Most self-help literature focuses on the last step of a sequence – on how to do something better. That’s why self-help books and workshops have titles such as “How to …” or “Best practices for …”
Knowing what to do and how to do it better are important. But that’s usually not the problem.
More often, the problem is the prior two steps before developing the skill: Developing the will to do something and then actually doing it.
I divide developing the will into two areas:
The mindset – Developing effective attitudes and beliefs to get started, and developing the will to treat all excuses and obstacles as just speed bumps.
The “heartset” – It means two things: Developing the determination, grit and tenacity to stick with it; and using the same emotional power we’ve utilized when we’ve relentlessly pursued something we’ve wanted, no matter how discouraging the voices, difficulties or obstacles.
The “how-to” steps for learning or improving skills usually are straightforward. People often already know what to do before they read self-help books.
For example, learning to strike up a conversation with a stranger at a conference is a big fear for many people. The how-to steps are well known: see the whole article for description.
Many people already know these steps – but just won’t put them into practice. So they must develop their mindset and heartset in order to implement a potentially effective plan.
Particularly for managers, the proper mindset and heartset are crucial to overcoming poor time management, negating the fear of giving honest evaluations and not being overwhelmed by too much pressure. Appropriate mindset and heartset are crucial in areas that can’t be squeezed into a how-to method any fool can follow – like leadership.
Appropriate mindsets and heartsets also are critical for people who want to lose weight and stay in shape. Most people know exactly what they need to do: Eat less, eat better, work out. But they have many good reasons why it’s too difficult.
Focus on the step that’s been an obstacle for you, and focus people you manage on the crucial step for them. Until you develop appropriate and effective mindsets and heartsets, the how-to training won’t be effective.
Nowadays, even young children talk back, roll their eyes, are sassy and snarky, and demand to know why before doing what parents want. These kids act as if they can set all the standards, know everything and are entitled to express their thoughts and feelings in any way they want about anything.
Many parents think this is their toughest disciplinary problem. Many parents want to know why this behavior has trickled down from teenagers through tweens to children. Is this behavior the result of the bad influence of the media – television, movies, internet – or their peers? If so, these parents think, how can we control what children are exposed to?
In her article in the New York Times, “The Playground Gets Even Tougher,” Pamela Paul points out that Mean Girls begin their nasty, vicious harassment, bullying and abuse on the playground and in pre-school. They don’t wait until fifth grade or junior high school.
In my experience, mean girls put down targeted kids for whatever reasons they can find – from poor, discounted, unfashionable clothes or the lack of the latest cell phones and bling, to race, religion, physical differences and hair color. Mean girls also form cliques that ostracize, exclude and cut-out their targets or scapegoats. Mean girl behavior cuts across all socio-economic categories – inner-city, rural, suburban and expensive, private schools. The movies, “Mean Girls” and “Camp Rock,” give some graphic examples.
Mean moms who ignore mean girl behavior at home, on the playground and in preschool. These moms have many opportunities to step in and teach their daughters how to do better in age-appropriate ways, but they don’t. I think of these as absentee moms, whatever their reasons – whether they’re simply uncaring or not paying attention or don’t want to deal with it or not physically present. Nannies can be even less responsible, especially if their employers don’t want to hear about it.
Mean moms who set a bad example by acting mean to their extended families, to their children and to helpless servers in all forms – waiters, checkout clerks, nannies, maids, etc. Mean girls imitate what they see and hear from their mean moms, not pious platitudes or empty commands thrown at them.
Mean moms who encourage mean girl behavior. They enjoy watching their daughters be popular, superior and controlling. They may think it’s cute and a sign of leadership potential, but whatever they think, they train their daughters to be mean.
Mean moms who protect and defend their mean daughters when they get feedback about mean behavior. Of course, one-in-a-million children will be sneaky enough to be mean only when their parents aren’t looking. Sneaky, mean girls can bully targets by acting as if the target did something to hurt their feelings and get their protective moms to get the target in trouble. Or mean girls will simply threaten a target by saying they’ll get their moms to get the target in trouble. Mean moms collude and often encourage this behavior. Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter series is an example of a mean boy protected by his mean father.
Suppose you’re the parent of a child who’s bullied by a mean girl, what can you do? If you’re convinced that your daughter was not a provocateur who tried to get the other girl to react and get in trouble, should you talk to the mean girls, their moms, teachers and principals?
Know your daughter; will she assert and defend herself? Since she might not talk about the meanness, you have to watch carefully on the playground and look for signs after school. Mean girls are bullies who try to assert themselves over less assertive and less aggressive children. Don’t ask your daughter to suffer or “rise above” because a mean girl and mean mom don’t know any better or have difficulties in their lives.
You might encourage your pre-school or kindergarten daughter to stand up for herself, but you should give plenty of encouragement and specific direction. Even though your daughter is young, champion her inner strength, courage and perseverance. She might be a target but she doesn’t have to become a victim. Never believe mean girls’ opinions and don’t give in to their demands.
