Teaching Kids to Stand Up for Themselves

child-dad-daughter-139389By Kathy P. Behan

When my sister was about 6 years old, my father gave her a $5 bill and asked her to buy him a newspaper. She obligingly went into the store and came out with the paper and some change. After counting the change, my father discovered that she had been shortchanged a dollar. He told her to go back to the cashier, explain what happened, and get the correct change.

Mona didn’t want this assignment, and tearfully tried to talk my father into doing it himself. Dad was unmoved.

“You have to stand up for yourself,” he patiently, but firmly explained, and headed her back into the store.

After a few minutes, she triumphantly returned with the dollar bill.

My dad taught my sister a valuable lesson that day, and it’s one that we all have to learn. It’s easy to be taken advantage of, the hard part is knowing when, and how to put a stop to it. If you’re successful, you feel good about yourself. You get a sense of satisfaction and pride. The problem is how you feel if you don’t take action. You get mad at yourself and may feel hopeless, and even worthless. You may believe that you don’t have control of anything, and are a hapless victim of the world around you.

Standing up for yourself doesn’t mean being strident or intractable. You can make your point in a polite and calm manner. Don’t declare war from the get-go. After all, everyone makes mistakes so it’s usually best to give the person the benefit of the doubt, and make your case from that perspective. And just because there are some crummy people out there, it doesn’t mean that you should constantly be on the lookout for them, or always gearing yourself up for a fight.

When my oldest son, Cullen, was a kindergartner, there was a third-grade bully on his bus. Along with other taunts, this kid would hurl four-letter word insults at Cullen.

One day my son came home from school with a very satisfied grin on his face.

“I got him back,” Cullen cheerfully explained. “When he was done calling me bad names, I looked him right in the face and insulted him.”

“What did you say,” I asked.

“Four eyes!” was his quick and enthusiastic reply.

This was his burning insult? Well, the kid did wear glasses. But of course, that’s not the point. It really wasn’t all that important what my son had said, it was just that he had had the gumption to say anything. He stood up for himself, and so the bully ended up leaving Cullen alone and sought out easier, less confident prey.

As a parent, you want to protect your children from all the bullies and unpleasantness of life. You want to fight every battle for them, and right every wrong. But obviously this just isn’t possible. Nor is it the best way to help your kids.

What’s better is to arm them so they can take care of themselves. Their best protection will be a good and healthy respect for themselves. Because they like themselves, they’ll expect to be treated well and fairly. They’ll know they’re worthy of other people’s consideration and friendship.

So, as in my father’s case, sometimes the best parenting has to be done behind the scenes. After giving encouragement and advice, at times, you have to stand back and let your child confront a problem alone. But as with my sister, even though she faced off against the cashier by herself, she also knew that my father was behind her all the way.

Kathy P. Behan, a mother of three, is a nationally published freelance writer, specializing in health and family issues.

One Reply to “Teaching Kids to Stand Up for Themselves”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: