderful article with great advice! I think it’s so important for families to connect, talk and have these types of conversations. Doing kind acts together as a family is another great way to promote kindness and caring for others, as well as having some family time together. Thanks for sharing your ideas!


Thanks for another wonderful and thought-provoking article. I wish I’d discovered you earlier 🙂 In spite of my shortcomings as a parent, I can see that I did a lot right. Recently our 20-something threw a tantrum in public (think bridezilla without being the bride) which precipitated guilt on my part. My husband and I agree that we should have dealt with it immediately instead of standing there incredulous, but since we didn’t, we know that we need to address it.
We were both poorly parented, and though we really did things better than our parents did, we so appreciate the checkpoints and compass that your articles provide.

Hey Sigmund

You’re so welcome Patricia. I love that you are so open to looking at what you’re doing. Parenting is tough and nobody has it all figured out, but the good ones are the ones who recognise that and are always open to learning and trying things a different way. We’re all a work in progress!

Julie Jessop

This is a great article. My family is grown and independent, however, I plan to use the principles with my grandkids. Wish I had had some of this direction when I was parenting my children.



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The temptation to fix their big feelings can be seismic. Often this is connected to needing to ease our own discomfort at their discomfort, which is so very normal.

Big feelings in them are meant to raise (sometimes big) feelings in us. This is all a healthy part of the attachment system. It happens to mobilise us to respond to their distress, or to protect them if their distress is in response to danger.

Emotion is energy in motion. We don’t want to bury it, stop it, smother it, and we don’t need to fix it. What we need to do is make a safe passage for it to move through them. 

Think of emotion like a river. Our job is to hold the ground strong and steady at the banks so the river can move safely, without bursting the banks.

However hard that river is racing, they need to know we can be with the river (the emotion), be with them, and handle it. This might feel or look like you aren’t doing anything, but actually it’s everything.

The safety that comes from you being the strong, steady presence that can lovingly contain their big feelings will let the emotional energy move through them and bring the brain back to calm.

Eventually, when they have lots of experience of us doing this with them, they will learn to do it for themselves, but that will take time and experience. The experience happens every time you hold them steady through their feelings. 

This doesn’t mean ignoring big behaviour. For them, this can feel too much like bursting through the banks, which won’t feel safe. Sometimes you might need to recall the boundary and let them know where the edges are, while at the same time letting them see that you can handle the big of the feeling. Its about loving and leading all at once. ‘It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to use those words at me.’

Ultimately, big feelings are a call for support. Sometimes support looks like breathing and being with. Sometimes it looks like showing them you can hold the boundary, even when they feel like they’re about to burst through it. And if they’re using spicy words to get us to back off, it might look like respecting their need for space but staying in reaching distance, ‘Ok, I’m right here whenever you need.’♥️
We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety have magic in them, every one of them, but until they have a felt sense of safety, it will often stay hidden.

‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what they feel. At school, they might have the safest, most loving teacher in the safest, most loving school. This doesn’t mean they will feel enough relational safety straight away that will make it easier for them to do hard things. They can still do those hard things, but those things are going to feel bigger for a while. This is where they’ll need us and their other anchor adult to be patient, gentle, and persistent.

Children aren’t meant to feel safe with and take the lead from every adult. It’s not the adult’s role that makes the difference, but their relationship with the child.

Children are no different to us. Just because an adult tells them they’ll be okay, it doesn’t mean they’ll feel it or believe it. What they need is to be given time to actually experience the person as being safe, supportive and ready to catch them.

Relationship is key. The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains in our way. When we feel someone really caring about us, we’re more likely to open up to their influence
and learn from them.

But we have to be patient. Even for teachers with big hearts and who undertand the importance of attachment relationships, it can take time.

Any adult at school can play an important part in helping a child feel safe – as long as that adult is loving, warm, and willing to do the work to connect with that child. It might be the librarian, the counsellor, the office person, a teacher aide. It doesn’t matter who, as long as it is someone who can be available for that child at dropoff or when feelings get big during the day and do little check-ins along the way.

A teacher, or any important adult can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
There is a beautiful ‘everythingness’ in all of us. The key to living well is being able to live flexibly and more deliberately between our edges.

So often though, the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ we inhale in childhood and as we grow, lead us to abandon some of those precious, needed parts of us. ‘Don’t be angry/ selfish/ shy/ rude. She’s not a maths person.’ ‘Don’t argue.’ Ugh.