Intervene rapidly when your daughter seems unable to defend herself. Don’t let the behavior continue. Say something strongly and firmly to the mean girl. Girls who were merely experimenting with a mean behavioral tactic will stop and not repeat it. That’s a test of the girl – nice girls stop when you set a behavioral standard but mean girls don’t. Mean girls think they’re smarter than you and that they have their own mothers’ protection.
If the mean girl doesn’t stop, test the mean girl’s mom one time. Calmly detail the behavior and listen carefully for the response. Is the mom appalled at her daughter’s behavior or does the mom blow it off or explain it away? Just as in sports and childhood, your daughter might have been provocateur and then looked innocent when another girl retaliated. So it’s natural for the other girl’s mother to try to discover the whole context and behavior before the incident. But does the other mom immediately get defensive and angry, and twist the facts in order to blame your daughter? Does she insist that her daughter is never wrong? Is the mean girl’s mom too busy with her own life to educate her daughter or has she turned her child over to a nanny who won’t correct the child?
If these attempts change the girl’s behavior, you weren’t dealing with a hard-core mean girl and a mean mom. But mean girls and mean moms aren’t stopped by the easy tactics. Now you have to cut off after school activities including parties, despite the ramifications. Also, get the pre-school teachers and principals involved. Some will be helpful; they’ll keep it confidential, they’ll monitor to get their own evidence and then they’ll intervene. They’ll get the mean girl out of your daughter’s class, they’ll break-up the clique, they’ll stop the behavior at school and they’ll have proactive programs to talk about mean girl behavior. Depending on the age of the girls, they’ll teach witnesses what to do. Unfortunately, unhelpful, uncaring, lazy, cowardly teachers and principals will look the other way or condone or even encourage mean girl behavior. They’ll put you off with excuses. Don’t let this happen. Remember, principals fear publicity and law suits.
Teach your children what’s right and also how to defend themselves. Don’t convert your daughter into a victim. Don’t sacrifice your child on the altar of your ignorance, fear or sympathetic heart. Protect and defend your child even though there may be a high cost socially.
Two teenagers, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover and Jaheem Herrera, committed suicide recently after being taunted and bullied repeatedly and relentlessly while officials at their schools did nothing.
Unrelenting harassment led a third, Eric Mohat, to commit suicide a few years ago. Again, school officials denied there was a bullying problem. Yet he was one of four bullied Mentor High School students who committed suicide that year.
All three were harassed as gay. None was.
These three boys are just the most publicized tip of an epidemic that’s sweeping our schools.
The Use of “Gay” as Part of the Harassment and Bullying
Kids will use whatever differences they can see or invent in order to gang up and attack a scapegoat. The teen bullies used whatever came to hand or mouth – their hatred of gays. In one sense it wasn’t about the truth of whether the targets were gay, which would be bad enough, it was about the truths that kids will use bullying tactics and these never learned better and these weren’t taught better. Let’s not waste time analyzing why they bullied; let’s simply acknowledge that these kids failed in their character and their duty to become better, and the responsible adults never stopped them.
The Bullies’ Parents
They failed in their own character and were derelict in their duties to stop their children’s behavior and to teach them better.
The Administrators, Principals and Teachers
The principals and school district administrators didn’t protect these boys, just like most principals don’t protect most targets of bullying and abuse. We need school anti-bullying laws to force principals to act and also to protect them from counter suits by bullying parents trying to protect their beloved little terrorists (like Lucius Malfoy in the “Harry Potter” series). Of course, without specific laws, even well-meaning principals are caught in a bind. But that’s no excuse. When people are determined, they forge ahead. When they don’t want to act, they talk about all the difficulties.
In every school, the other kids knew and many watched the bullying firsthand. Some were probably drawn to participate in the bloodletting. That’s the path of least resistance. Few, if any, reported it to teachers or to their parents. None of their parents responded effectively. There was no public outcry before the suicides. Again, there’s a huge failure of character and courage.
At the same time, as these examples show, we also can’t and shouldn’t count on schools to protect our children from hurt feelings. We must help our children develop the inner grit and resilience to know how to protect themselves from verbal harassment as well as from physical abuse.
Act now at your own schools; before this epidemic spreads further.
In her article in the Wall Street Journal on December 17, 2008, “Talking to your kids about Cyberbullying,” Sue Shellenbarger writes about the difficulties of dealing with cyberbullies.
In addition to the difficulties in getting your children to talk to you about the problem, there are often additional problems because the bullies’ parents won’t stop their children and school administrators often won’t take effective action.
It’s so frustrating for parents because we feel pretty helpless. We may have to work hard to get our kids to tell. How many of us told our parents when we had trouble?
We have to plant the seeds of sharing and problem-solving long before the kids encounter this type of bullying. You have to know each child and with a shy or introverted one, be extra vigilant so you can probe at the first signs of trouble.
The other part of the difficulty is changing the situation. If the bullies’ parents don’t care and the schools won’t take effective action, you will probably feel isolated and stuck. Too many administrators are cowards – they don’t want to get involved.
We focused on strengthening six our children and helping them be determined and resilient in order to face the real-world jerks and bullies they would inevitably see at school and when they became adults.