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Why Saying No and Setting Boundaries are Important Skills for Kids.

Updated: Jul 7, 2022

Back in the 80's, we used to tell people to "talk to the hand" when we were done putting up with what they were saying to us.

Not the nicest possible way to tell people to stop saying something inappropriate, but it was effective for us as elementary schoolers with our peers.

We also grew up with the "Just say No" to drugs program in schools, that was supposed to teach us how to stand up to peer pressure. Saying "No" is an effective strategy, if we can stand behind our No and refuse to back down.

Bullying and Cyber-Bullying.

Many children and teens deal with bullying in school. We all probably have seen this in our own childhood as well. When I was a kid, there was this brother and sister that would follow kids home in elementary school and beat them up or steal their backpacks. Everyone knew about it, but no one really did anything to stop it, teachers included.

Today, there are many programs in schools to combat bullying, with anti-bullying curriculums and anonymous tip lines to report bullying. So if your child or someone they know is being bullied, there are avenues to take to report it. Unfortunately, many children and teens feel ashamed of being bullied, so they will fail to speak up.

If you let your child or teen know that it is safe to talk to you about bullying, and that you are not going to judge them for what happens at school, then they will be more likely to talk to you if something does happen.

Now a days, kids also have to worry about cyberbullying. According to StopBullying, "Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place over digital devices like cell phones, computers, and tablets. Cyberbullying can occur through SMS, Text, and apps, or online in social media, forums, or gaming where people can view, participate in, or share content. Cyberbullying includes sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else. It can include sharing personal or private information about someone else causing embarrassment or humiliation. Some cyberbullying crosses the line into unlawful or criminal behavior.

The most common places where cyberbullying occurs are:

  • Social Media, such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Tik Tok

  • Text messaging and messaging apps on mobile or tablet devices

  • Instant messaging, direct messaging, and online chatting over the internet

  • Online forums, chat rooms, and message boards, such as Reddit

  • Email

  • Online gaming communities"

If there is bullying taking place, it is important to let kids know that there is recourse. If bullying is happening online, most apps have the ability to block people from contacting them. Cell phones typically have this capability as well. Kids and teens can also report bullying or cyberbullying to the school, the police, or another trusted adult.

Some ways to deal with bullying and cyberbullying according to Stop Bullying are:

"Specific Strategies Youth Can Use to Deal with Bullying

  • Seek assistance from an adult, friend, or classmate when a potentially threatening situation occurs.

  • Be assertive (not aggressive, fighting, or teasing back) when possible.

  • Use humor to deflect a potential threatening situation.

  • Avoid unsafe places or walk away before a potential bullying encounter occurs.

  • Agree with or “own” a belittling comment to defuse it.

  • Walk with friends or a small group of friendly peers.

  • Use positive self-statements to maintain positive self-esteem during an incident.

  • Avoid getting emotionally upset when bullying occurs, as this may embolden the person bullying.

Strategies Youth Can Use to Prevent Cyberbullying

  • Never accept friend or network requests from unfamiliar people.

  • Use the “mom” principle: Do not post or share photographs or movies that you would not be willing to share with your mother, father, or another important caregiver.

  • Follow the “forever” principle: Assume that everything you put online will be there forever.

  • Follow the “no privacy” principle: Assume that everyone can access information about you in cyberspace.

  • Follow the “ex” principle: Would you be okay with your ex-boyfriends or girlfriends having access to content that you are planning to share?

  • Block threatening or questionable people from seeing your profile and personal information.

  • Do not post provocative, scandalous, or inflammatory remarks online.

  • Do not reply to or retaliate against incidents of cyberbullying.

  • Regularly change passwords to sites and applications, and immediately delete profiles that have been hacked.

  • Avoid sites, networks, and applications that have poor security, provide easy access to personal information, or encourage interactions among strangers.

  • Ensure that information is approved before it is posted or shared socially.

  • Limit involvement in social networking to a few familiar sites.

  • Avoid joining sites that do not have adequate privacy settings.

  • Never engage in sexting (sharing pictures or messages that have private sexual content)."h

Never engage in sexting (sharing pictures or messages that have private sexual content)."

When children have positive relationships with trusted adults like parents and teachers, this can be a protective factor against bullying. It is important to let kids know that they can always come to you for help.

When your child sees someone being bullied, they can speak up against the bully to diffuse the situation, or they can let the person being bullied know that they don't feel the same. If your child feels strongly supported this may be easier for them to do.

Saying No to Authority Figures

As hard as it is to say no to a peer and risk being a social outcast, for kids it can be even harder to say no to an authority figure. In our American society, we teach kids from a young age that adults are to be obeyed without question. For generations, it has been ingrained in us to be obedient and compliant, and that those qualities are our highest good.

Most of the time, listening to authority figures like parents and teachers is a good thing, because they tend to have a child's best interests at heart. Parents tell kids to eat their vegetables, brush their teeth, and go to bed on time. Teachers tell kids how to do their math facts, spelling, and many other important lessons.

But parents and teachers aren't infallible.

Sometimes we tell kids to do things because we are stressed out. Sometimes we teach them things we believe to be fact, but end up to be wrong. Remember before Magellan we taught everyone that the world was flat? Remember when we thought the sun revolved around the Earth? Remember when we thought that being gay was a pathology?

Extreme examples I know, but over the course of human history there have been many times when the "Accepted wisdom of the time" has turned out to be badly wrong.

When we teach our kids to be blindly compliant, and to do what we want because they are afraid of authority, we are selling them short.

