Find power and control in a HEALTHY way.
I learned how to be emotional ninja during my own inner upheaval.
Someone close to me was determined to find every hot button I had and push it down like they had a remote control.
I was helpless.
Every text message had to be responded to, each comment commanded a reply. At night, I'd lie awake in my bed with my stomach in knots wondering how I would sway the battle to my side for a win.
I wanted peace and tranquility, but I just couldn't figure out how to get there. I joined a support group, got a sponsor, and started reading books on family abuse. As much as I heard I needed to "Let go, and let God," I couldn't.
I envisioned myself releasing an invisible hook to detach, but what I really wanted to do was lasso the instigator around my head and let karma fling them to the other side of the planet.
Then, it happened.
My younger children and I were out on a play date with some friends and one of the children had instigator qualities.There were small verbal cues that seemed to want to hook towards a fight.
Suddenly, both my children were in an emotional upheaval.
I saw bits of my battle in their war cries, and realized if I didn't do some serious changes in my own emotional coping tactics, I was going to pass the torch on to my children.
I started to take responsibility for my own reactions and used my own experience to remind myself why it was so important to not pass on the same dysfunctional behavior.
Like a parenting sports coach, I called out plays.
"Don't bite the hook."
"Focus on yourself."
"Don't divide your allegiance."
Little by little, with each new play date, or when they simply played with one another, new hooks presented themselves by playmates that could lead to potential arguments and situational crisis. Each time, I discovered my children became more and more aware.
I also learned that other children weren't as aware and that different types of interaction came into play depending on what type of situation we all found ourselves in.
I started to see the same patterns of behavior in children that I encountered with adults.
- The Instigator — A person who triggers an emotional reaction that often hits someone's 'unfair' button. The person who reacts looks out of control and the instigator gains a sense of power while another child learns to feel helpless.
- The Scapegoat — The scapegoat often ends up being blamed for things and usually is the most sensitive person in the group. The scapegoat is often the target of an instigator.
- The Savior — This is the person who ends getting the emotional reward from fixing the problems that arise and often enable the instigator.
At first, like me, they felt that things were out of their control and they ran through different roles of an instigator, scapegoat, and savior.
Like me, they couldn't see the part they played in the interaction.
Then a victory would encourage insight.
The next thing I knew, both my son and my daughter were little emotional ninjas using words to encourage each other to detach, refocus, and divert their attention to other things when the red flags started waving. They started to make power moves like playing with someone else or choosing their own company, instead of sacrificing their wants and needs because of fear of being alone.
Here are 4 steps that I used to help my children become emotional ninjas that worked — not just for them, but for me.
1. Before you play or engage set up personal boundaries that you can keep.
An emotional ninja knows it's okay to say no and to stick to that boundary.
Also, just because one person has a boundary doesn't mean everyone has the same boundary. A parent can encourage concrete, firm boundaries that keep things from getting awkward.
For example, if you have someone coming over to do a play date, but you know your child doesn't like to clean their room, don't let the play date happen in the bedroom. If your child starts to give in and ask if they can change the rule, don't allow it.
You child will learn to set boundaries as time goes on and start to appreciate the rules and you'll see them become applied to other areas of their lives with family, at school, and friends.
2. Keep your focus on yourself.
Children like to please one another and sometimes this means getting disappointed when another child feels selfish.
Teaching a child to focus on their own thoughts, feelings, and reactions and take responsibility for their own entertainment is a great way to gain emotional power and teach it.
If there's a time when someone tries to instigate a problem, a child who learns how to stay focused internally becomes a boring target.
2. Step aside from the situation.
The hardest thing to do when a child feels like things have become unfair is to step aside. But it's the first thing that a child must learn to do when they feel like quarreling.
This same attitude can be applied when having to deal with a toxic adult.
Your child (and you!) can also learn that stepping aside doesn't always mean physical space. It can mean mentally checking out and thinking of a happy story or place that they love.
The moment a child can learn to do this, the stronger their emotional ninja skills become.
3. How to react with kindness.
Teaching a child to simply respond with "Thank you for sharing" often shuts down a bully or someone who has nothing nice to say.
It's hard to keep shelling insults to someone who is thanking you for your nastiness. If a child asks why they should thank a friend who has turned foe for sharing their rotten side, remind them that knowing a hard truth is always better.
4. Pay attention to your feelings, and remember what was done or said that made you react.
Give permission for your child to discuss what happened, how they feel, and to overreact and cry at home with you in safety and comfort.
When a child knows that they can let it all out later with you, they will be less likely to need to let it all out at the moment.
Also, it's a great opportunity to teach why pause and reflection are important when a crisis hits.
It's also important to realize when a friendship is just plain toxic and not in the best interest of your child's emotional well-being. And the same thing goes for you.
You both deserve peace and to feel safe in your relationships.
Sometimes that's the hardest and most important lesson of all when becoming an emotional ninja.