This week I had the pleasure of co-facilitating with Kidpower’s founder and executive director, Irene van der Zande, during the “Turning Problems into Practices” coaching conference call about Healthy Boundaries and Self-Advocacy Skills.
Next Tuesday, we continue with weekly free coaching conference calls in honor of International Child Protection Month! Please sign up to join us Tues., Sept. 22 for our call on the topic: “Out on Their Own – Preparing kids to develop independence while staying safe” and invite anyone else you think may be interested.
Setting clear and respectful boundaries is a life skill that is vital for adults and children to practice. Yet it is also a skill that many people avoid when they can – sometimes to great harm – because it can be uncomfortable to feel embarrassed, inconvenienced, or offended – or to make anyone else feel that way.
Kidpower’s underlying principal is that that our safety and well-being are more important than embarrassment, inconvenience, or offense – including to ourselves and others – or to Put Safety First.
The Put Safety First principle is easy to agree with in theory and often hard to uphold in practice. I think it’s one of the more revolutionary aspects of our work. Put Safety First is definitely the single value I use the most in my daily life with colleagues, family, friends, students, teachers, and clients. I find, when I take the extra time to connect with with care and communicate clearly and respectfully about problems, that I most often find the relationship getting better – as we work together to solve issues rather than in opposition.
Irene is masterful in her ability to turn boundary problems into practices over the phone. Her responses and the practices to address to the questions that came up from callers about setting boundaries and self-advocacy this week were detailed and inspiring. I hope you find something useful for yourself and others you care about in the audio and summary transcript, below.
The questions that were discussed live on this call were:
- I am having trouble getting my 19-year-old step-son to respect the boundaries that his younger siblings are setting, and sometimes they are hesitant to set them because he is the oldest – such as when he teases his younger brother, my girls go along with it even when they want him to stop. How can I handle this when it comes from within the family?
- We have family we are friends with and the Dad thinks it is really funny when his son is aggressive with my girls and playing at sexual stuff and says things like, “That’s my boy!” How can I handle these situations?
- I have a teenager and she gives me the silent treatment. How do I deal with this? I don’t want to push too hard and invade her space and so I hold back and let time pass. I would like the skills to do better and stay engaged, rather than shut out.
- My daughter and her friends have been using emotional coercion during playdates, say things like, “If you don’t play this game, I will end this playdate right now.” I have role-played with her on how to deal with these situations, is there anything else I can do to better equip her? She also has started doing the same types of behaviors with others.
- There are times when my daughter likes to be the leader, but gets strong-willed and does not let others lead. How do I handle those times when she refuses to cooperate, just because she does not want to and wants to be in charge?
- As a child, when I was excluded I got sad and withdrawn, and this often made me a target. I see that happening to my daughter too, how can I help her self-advocate?
Sept. 15, 2015–Kidpower “Turning Problems into Practices” Coaching Conference Call with founder and executive director, Irene van der Zande. Topic: “Healthy Boundaries and Self-Advocacy Skills” (61 mins)
Introduction: This call will focus on healthy boundaries and the positive communication and self-advocacy skills that we, and our kids, can use to build healthy relationships. The purpose of this kind of coaching call is to take real situations that the callers give us and turn the problem into a practice using Kidpower skills and strategies that you can use to help yourself and your children to be safer, and have fun, and deal with the problems that come up in life.
We sent two articles ahead of the call, covering the basics of boundary setting skills: the words to use when setting a clear and respectful boundary, and how to persist with positive responses when those you set a boundary with have negative reactions to being given a boundary, which is normal. Staying positive and practicing how to do this helps us to stay calm while we persist in upholding our boundary.
Question 1: I am having trouble getting my 19-year-old step-son to respect the boundaries that his younger siblings are setting and, at time, are hesitant to set because he is the older brother. He does not like or respect boundaries and when he teases his younger brother, my girls go along with it even when they want him to stop. How can I handle this when it comes from within the family?
Problem to Practice Discussion: It is really hard when the people crossing our boundaries are family and friends. It is important to remember our underlying Kidpower principle of Put Safety First: Our safety and well-being are more important than anyone’s embarrassment, inconvenience or offense. What you are talking about is the emotional safety of the younger brother, the safety in your household, and the safety of your girls if they are learning that they just have to suffer through it when someone is acting in a way that is inappropriate, uncomfortable, embarrassing, or hurtful toward them or you. So, let’s discuss how to address this in a way that will de-escalate rather than escalate the situation:
Starting with the 19-year-old: How does your husband feel about the relationship with his sons?