Let’s make sure our children don’t cancel parts of themselves. They are everything, but not always all at once. They can be anxious and brave. Strong and soft. Angry and calm. Big and small. Generous and self-ish. Some things they will find hard, and they can do hard things. None of these are wrong ways to be. What trips us up is rigidity, and only ever responding from one side of who we can be.

We all have extremes or parts we favour. This is what makes up the beautiful, complex, individuality of us. We don’t need to change this, but the more we can open our children to the possibility in them, the more options they will have in responding to challenges, the everyday, people, and the world. 

We can do this by validating their ‘is’ without needing them to be different for a while in the moment, and also speaking to the other parts of them when we can. 

‘Yes maths is hard, and I know you can do hard things. How can I help?’

‘I can see how anxious you feel. That’s so okay. I also know you have brave in you.’

‘I love your ‘big’ and the way you make us laugh. You light up the room.’ And then at other times: ‘It can be hard being in a room with new people can’t it. It’s okay to be quiet. I could see you taking it all in.’

‘It’s okay to want space from people. Sometimes you just want your things and yourself for yourself, hey. I feel like that sometimes too. I love the way you know when you need this.’ And then at other times, ‘You looked like you loved being with your friends today. I loved watching you share.’

The are everything, but not all at once. Our job is to help them live flexibly and more deliberately between the full range of who they are and who they can be: anxious/brave; kind/self-ish; focussed inward/outward; angry/calm. This will take time, and there is no hurry.♥️
For our kids and teens, the new year will bring new adults into their orbit. With this, comes new opportunities to be brave and grow their courage - but it will also bring anxiety. For some kiddos, this anxiety will feel so big, but we can help them feel bigger.

The antidote to a felt sense of threat is a felt sense of safety. As long as they are actually safe, we can facilitate this by nurturing their relationship with the important adults who will be caring for them, whether that’s a co-parent, a stepparent, a teacher, a coach. 

There are a number of ways we can facilitate this:

- Use the name of their other adult (such as a teacher) regularly, and let it sound loving and playful on your voice.
- Let them see that you have an open, willing heart in relation to the other adult.
- Show them you trust the other adult to care for them (‘I know Mrs Smith is going to take such good care of you.’)
- Facilitate familiarity. As much as you can, hand your child to the same person when you drop them off.

It’s about helping expand their village of loving adults. The wider this village, the bigger their world in which they can feel brave enough. 

For centuries before us, it was the village that raised children. Parenting was never meant to be done by one or two adults on their own, yet our modern world means that this is how it is for so many of us. 

We can bring the village back though - and we must - by helping our kiddos feel safe, known, and held by the adults around them. We need this for each other too.

The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains that block our way.♥️

That power of felt safety matters for all relationships - parent and child; other adult and child; parent and other adult. It all matters. 

A teacher, or any important adult in the life of a child, can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child (and their parent) so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, I care about you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
Approval, independence, autonomy, are valid needs for all of us. When a need is hungry enough we will be driven to meet it however we can. For our children, this might look like turning away from us and towards others who might be more ready to meet the need, or just taking.

If they don’t feel they can rest in our love, leadership, approval, they will seek this more from peers. There is no problem with this, but we don’t want them solely reliant on peers for these. It can make them vulnerable to making bad decisions, so as not to lose the approval or ‘everythingness’ of those peers.

If we don’t give enough freedom, they might take that freedom through defiance, secrecy, the forbidden. If we control them, they might seek more to control others, or to let others make the decisions that should be theirs.

All kids will mess up, take risks, keep secrets, and do things that baffle us sometimes. What’s important is, ‘Do they turn to us when they need to, enough?’ The ‘turning to’ starts with trusting that we are interested in supporting all their needs, not just the ones that suit us. Of course this doesn’t mean we will meet every need. It means we’ve shown them that their needs are important to us too, even though sometimes ours will be bigger (such as our need to keep them safe).

They will learn safe and healthy ways to meet their needs, by first having them met by us. This doesn’t mean granting full independence, full freedom, and full approval. What it means is holding them safely while also letting them feel enough of our approval, our willingness to support their independence, freedom, autonomy, and be heard on things that matter to them.

There’s no clear line with this. Some days they’ll want independence. Some days they won’t. Some days they’ll seek our approval. Some days they won’t care for it at all, especially if it means compromising the approval of peers. The challenge for us is knowing when to hold them closer and when to give space, when to hold the boundary and when to release it a little, when to collide and when to step out of the way. If we watch and listen, they will show us. And just like them, we won’t need to get it right all the time.♥️

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