I have long been an admirer of business leader Sheryl Sandberg and in her recent book Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy, written with psychologist Adam Grant after the sudden death of her husband, Dave Goldberg, she writes powerfully about raising resilient kids in the face of tragedy.
She describes how her family wrote new rules to guide them as they faced an uncertain future without Dave, with asking for help central to the rules and 'at the heart of building resilience.' She writes that "when children feel comfortable asking for help, they know they matter. They see that others care and want to be there for them. They understand that they are not alone and can gain some control by reaching out for support. They realize that pain is not permanent; things can get better."
It struck me while reading this how often we advise children going through a bullying situation to 'tell someone' when 'asking for help' is much better advice. Telling someone has uncertain consequences. The person may not want to listen or say the wrong thing, or some children fear that if they tell someone it may make the situation worse. Asking for help however is empowering. It's about talking through a difficult situation with someone you trust and considering your options. It's about finding the right advice and support so things can get better.
Sheryl talks about understanding she couldn't fix the grief of her children but that if she 'could walk alongside them and listen' she would be helping them.
As family members it's natural to want to swoop in and sort out the problem, but very often what our child or teenager needs more than anything is to be truly heard, and supported to work out a solution. It's important that all children are encouraged and empowered to ask for help, safe in the knowledge that as adults we will listen and walk alongside them until they reach a place of safety.