• Nicole Dake

Setting Boundaries and Standing Up to Bullies

Updated: 2 days ago

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.

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.

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 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. 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.

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 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.


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