Even the healthiest homes can leave children vulnerable to toxic behavior. It’s terrifying to think about, right? That no matter how hard you try to protect your stepchildren and children, they may still be vulnerable to unhealthy influences.
Toxic adults may come in the form of narcissistic school administrators, toxic friends, and damaging coaches, just to name a few…
You can empower your kids by making them aware of how to recognize unhealthy behavior. This will help them be more aware of their emotions triggered by toxicity and learn to ignore unhelpful words and actions.
Your support is vital to helping your child maintain positive self-esteem and a healthy, balanced mindset.
Identifying Feelings and Toxic Behavior
Kids are intuitive. If something is off, they’ll feel it. Ask open-ended questions if they bring up uncomfortable behavior.
The more you can understand the situation, the better you can armor your child for their next encounter. (Or, if necessary, set boundaries to help your child protect themselves from toxic behavior)
Children are born with a pure sense of self, and we need to help protect their self-confidence. Toxic behavior by adults will attempt to shrink or make the child smaller. Shaming, belittling, cruelty, and humiliation are not healthy ways for an adult to treat a child.
Teaching your children emotional intelligence is essential for their well-being and emotional intelligence. It can also help in identifying negative emotions caused by others’ actions.
A great place to start with identifying emotions is by asking the child where they are experiencing the feeling in their body. Ask them to clarify, “That sounds like it made you angry,” or “You seem to be frustrated,” which can go a long way in developing these crucial skills.
Your children will learn emotional identifications from your words. Kids might not know the right words to discuss their feelings and reactions. If they don’t, continue to ask questions and use your own words to help guide them.
Managing with Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a powerful tool for kids. Even a 3-minute meditation can do wonders.
We all have voices and internal thoughts. If a child is exposed to a toxic adult day after day, that person’s harmful voice may intertwine with your child’s self-talk. As a result, instead of speaking positively to themselves, your child may begin disparaging themselves.
Alternatively, if they take time to tune into their dialogue, they can weed out the ideas that are an influence rather than nature. This is a lot to ask of a little one, so they may need your help separating facts from feelings, helpful and positive from toxic and negative.
Mindfulness has many benefits, including helping your child manage stress and anxiety from interacting with toxic influences.
Here’s a list of questions to ask your child if you are concerned that a toxic adult is impacting them.
- Who are some people you enjoy being around?
- Who doesn’t feel good to be around?
- Would you say they’re mostly good to be around? Mostly bad to be around?
- What makes you not enjoy being around them?
- How do you feel after you’ve spent time with that person?
- What do you think that person thinks of you?
- What does that person think of other kids?
- Does this person treat you the same or different from other kids? If different, how?
- Do you think you’d like to continue being around this person, or would you rather not?
If your child isn’t open to communicating about potentially toxic adults in their lives, there are some changes in their behavior you can be on the lookout for.
If they are no longer excited about an activity they used to enjoy, they are trying to exert control on others (when one part of their life feels out of control, they’ll try to get that control somewhere else), they cry more easily, or if they’re more agitated than normal, then something may be going on that they need your guidance working through.
As parents, it’s our job to teach our (step)children that kindness and respect do not require them to accept bad behavior. We get the honor to role model healthy behaviors and boundaries for them.
When you have an open line of communication with your child, you can intervene as necessary. You’ll likely have a good sense of how your children feel after being cared for by another adult.
An open door policy and regular communication helps your kids know you’re a safe space for them.
I hope this has given you a great starting point for helping kids manage toxic behavior, but if you want to discuss your personal situation more in-depth, apply for our stepmom support services below!
P.S. If you want a quick win for improving family communication, start implementing family meetings.