Kids have to know that sometimes Moms, Dads and Teachers are going to be wrong. We need to be equally willing to hear a correction from our kids, as they are to hear a correction from us. This means creating openness in relationships, and realizing that kids have knowledge for us too.

It's scary to say "No" to an authority figure, but we need to be able to empower our kids to do that.

Other Reasons Kids Need to Say No.

There are other reasons we need to teach kids to say no, other than being wrong. Sometimes, kids will need to say no to authority figures because they are actually dangerous. Remember "stranger danger" that we all learned growing up? It isn't always strangers that are dangerous.

I don't want to be all doom and gloom, but there are bad people out there.

According to the Center for Family justice, "A report of child abuse is made every 10 seconds; (American Society for the Positive Care of Children)

  • 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 7 boys will be sexually assaulted by the time they reach 18; (Department of Justice)

  • More than 4 children die each day because of child abuse; (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)

  • More than 90 percent of child sexual abuse victims know their attacker; (“Sexual Assault of Young Children as Reported to Law Enforcement” by Howard Snyder)

  • Approximately 70 percent of children that die from abuse are under the age of 4; (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)

  • About 30 percent of abused and neglected children will later abuse their own children, continuing the cycle of violence; (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)"

Some of those statistics are really horrifying. The thing is, as parents, we need to be able to teach kids that it is OK to say no to adults so that they don't become one one of these statistics. We also need to teach them that it is safe to talk to us if something bad happens.

Remember all those men coming forward decades later about being abused by Catholic Priests? Many kids don't come forward right away because of fear of their attacker, out of shame, or because they think they won't be believed above an adult.

How do we teach our kids that it's OK to say no?

Whether it is a kiss on the mouth from creepy uncle Joe, or a spelling mistake on a test at school, we need to let our kids know that it is ok to speak up.

Speaking up for yourself can be scary as a kid, so it is our job as parents to give our kids space and freedom to come to us if something is bothering them about a situation. There are times when they will want to set boundaries with other adults that we think are 'harmless' or when the answer key to a standardized test may have a mistake.

When our kids tell us that something is bothering them, it is important to listen, instead of brushing it off as unimportant. It is important to listen attentively, ask clarifying questions without any judgement, and be sure to let our kids know that they are being taken seriously.

Any time a child comes to us to tell us something, if we start off by being completely open to what they are saying, it helps to keep the door open to dialogue in the future. We can use the Non-Violent Communication Style, or Transformational Listening, or any other method, as long as we are sure to be attentive and give your full attention.

If your child comes to tell you something that is important to them, it is important to put aside anything that we are doing and listen by being completely present with them. When a child sees our openness to listen, it creates a trust, and allows them to be more open and honest with what they will tell us.

Even if we disagree, opening the door to have a dialogue is a way to help kids feel safe with us. Allowing them to feel safe, and to have a parent with a listening ear, will help them later in life to be able to say no to big bullies.

When Kids Say No to Us

As parents, some of the most frustrating times can be when Little Johnny says No to going to bed, or Little Suzy says No to eating her vegetables. In those instances, frequently we are tempted to scream at them and tell them to "Do as I say, or else!" At least that is what my parents always did.

It is a trap that is easy to fall into. As parents, often we are tired and stressed, and we just want our kids to do what they are supposed to, because it makes our life easier. Teaching kids to be compliant does make things much easier in the short term, but it can have many detrimental long term consequences to the kids.

Lately, when one of my kids says no to something, I ask them why. My toddler never wants to turn off her videos to go to bed. Often this will lead to a long, and protracted fight. One day, I just asked her why she doesn't want to turn her video off. She told me that she is scared without it. Again, I asked why. She told me she was scared because it was too dark without her video on. So I turned on an extra night light. From then on, she started turning off her videos without a long fight.

Getting our kids to do what we want doesn't have to be an "Us vs. them" battle.

A lot of times, we just don't understand the reason behind their no. When we take time to listen and understand, often we will find that there are easy solutions that allow everyone to get what they want.

Really, it is a matter of communicating better, not that a child is trying to spite us. When we teach kids to communicate better, it helps them in the future, as well as helping us in the present.

Personal Boundaries

There are certain ways that no one wants to be treated. We don't want to be hit, or have someone scream in our face. Yet, a lot of the old school of parenting advice tells us to do this to our kids. If I can't scream at my boss or hit her for not giving me a raise, why is it ok for me to do that to my kids for not complying with my wishes?

What gives the parent a right to be a dictator?

Unfortunately, I think a lot of this is based on history, and the idea that our children are somehow our property. In the past, parents sold their daughters into marriage or their sons into a trade. More recently, we see our children's behavior as a reflection of our own goodness. In my parent's generation, children were to be "seen and not heard."

This doesn't really do a lot for a child's self image or later development.

What is to stop a little girl that was told she is never allowed to say no from being assaulted? What is to stop a boy who was told never to say no from caving to an employer asking him to commit fraud? There are bad people out there who will victimize other people who are too weak to say no. We don't want our kids to be those victims. Yet, that is what we are teaching them, when we teach them to follow us with blind obedience.

Personal boundaries are important. Being empowered enough to say no without backing down is important. That is how we over come bullies both on the playground, and beyond.

The ability to create healthy boundaries allows us to be safe, in many aspects of our lives.

Let me know if there is a time in your life when you set and held a boundary, even if it was unpopular, or ways that you teach your kids to set boundaries for themselves. Also, let me know in the comments if there are any other topics that you would like me to cover in the future.

If this resonates with you, feel free to give it a share on your socials as well.

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