A tough exterior can help children withstand many of the hurtful exchanges and barbs that are an unfortunate fact of life. Although words can wound and hurt, you can help a child develop a thicker skin. Instilling stronger self-esteem is one key to creating a tough armor in your child. This hard shell should protect against barbs and thorns that might penetrate the heart and bruise the psyche.
Instill strong self-esteem and a positive self-concept in your child to toughen up her armor. According to the Ohio State University Extension office, people with strong self-esteem generally feel valued and equal to other people, which can be an ideal foundation for thicker skin. Notice her strengths, her capabilities and her positive traits and comment on these attributes. When people have a positive self-regard, believing in their abilities and virtues, mean-spirited actions and words of other people will have less effect on them. Make it a habit to provide positive feedback about your child’s characteristics as often as you can to build up this tough exterior.
Organize an activity that will help build self-esteem. Use affirmations to build self-esteem in children, according to a web page on The Clemson University website. Try a "finish the sentence" game by throwing out various sentence starters to players and inviting everyone to take a turn finishing the statements. Include affirmations such as, "I know how to ..." and "I am a good friend because ..." and encourage children to think of positive traits and characteristics about themselves.
Provide empathy for your child when words or actions hurt. By accepting and understanding your child’s hurt feelings, you validate them and help your child feel understood. You might say, “Yeah, it sounds like that hurt your feelings. I wouldn’t like being called that name, either.”
Wonder aloud with your child about the other child’s motivations for lashing out. Help your child realize that people often try to hurt others because of negative or unpleasant feelings or issues about themselves. Explain to your child that if someone is feeling sad, angry or jealous, she might lash out to try to hurt someone else because she’s reacting to her own negative feelings. Show your child that in this circumstance, the unhappy child’s actions have more to do with her own feelings than anything your child did to provoke the actions.
Brainstorm effective responses for your child to use when someone else says or does something that hurts or upsets her. For example, your child might say something such as, “I think you’re wrong and words can’t hurt me” to a child who says something hurtful. By role-playing scenarios, you give your child positive ammunition to deflect hurtful barbs. Practice and role-play with your child frequently – once or twice a week – to make these responses a habit that she won’t have to think about.
Teach your child to always respond compassionately, even when others seek to hurt her. Gary Unruh, a licensed clinical social worker and author who has a master's degree in social work, suggests that when a person deflects and protects the self without an offensive response, it's possible to maintain a positive outlook without hurting others. Rising above hurtful comments and actions helps a child set a positive example, treating others the way she wants to be treated.