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Friday, May 6, 2011

A thick skin and a backbone are learned, not something our kids are born with

At a school event over the weekend I was sitting near one of the other Fathers as his son came up to him crying and holding his arm.  I overheard the following conversation:
Dad: What happened?  Why are you crying?
Tommy: Billy bumped me and knocked me down!
Dad: Why did he do that?
Tommy:  I don't know!  He just did it.
Dad: Well, why don't you ask him why and tell him not to bump you?
Tommy: .....
This is similar to exchanges that I have had with my own son which is probably why it stuck with me.  The boy in this instance (and my son or daughter when it happened to them) were probably confronting the following emotions:
  1. Surprise at being suddenly knocked down.
  2. Embarrassment about being knocked down in front of other kids.
  3. Confusion, "Does that boy or girl hate me?"
  4. Pain (although probably the least of the problems)
  5. Fear, "I don't want to be hurt again!"
  6. Guilt, "Was it something I did?"
All of the above are normal reactions for growing kids.  Emotions run rampant in our kids and to a certain extent it is biological and not just youth or lack of maturity.  Babies are building connections in their brains at an incredible rate.  It is only around age 11 that their brains begin to organize and eliminate connections they do not need.  What this means is that our kids are dealing with a whole lot more inside their heads than we might imagine as a parent.  A 3 years old for example, has twice as many connections as an adult.  So, when Billy knocks down Tommy, Tommy's brain (which is already super active) goes into overdrive and the tears flow.  In steps Mom or Dad with the handkerchief.

For the example above, our kids need to learn two key skills to handle this situation.  But, as with every article on this site, the skills will also be useful in a job interview and for their working future.

Many employers like to demonstrate their power over job seeking candidates.  This is not limited to young new grads but to any candidate who has ever had to submit to the potential humiliation of a job interview.  Hat in hand, our kids come begging for approval and the offer of a job.  At least that is how the employers often think of it.  The stress interview is one of the ways for employers to show their power.  Granted, it can also be a tool to judge a candidate's suitability for certain tasks that might come up in the job.  If your daughter is applying for a sales position then she is likely to face a rude or angry customer at some point in the future.  The employer will want to know if she can handle that kind of situation.

The first line of defense for our kids is to develop a "Thick skin".  When Billy bumps Tommy it is not because he does not like you, it was probably just an accident.  If it was on purpose, then it is Billy's problem, not because of something Tommy did.  Even though it happened in front of other kids, they all probably forgot about it 10 seconds after it happened.  Help our kids to see that everything that happens to them is not necessarily a personal attack.  Similarly, at the job interview when the interviewer pauses and looks at your son our daughter and says, "You went to a small college and frankly I don't think you can cut it in this job." Our kids will be able to take it in stride, using what they learned on the playground.

Learning how to take an attack is only the first step though.  Employers want to see that young candidates can stand up for themselves and show some backbone.  This has become more important in recent years as companies have been destroyed by a few bad eggs who acted unethically along with the many other employees who turned a blind eye to what was happening.  For Tommy, it is important for him to get up, brush himself off, turn to Billy and ask him why he bumped him.  Chances are Billy did not even know he bumped Tommy and will mutter a "sorry" and they  will both go back to playing. 14 years later, in response to the interviewer's comment in the above paragraph, if Tommy can respond as below then he will pass the stress test with flying colors.
"My school was small but it gave me the opportunity to build strong relationships with the professors as there were fewer students in each class as compared to a larger school.  I feel I gained a lot from that experience.  Additionally, while I know that I have limited experience, I am passionate about this role and determined to succeed here.  I want this job."

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