Reply:“We only have them on weekends, the girls look up to their brothers and there has always been an issue and the issue with different parenting styles with his mother. The oldest boy has a history of being a boundary pusher and dismisses when we try to set them. My husband is upset about it and hesitates to push the issue, as he is afraid of losing the relationship.”
It can be hard to trust yourself to be respectful when you are feeling worried or upset, when something is going against your values, when you feel vulnerable about the relationship – and someone is not respecting your boundaries.
- Set aside a special time with just the 19 year old without the other kids around. At Kidpower, we recommend that boundary-setting starts by leading with a bridge so that it acknowledges the other person’s reality, such as, “ I know you do things differently during the week at your mom’s and that is your absolute right and I understand that it does not seem like a big deal to you. AND (use the power of AND instead of saying “but” which negates what came before it) we feel uncomfortable in our home when you are teasing your brother and ignoring him when he asks you to stop and the girls are going along with it because they look up to you so much. We really want you to be the role model for all of them in how to respect boundaries and not to engage in teasing that anyone feels is hurtful or upsetting.”
- Have a separate conversation with each of the kids without the others and discuss their role in the family. With daughters it could be, “I know you love your brothers and you don’t want to cross them, AND we would like you to not participate in teasing. It is okay to say, ‘I love you and I am uncomfortable with this.’’ Give them some other words to say besides, “Stop, I don’t like it.”
Whenever you set a boundary, you need to be prepared for the negative reaction. What would be the negative reactions from the kids?
Reply: “The girls will get sad because they feel like they did something wrong for not standing up to him. And the 19 year old would say immediately, “I don’t do that, you are mistaken, that is not what happened, you are hearing it wrong. Or, You don’t understand, I have a relationship with my brother and sisters and I am entitled to that and you are not permitted to interfere with that.”
- For the girls, you need to give a lot of supporting comments, you could say, “I know that you did not do anything wrong. It is hard to do. It is hard for adults to do. Learning how to tell somebody when behavior is not safe or not respectful – and to keep telling them when they do not listen at first – is an important life skill. If you can learn it now, then it will be easier later.”
- Then role-play with them so they can practice. Pretend to tickle them, teasing them, or start name-calling. Coach them to tell you, “I don’t like you doing that. I love you, and I would like you to stop.” Then you respond by saying, “I can do whatever I want.” Then coach them to say, “That is not true; respect has to be a 2-way street. I really love you and I want you to stop.” Find words that work for them and actually write up a script for them and then role-play it with them saying the script.
- For the 19-year-old: It is not easy, and you might have to do the talking with your husband sitting next to you. Don’t say your stepson is lying. Do not argue with his reality or get in a power struggle. Instead you can say, “I understand it did not seem that way to you.”
- And then say, “We are going to help the kids learn to speak up more, so you can hear it directly from them what they are feeling. We want to support you having a great relationship with them, a very strong relationship. To do this, it is really important for everyone to learn how to notice and respect boundaries. It would be great if, instead of denying it or getting upset, you can learn to say, ‘Thank you for telling me,’ when they ask you to stop.”
Remember that this is a work in process; issues like these won’t get fixed overnight, and everyone will still make mistakes. If you start modeling healthy boundaries and raise the issue – you can use Kidpower’s declaration, “Everyone in this house has the right to be treated with safety and respect; AND the responsibility to act safely and respectfully toward others.We are all going to work together to make this happen.”
Question 2: We have a family that we are friends with and the dad thinks it is really funny when his son is aggressive with my girls and playing at sexual stuff and says, “That’s my boy!” How can I handle these situations?
Problem to Practice Discussion: Start by meeting with the father without the kids, because challenging his behavior in front of the kids can escalate it. You start by making a bridge – which is to connect with him in a positive way. You can say, “I know you mean well. I think you are a wonderful person. I so value the friendship that our families have, AND I want my daughters to know that people will respect their boundaries. That means that when your son is being encouraged to joke and tease about this, it can cause problems. I would like you to not encourage this behavior with your son. I am going to be talking with my daughters, and I would like you to talk with your son and tell him not to make that kind of joke or play that kind of game with our girls.”
- What do you think the negative reaction of the father might be?
- Reply: “You are too sensitive; that this is the way boys and girls are; you’re creating an unrealistic expectation; your daughters will be coddled or weak.”
- Prepare yourself. You might respond, “I am sensitive, AND I know there is a lot of data now that teaching young people about boundaries and how to be respectful of others’ boundaries can prevent a host of problems later on. I am working with my daughters to be strong and clear and I am giving them a foundation of strong boundaries so that they will know that I will uphold their right to be respected as they are learning to do it on their own.”
