"I Dont' Care If You Don't Like Me. I Love Me!"
A while back, I got tagged on a Facebook parents forum when a friend asked what I thought of this short little video. With a young daughter herself who was already experiencing unfriending -- "You're not my friend!" "I don't like you. Go away!" -- she wondered whether her little one should practice the following handy retort:
I got to thinking about those three little words - I. Don't. Care.
If the way they've been used in my family is any indication, I think they are true only some of the time ("Do you have a preference on which restaurant we go to? No, I don't care. You choose.") More often than not, they mask real feelings, their flippant delivery a cover for the hurt inside.
And so I disagreed with the many adoring and supportive comments that followed the clip. The girl (I'm hereby christening her "Video Cutie" (VC)) is acting sweet and strong for sure, but I would coach her to be congruent, to show and say what she really feels and thinks.
When we help our children know and express what's going on inside, we give them a head start in emotional intelligence and support them in a rewarding, albeit risky, act:
So a P.E.T. analysis of the situation for both girls starts where it always does, with the question Who owns the problem? Once we're clear on that, we know what skills to use.
Focus: Video Cutie's Friend
When VC's friend says "I don't like you!" or that the friendship is over, she shows she is having a problem.
The five helping skills -- especially the last one -- could help this friend get down to what she is feeling and needing.
- Silence -- the attitude of I'm here to listen
- Acknowledgments -- "Uh-huh," "Ok" or "I see"
- Attending -- eye contact, full attention
- Door-Openers -- "Tell me more about that" or "I'm willing to listen whenever you want to talk"
- Active Listening -- reflecting back the child's total communication with acceptance and empathy -- "Something has happened and you are just so upset with Video Cutie!"
The girl herself might not even know why she said something like that. Maybe something happened at home that morning. Maybe someone said "I'm not your friend anymore!" to her once or she heard an older sibling say that and she is experimenting. Maybe she is jealous of Video Cutie and wants to exclude her (when I attended Australian Robert Pereira’s seminar on bullying, I was impressed by how so much bullying behavior originates with feelings of envy).
The needs underlying the unfriending statement might be:
- Curiosity -- What will VC’s reaction be?
- Self-esteem -- VC is wearing pretty bows in her hair and I hate her because I don’t have anything that pretty. My mommy never buys me anything! So I don’t want to be seen next to her.
- Acceptance/acknowledgment -- maybe VC inadvertently didn’t say hi to her that morning
We parents (and teachers) simply don’t know until we AL her.
VC's friend not only needs help acknowledging and regulating her emotions, but also assistance in using more assertive language that helps her to meet her own needs. A healthier, self-disclosing I-Message might be “I felt sad when you didn’t say hi to me this morning when I walked up to you and Katie!” Reconnection is simply more likely when the listener does not get caught up in self-defense (the sad result of You-Messages) -- chances are that Video Cutie would respond with an "I'm sorry!" and they could walk to the swings hand in hand.
Video Cutie might be too young now to Active Listen her disgruntled buddy or to Consult on the use of I-Messages. These skills, however, are right in line with the characteristics many parents want for their children -- compassionate, empathic, warm, caring, resilient. By changing our own thinking about and approach to friendship conflicts, we can influence VC to try these communication skills on her friends when she is older!
Focus: Video Cutie herself
Video Cutie, upon hearing her friend's You-Message, is also in the Child Owns Problem area.
Understandably, an upset parent might, with loving intentions, try to help VC by Reassuring and Solutioning her: "Oh honey, don't you pay her any mind! The next time, you just say, 'I don't care if you don't like me, I LOVE me!' and show her that you are just fine without her!"
Yet, when we own the problem and start taking over with our solutions, we miss an opportunity to help our children know themselves more deeply and feel validated and accepted by us for whatever turmoil they might be experiencing.
The reality is that when someone, especially a friend, makes that kind of statement it is painful.
As with her friend, Active Listening will allow VC to name her feelings and to gain insight into her problem. So we might AL with: “Honey, that hurts and you feel super sad when your friend says that because you like her sooooo much!”
Once Video Cutie is calmed down (this could be after one or several rounds of AL), she might need coaching on how to give a Confrontive I-Message that includes her feelings and how she was affected: “I don’t like it when you say that. I feel sad. I like being your friend.” This way, her friend can see what effect her words actually DO have on VC.
A parent or teacher might also Model empathy: “Gee, your friend must be so upset to have said that because we both know that she likes you very much. I wonder why she did?”
When we use P.E.T. with children (whether they are the unfriender or the unfriended), we give them permission to pause and to explore what they are actually feeling. We can then guide them in forgoing those reflexive, self-protective You-messages that often create distance in favor of I-Messages that can create closeness. Along the way, they will have connected with another important someone -- themselves.
Just a couple of weeks ago, the Huffington Post ran an article on how to stop "mean girl" behavior. The author Katie Hurley started a lunchtime friendship group that began to alter the exclusionary and sarcastic ways of relating that marked her fourth graders' lives. That change happened, she believes, "because someone took the time to help them learn to relate and empathize. Someone showed them a better way to establish and navigate friendships. It wasn't perfect, and it didn't happen in one week, but it happened."
Imagine if someone equipped with P.E.T. skills had started with these girls when they were Video Cutie's age! I'm convinced that P.E.T., applied early and consistently, can be an antidote to bullying and other behaviors that hurt our kids.
Credits: I don't care what you think visual (http://ericamylife.wordpress.com/2012/02/28/i-dont-care-what-people-think-of-me/); Jerome Famechon FB page (https://www.facebook.com/TheJeromeFamechon); Saying 'I don't care visual' (http://letterastudio.blogspot.hk/2012/11/saying-don-care-doesn-stop-you.html); Empathy is a skill visual (http://www.bigheartedfamilies.org/be-inspired/the-science-of-growing-caring-kids/).