There’s a dating cliché that goes: “It’s not you, it’s me.” And it’s also one of my two parenting mottos. (The other is: “Naps save lives.”)
When “It’s not you, it’s me” is used in dating, it implies the other person shouldn’t take the break up personally. When I use it with my 10-year-old, I’m trying to tell him if someone’s made him feel bad, there’s a good chance it’s not really about him.
It applies to things such as what kids say in the playground, or if a teacher uncharacteristically speaks sharply. Or even if I lose my cool, not because he’s done something wrong, but because I’m exhausted.
Unkind words and actions have the power to make or break a child. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me” is a load of crap, and we all know it.
We can tell our kids to ignore unkindness until we’re hoarse, but the truth is, even just one word’s effect can last a lifetime. Fat. Stupid. Ugly. Add twenty years, and you’ll have an adult who’s internalised that hurt, maybe even to the extent they’re potentially inflicting it on others.
I think the key to avoiding that is teaching our kids resilience; how to “bounce back”, be optimistic, navigate a crisis – and not to take things so personally.
That’s why I always apologise when I’ve unreasonably lost my cool with my kid by explaining, “it’s not you, it’s me.” If he tells me someone was mean, or abrupt, I suggest, “It’s not you, it’s them – they might be having a bad day.”
I noted on Twitter recently the story of a man that had said the same thing to a child who was being berated by her mother in public, and it changed her life:
.. a stranger – a random person who happened to be there – whispered, “Hey.” And the (then 11 yr old) girl turned back. The stranger said: “It’s not you. It’s her.” And then the elevator door closed. Why do I bring this up?
— Ed Solomon (@ed_solomon) January 29, 2018