- Know the possible consequence is that you might lose this relationship, but it is better that then continue to put your daughters in an environment that is emotionally unsafe.
Article reference: The pre-reading sent for the call about Teenpower and Fullpower Boundaries includes common negative reactions to boundaries – and positive reactions to you can use to practice persisting. Also see our Fullpower Boundaries Practice Handout explaining how to turn this into a role play.
- [quick-download class=”blue” text=”Fullpower Boundaries Personal Practice”]https://www.kidpower.org/pdfs/fullpower-adult-boundaries-personal-practice.pdf[/quick-download]
Question 3: I have an older teenager, and she gives me the silent treatment. How do I deal with this? I don’t want to push too hard and invade her space and so I hold back and let time pass; and then I feel manipulated. I would like the skills to do better and stay engaged, rather than shut out.
Problem to Practice Discussion: Personally, I really find the silent treatment one of the hardest negative reactions to deal with because I so value connection. Giving you the silent treatment gives your daughter a lot of power because she is disconnecting with you by communicating, “I am not going to speak to you.” And the relationship is so important that you do not want to lose communication with her.
What kinds of conflict lead to the silent treatment?
Reply: “If she does not want me to attend something with her friends, but some of the other moms are going and I want to attend too. It’s a group invitation, but she does not want me along. She wants her to let her go by herself. I want to respect her boundary, but at the same time I feel left out, disrespected, and hurt.”
It sounds like your daughter’s perspective might be that she is almost an adult – and does not want mom around all the time. And your perspective is a desire is to maintain a good connection and to be part of her life– and those two perspectives are warring with each other. This kind of conflict is normal.
Do you have other times where you have fun together and connect?
Reply: “We do, but it is getting less and less. I’ve been trying to see if this attitude is coming from her friends, but I don’t see that, so I don’t know why she is doing this.”
- Don’t back out of the picture. Set up alternative structures for connection. When your daughter is being social with other young people, she might be having a need to separate from you. That need is very developmentally appropriate for her age. Find time away from her friends for just the two of you to connect – or if it works to have one friend along too, that’s okay as long as the focus of the time is allowing you two to be connected.
- This is a struggle between two different needs that both of you have. Keep in mind: She needs connection too! And you need her to be able to function on her own.
- You can say to her, “I am going to respect that you want to go on these social outings without me, even if the other moms are there at the same time.” AND “You are very important to me and there is nothing more important to me than my relationship with you. So, I want to find ways that we can be connected that lets you have more independence and also continues to help our relationship grow.” You can add, “If I am saying or doing things that get in the way of your being comfortable and having fun with me, then I want to know what they are so I can change them.”
If she refuses to make time for having fun together, then you can decide to that time for family therapy in order to have an independent person help mediate or make another plan. Since she is still 17, you can do this, and it is important enough to insist. Even after she turns 18, if she is still dependent on you, you can still insist on therapy. We can choose to be angry at the way the people we love are hurting us. or we can remember that they are doing it because they do not have better skills – and that we love them. We are the adults, so we can decide to be the one that takes charge of improving the relationship.
Dealing with the silence: When she gives you the silent treatment, do not try to make her talk to you. You cannot control that; you cannot make anyone talk to you, so let it go.
- Take a breath, get centered, and lead with your heart connection – make a bridge. You can say, “I see that you are very upset with me and don’t want to talk with me right now. I am very sad when you make that choice and I understand that it is your right. I am ready to talk with you whenever you are ready to talk – and I really want to find better ways for us to work on areas where we disagree and stay connected to each other.”
Question 4: My daughter and her friends use emotional coercion during a play date and say things like, “If you don’t play this game, I will end this play date right now.” I have role-played with her on how to deal with these situations with the jingle: “Say what you feel. Say what you want. Find a solution and play.” Is there anything else I can do to better equip her? She has started using these same types of behaviors with others.
Problem to Practice Discussion: I like your jingle, “Say what you feel. Say what you want. Find a solution and play.” Add to the beginning, “Make a bridge.” Starting boundary-setting with a bridge is very powerful. It acknowledges the other person’s feelings and reality, “I know you really want to play this game right now, or I know you feel strongly about this – AND I feel sad when you say that you want to end the play date when I want to play a different game. Would you please find a game we both can agree on.”
- When kids say to your daughter, “Don’t play with her – or we can’t play anymore,” your daughter can say: “I know you really like special time with me AND I want to enjoy lots of friends. I feel sad when you say you won’t play with me and I hope you will change your mind because I like to play with you.” This can help them feel like she respects and cares about the relationship, even if she is not okay with the behavior.
