My husband and I are both decidedly non-Authoritarian parents. It didn’t take our son long to discover that a ‘fun’ way to drive dad nuts is to call him ‘Sir”, implying that the duo have a much more formal relationship than they do. As our children are turning six we’re trying to teach them some of the finer points of socialization and coping strategies in difficult situations. This is a trickier aspect of parenting that I didn’t really anticipate.
The Gracious Guest
Growing up, my parents emphasized the importance of being respectful to my elders, as well as being a gracious guest. While this meant whenever I was out in social situations I was usually perceived as an extremely polite and generally well-behaved kid, it also led to a number of situations where I was absolutely miserable and let both adults and kids walk all over me; all for the sake of being ‘good’. As a child with very little understanding of the grey areas of social etiquette it also meant I didn’t stand up for myself when I should have. I still remember scarfing down beef tongue at a friend’s house for dinner and pretending I loved it even though I thought it was disgusting. Seriously who serves that on the eve of a sleepover? While this didn’t exactly win me cool points with my friend who moaned endlessly that their parents had served up gross food, this was one of the more positive ‘suck it up buttercup’ moments of politeness my parents were reaching for.
Polite & Passive Are Two Different Things
This also meant that I didn’t stand up for myself when adults, like teachers behaved inappropriately, because in my mind, speaking up was impolite and I didn’t want to be considered rude and confrontational. An example was when I, without complaint, patiently waited over an hour with dog poop on my shoe after recess because my teacher told me that I had just come in from recess and was not permitted to go to the washroom. Much later, recounting this story to my parents they were surprised and amused how much doo-doo I was willing to entertain from adults when I should have dug my poop covered shoes in.
Thinking back at all those miserable moments, I want to arm my children with the communication tools they need in order to speak up when something isn’t right, even if the source of the problem is a teacher or a family member. While I grew out of my passivity with adults once I hit high school, I earned my share fair of discipline doled out for ‘being disrespectful’ when calling adults out on power trips and inappropriate behaviour. By then I knew how to ride the polite line, form a solid argument behind my actions, and understood that my parents would have my back. This type of reasoning usually won’t develop until kids get a little older, so we need to teach them how to cope while they’re little.
How can parents arm kids with age-appropriate responses that are also respectful and polite? It turns out that it’s not that complicated and is a matter of basic anti-bullying and conflict resolution strategies. Here are six things that you can teach your children today to help them stand-up for themselves, respectfully.
Talk About Personal Space
Your child’s personal space belongs to them. It is up to them to decide who they want to hug or kiss. Don’t force hugs and affection on them with other adults if they are not comfortable. This sets a precedent that an adult’s wishes are more important than your child’s own comfort. Sometimes we’ll suggest hello or goodbye high fives or waves when our kids aren’t feeling the hug vibe, but at the end of the day, the choice is theirs.
Talk to your child about their relationships with other people, including adults. By speaking with them about these relationships without judgement they’ll be more likely to open up to you if something does happen that upsets them.
Model Assertive, But Kind Behaviour
The little ones are watching, so set an example yourself. If your children routinely see you acting like a pushover so as not to rock the boat they are going to emulate that behaviour. Remember to keep it polite, but practice what you preach.
Give Them Age Appropriate Language
Kids don’t need a big speech prepared every time they need to stand up for themselves, but some simple phrases can help. You can even role play them to help build their confidence for the next time they find themselves in that type of situation.
“Stop that please.”
“It’s not right to hurt.”
“Don’t touch me please.”
“I don’t like it when you call me that. Please use my name instead.”
“I think we both need a moment to calm down.”
Teach Them To Respond With A Why Question
A simple question is a really excellent way to give an adult pause on their actions and remember that they are the adult in the situation.
“Why are you trying to hurt my feelings?”
“Why are you yelling at me?”
“Why aren’t you listening to me?”
Don’t Be Afraid To Step In
You might need to say something to the adult in question, or even have your child tell the offending adult to call you to talk it out. The bottom line is that it’s your job to look out for your child. Sometimes it’s going to be uncomfortable, but at the end of the day you need to show your children that you have their back, even if it means calling the principal or having an awkward conversation with your aunt Sally.
Do you try to parent peacefully? Please share your methods in the comments below!