Nick Saban, the head coach of the University of Alabama football team, is a master at sending statements to his players via his post-game and weekly press conferences. He knows that the message will get back to them eventually, so he’s actually communicating with them directly through an indirect channel. In the back of my mind, I think that’s what I intended for all these posts, in one way or another, with our son. He’s not old enough to understand them yet, but the time when he will be old enough seems to be coming at me much faster than I ever dreamed.

As I look at pictures around the house, it’s hard to believe he’s already almost nine. Some of these images feel like they just happened yesterday. Gone are the days of diapers, high chairs, and play stuff all over the house. The challenges accompanying that stage have been replaced with new challenges – the challenges of helping him navigate the social aspects of life at a time when events can be confusing and upsetting.

It’s a different world

When I think back to my own 3rd-grade experience, it was about the same point that the ups and downs of relationships with classmates and friends began to cement the corresponding highs and lows in my mind. Even as adults, it’s not fun to be the outsider, to be laughed at, or teased. For kids, the negative feelings that result are greatly amplified. The person that seems like your best friend today may choose instead to give their attention to someone else tomorrow. And don’t even get me started on the absolute torment that can start to wear on you when it comes to blossoming romantic interests.

So, if the past few days are any indication, we now find ourselves with a child that is strapped into the front car of the roller coaster that is about to catapult down that winding track. And it’s quite possible that none of this will get any easier in the coming years. Up ahead are things like bullying and social media to contend with. I’d be lying if I told you that neither of these things scare me to death. For my generation, we didn’t have social media growing up, and bullying didn’t seem to be nearly as rampant as it is today. As a result, it can make us feel less prepared to deal with these challenges as parents.

Unfortunately, it’s not enough for me to say things like, “it will be okay” or, “It’s no big deal.” To that child, in that moment, what they’re experiencing (whether it be bullying or simply confusion about why their friends are treating them a certain way) is the worst thing that could possibly happen to them. It would be like telling the person that just jumped off the building to stop falling.

As parents, what are we to do?

I’m no expert in this area by any means. Like I’m sure many of you are, I’m trying to figure it out as I go. Just yesterday morning, I shared the popular quote, “what other people think of you is none of your business.” His response? “That’s the worst quote ever.” Although he was laughing, I learned this was no time for quotes! It’s tough to see your child upset as they try to make sense of everything. We don’t possess a magic guide that tells us exactly what to do in every scenario we face. Below are a few things that come to mind though.

  • Listen and show empathy
  • Resist the urge to project your own past experiences on them
  • Make sure they know you love them and are there for them

When it was time to finally leave the hospital after our son was born, the nurse wheeled he and my wife out to the car. While we nervously strapped him into his car seat for the first time, she looked back over her shoulder as she went back inside and simply said, “good luck!”

To the kids out there, stay strong and know that the challenges you’re facing will pass. To all the moms and dads reading this, I say “good luck.” This parenting thing isn’t easy.