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Kids who speak up for themselves

I felt a tap on the shoulder at school pick up

'Can I have a word Mrs McGill?'

My heart sank.

In these situations you know it can only be bad news and you immediately start to doubt your parenting abilities and blame yourself for whatever your child has got up to.

My son Nico's teacher told me he had been rude and spoken back to her when he was being reprimanded for 'bullying' a boy in his class.

I was mortified and really upset with Nico.

On the way home he refused to talk to me about it.

He was sullen and bolshy.

He pushed past me when we got to the front door.

He then refused to do his homework and picked on his siblings.

My patience was really being tried by this point until I remembered my mantra

‘Look behind the misbehaviour’

At bedtime I lay beside him on his bed whilst we stared into the darkness.

I breathed slowly and said simply

“It sounds like you feel blamed for something you didn’t mean to do…”

He started off with a rant about his teacher and how mean she was.

I let him carry on.

Then he said ‘I was playing chase with Adam and we were having a nice time. Then he said he didn’t want to play anymore and he sat down. I tried to persuade him to come and play again and I pulled his sweater to get him to play and maybe I tugged a bit hard..... The teacher saw me and really told me off so I tried to stand up for myself and explain but she told me I was being rude’

This kind of thing happens time and again with our children.

Adults see a snippet of a situation and jump in with assumptions and reprimands before they know the full story.

What we need to recognise is that kids carry a burden when they aren't heard. They feel judged or blamed for something they haven't done or they didn’t mean to do.

We need to teach them to have the courage to speak out and to be resilient if at first they aren't heard.

I know that I personally have taken years and I’ve had to work really hard on myself to be able to speak out without feeling fear or shame.

I encouraged Nico to go back and explain to the teacher what had happened. This took a lot of persuasion on my part and we had to practice it many times. It took him a couple of days to gain the courage but he did it and he learnt so much from it.

"Miss Jones, when I pulled Adam's sweater the other day, I was only doing it because I wanted him to play with me. I wasn't bullying him. I didn't mean to hurt him"

He also said sorry to Adam as he realised it was ok for Adam to not want to play the game anymore and he shouldn't have tugged his sweater.

We need to encourage our children to stand up for themselves even if it risks being ‘told off’

So I've compiled a list of ways to understand them better and to help them be bold.

  • Children are impulsive. They act out of their feelings and don't stop to think about the consequences.
  • They make mistakes and bad choices but that doesn't mean they are 'bad kids'
  • If they feel misjudged, their way of releasing stress is to shout, get bolshy, contradict us, dig their heels in.
  • When they feel accepted by us and given the benefit of the doubt, then they are willing to take responsibility if they have done something wrong.
  • Encourage them to practice speaking out- a great way to do this is by doing a role-play or by using teddies to demonstrate the role play.
  • One teddy is bullying or accusing and the other has to be assertive.
  • In situations when they feel wrongly accused, get them to say the words they really want to use. You can encourage them to practice saying things in a calm tone of voice like:
    • That doesn't feel fair to me
    • I need to tell you my side of the story
    • I made a mistake
    • I really didn't mean to do that
    • You didn't see everything that happened
  • Encourage them to speak up to you if they feel like you have told them off for an unfair reason.  Praise them for doing that and get them to practice saying it calmly. 
  • Praise any attempt they make to state their feelings. 

I hope this helps you and your children.

Remember, a strong child is far more likely to be kinder to others as well as to stand up for themselves.

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