By Christopher Byrne
When I would crash my bike or fall out of a tree, which happened a lot as I was a really active kid, my parents’ admonition was always, “shake it off.” (Not that I didn’t get proper medical attention when broken bones and concussions were involved.) I learned to do that, and later, coaches would admonish me to “walk it off” if I got the wind knocked out of me playing sports. It’s great advice. I learned that my spirit was stronger than any injury, and I learned how to avoid that horrible epithet—”cry baby.”
When I would get bullied or come home with some other inevitable personal hurt that comes from being in middle school around other kids, the admonition was always, “laugh it off.” Now, it’s not that my parents didn’t care that I was upset, and they always spoke up when something truly egregious happened—like when our Latin Teacher called my friends David, Ben and me “stupid” in front of the class—but they also knew that learning how to deal with the myriad buffets, hurts and disappointments of day-to-day life was as important as the other lessons we were learning. What this taught me was perspective and an ability to understand what battles were worth fighting.
Name-calling is going to happen. Painful things are going to happen, and it’s important. Difficult as these events are for parents to watch, it’s also important to let kids figure things out for themselves. A strong sense of self and self-esteem don’t come from children being told their wonderful or getting trophies for showing up. It comes from the inside, from facing down challenges and learning to know when something can be laughed off.
Does it work? It did for Marlon Wayans. The wonderful actor plays Ripcord in the upcoming movie “G.I. Joe, The Rise of Cobra” that comes out in August. I had the opportunity to speak with him, and since his character really brings the comedy to the action/adventure film, I asked him what does a good sense of humor teach kids.
Wayons said that “humor got us out of the projects,” adding that an ability to laugh at the difficulties of life not only helped establish the distinctive Wayons brand of comedy, but as a kid it helped him to deal with the difficulties and challenges of life. Even though serious things were happening, learning not to take it all so seriously and keep it in context gave him and his family hope and inspired them to try to do more—something they’ve clearly achieved. My full interview with Wayons will be posted soon; come back and check it out. He’s an amazing guy.
Today, many parents want to protect their children from every slight, every injury and every difficulty. Not only is that impossible, it is also a disservice to kids. Just as muscles get stronger with use, so too do our spirits and our self-esteem. Learning to laugh off a playground taunt helps kids understand their own power in a situation. (Remember, the old response, “I’m rubber, you’re glue. Whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you?”) It gives them confidence to take the (hopefully metaphoric) slings and arrows that come at us in life and most importantly gives them resilience that they’ll need later in life.
Helping children understand what’s important and what isn’t, what’s real and what isn’t, is one of the greatest gifts we can give them. It’s a process, though. The child has to perceive the slight, feel it and then realize that it can’t truly hurt him or her. Then, he or she can laugh it off. It may be difficult to watch initially, but I guarantee the pride of watching your kids learn to deal with life as it happens appropriately and with confidence far outweighs a momentary challenge.
And remember, your kids learn as much from your behavior as what you tell them. When tough times come to you, can you laugh them off? Things always seem easier to deal with after a good laugh. Try it. You’ll see.