|So, what can we do?
Kids need to feel like they belong. From birth we need
to be creating a loving environment where children feel safe, part of
the family, needed, loved, and respected. At school, do they feel safe,
part of the group? Communication is the key --
can they talk to you? can you talk to them? can they talk to their
peers? be assertive? how do you set boundaries,
and enforce them? are you fair, polite, assertive, empathetic? HOW
we communicate with them is teaching them something -- are they learning
that we are good people, or someone they want to escape from as soon as
possible? And are we teaching them HOW to be assertive, social beings?
Standing Up to Authority
When our kids are teenagers, we want them to be able to say
"no" to their peers, to the ring leaders, to the
bullies. We want them to know how to handle a situation
assertively and without making matters worse. Should they walk
away? ...tell the peers what they want? ...try to negotiate? ...compromise?
And how do we teach them this skill? We practice it when they are
young. You know the child that turns to you and says, with hand in
air "whatever"? He* is learning how to
stand up to authority. Does it push your buttons? Perhaps.. but
remember this is what you want him* to do when his*
peers try to pressure him* into doing something he
doesn't want to do. Is the "whatever" an appropriate way to do
it? Perhaps not.
DO you want him* to handle disagreeing with an authority figure?
- stay in control of emotions?
- recognize safety issues and
how to avoid them?
- state feelings/ ideas / wishes
- use appropriate voice tone,
wording, body language?
- suggest compromises /
negotiate if possible?
- deal with frustration when
When the child does do the "whatever" technique (or
yelling, kicking, saying 'no', etc.) this is a great opportunity to teach them the
above skills. Help them recognize their anger/frustration and
express it properly. Help them talk to you in an appropriate way and
empathize with them. That means that you can appreciate where they
are coming from--not that you have to agree with them,
or give in to them-- just understand them. They have and have the right
to their own feelings and wishes -- accept that and respect that. But on the other
hand, they shouldn't be abusive or coercive. Saying
something like "You are very angry at me right now. Let's calm down
and then discuss this." can help them stay in control. Then negotiate if appropriate or help them
deal with their frustration, but do listen!
If they can confront you and feel confident in doing so, they can
confront their peers when they need to as well.
Taking On Adult Role
From a very early age, children continue to develop skills that make
them a "big person", an adult. And so we give them the
skills to become independent -- or we try, anyway. If we see our
role as one that tells kids what to do, when to do it, and how to do
it, they are not learning how to be independent, but rather the
opposite. They are learning how to listen to others, and do as they are
told, but not how to think on their own. Imagine their
self-esteem! How confident do you think they would feel? How mature do
you think they would feel, or be? And will they want to rebel when
they hit the teen years?
Knowing that teens want to feel like an adult, we need to be
ensuring that we treat them as such...right from day one! Ask for their
opinions, give them the right to make their own choices (when
appropriate), and handle the
consequences (with your help of course if they ask), treat them with
respect. If they feel like they are an adult, they won't have the need
to go out and prove it.
Making Own Decisions
Along the same line as above, kids need to learn how to make their own
decisions. Again, if we continually tell them what to do they do
not learn how to make choices, and how to decide what is the best
choice. some things that can help are: starting them out small with "do
you want this or that"; talking
to them about decisions to be made; helping them think of all the
options, and the consequences of each; helping them deal with the
consequences; being at their side to help but not to control. A hard
balancing act, but a vital one.
In my opinion, if kids have been given the skills to make good choices,
to be in control of their lives, to believe in boundaries, then they
won't have the need to escape their reality, will feel in control, and
will enjoy life. It is when we feel 'out of control' that we feel
trapped and lost and just want to run away. Helping kids learn how to
stay "in control" gives them a life they don't end up wanting
Don't we all just wanna' have fun!? Teenage years can be the best
years -- social get-togethers, sports, friends galore, dances, singing,
pep rallies... gee, almost makes me want to go back. (Almost!) So how do
we let kids have their fun, but within boundaries?
What are your boundaries? Are they reasonable? Are they
respectful? Are they giving the kids as much control over their
lives as is appropriate? Are they helping kids make choices,
safely? Are we teaching them to be respectful of others at the same
time? Have we let them set their own boundaries?
Again, helping them make choices through the early years, helps them
make good choices when the "fun" times come around during the
teen years. Stop, think, choose, act.