Question 5: There are times when my daughter likes to be the leader, but gets strong-willed and does not let others lead. How do I handle those times when she refuses to cooperate, just because she does not want to and wants to be in charge?”
Problem to Practice Discussion: Acknowledge her power as a leader, “You are a very powerful leader; you have wonderful ideas and that is great a lot of the time. One of the important things about having power as a leader is to use that power really responsibly. Sometimes the best thing we can do as a leader is to help other people learn how to lead by giving them the chance, even if they might not do it in the same way as you do it or as well as you do it. You can encourage them rather than not letting them do it.”
Emotional coercion usually happens when people do not have another tool that they can use (or remember to use).
Book reference: The whole-brain child is a great book for helping us to understand and help our kids to learn about different parts of their brain, their feelings, and how to deal with frustrated feelings.
- The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind, by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson
Question 6: As a child, I was excluded and I got sad and withdrawn and this often made me a target. I see that happening to my daughter too. How can I help her self-advocate?
Problem to Practice Discussion: As an adult, if we struggled with something as a child and then we see our own children struggle with this same issue, our feelings can be extra strong. Being left out, shunned, and excluded can be very hurtful. The younger the child is, the more you can step in and manage. Adults can say, “Sounds like one of you is being left out; let’s find a way to include everyone in the game.”
As kids get older, give them support on how to speak up. We asked 7-year-olds why kids get left out, and they gave all kinds of reasons: “They are not very good. There are too many. They cheated last time. They didn’t watch the show that this game is about” … so we then worked on responses they could use to these reasons for exclusion in the role plays we can set up.
To set up the role-play, say: “I am pretending to be the kid leaving you out.” Coach the child who is practicing speaking up about being left out stand in front of you. You can also have practices include another kid being one of the kids who is around – witnessing a kid being left out. If you don’t have more kids, use animals or kitchen utensils (spoon is being left out; fork says…). Do not have kids pretend to leave someone out in role-plays – take that role yourself so that kids are always practicing what you want them to do.
- Coach the Child say, “I would like to join the game,” in a calm, confident voice.
- You say, “Pretend I’m a kid who is trying to leave you out and I say: “There are too many of us already.”
- Coach the child to say, “There is always room for one more.”
- Adult: “And if I say, ‘You cheated last time.’ You can say…”
- Coach the Child to say, “I didn’t understand the rules, let’s be clear so I know.”
- Adult: “And if I say, ‘I don’t want to play with you.’”
- Coach the Child to say, “The rule here is everyone gets a chance to play.”
- Also coach other kids there to say, “Give her a chance, and let her play. If you don’t want to play with her, that is your decision, but we are going to welcome her.”
- Child could also walk away, through the hurtful words away (in the Kidpower Trash Can) and say, “I can find other friends to play with.”
If that doesn’t work, then this is an adult problem and kids need to learn how to persist in getting help from the adults, especially if they are not prepared to help them or know how to help.
- Coach the child to stay calm and say to teacher or adult, “Excuse me, we have a safety problem. Kids are leaving me out and I tried really hard to get them to include me and they won’t listen.”
- If the adult says, “That is Tattle Telling, solve it yourself.” This label is not helpful. Coach the child to say, “I am not telling to be a tattle tale, I am telling to get help and you are the adult who is supposed to help me.”
- If the adult does not help, then the child needs to tell the parents. Parents might then need to advocate for their child at the school with the principal and the teacher.
Adults are the best line of defense for advocating for the child. There are studies that show that bullying and other adverse childhood experiences can affect how people’s brains function and can cause many physical as well as emotional problems as adults.
- Our book, Bullying: What Adults Need to Know and Do to Keep Kids Safe, has many examples of role plays and practices.
- The new edition of our Kidpower Safety Comics has a section on the difference between tattling and telling.
- People Safety Podcast: Tattling and Telling: What’s the Difference?
Learn more about HOW to advocate, intervene and empower young people by:
- Participating in or sharing notes to one or more of Kidpower’s 1-hour “Turning Problems into Practices” Coaching Conference Calls;
- Taking or organizing a Fullpower Safety Leadership Workshop;
- Using Kidpower’s many books and other publications, such as the Kidpower Safety Comics series, to learn, teach and practice safety skills with young people;
- Attending our October 2015 Kidpower Skills for Child Protection Advocates 3-day Professional Training Institutes in North Carolina; and
- Applying for our Kidpower Core Program Training – a 6-day training for individuals who want to learn to teach our programs, either as a Kidpower Certified Instructor, or to bring Kidpower skills training to your organization and become an authorized service provider.
Published: September 18, 2015 | Last Updated: August 1, 2016