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Your objective is not to take the hardest situation you have to deal with, but to practice this model for
communicating about boundaries and persisting in the face of negative reactions. You can take a real example or
make one up if this is easier for you. Focus the practice on the problem, not the individual. You can use an
imaginary name to protect confidentiality. Please do not do this about someone who is present.

1. Pick a situation you want to practice.

For example, a family member, friend, teacher, boss, or colleague who is being rude, thoughtless, disrespectful, hurtful, or irresponsible.

What kind of feeling do you have about this problem? Be sure to state this in a way that you are owning your
feelings or making an observation; NOT attacking or accusing the other person. “I feel..” Or, “It seems to me ..”

What is the specific behavior that you want to see change? State objectively what the person is or is not doing.

What is the specific outcome you want? What is something you appreciate or understand about this person?

2. Write your statement after the example in a few words without a lot of explanation.

Bridge: One-sentence caring connection. I know you have a lot to do. (Or, I know you mean well. Or, I have a lot of respect for your work. Or, I understand how busy you are. Or, I love you and you are important to me.)

I-Statement of your feeling or non-attacking observation. AND I feel …. frustrated, disappointed, uncomfortable,
sad, worried … Or, It seems to meour communications don’t work well …. Or, The rule here is…”

Statement of the behavior when …. eg. you text instead of looking at me when I talk when we are together

Statement of the desired outcomewould you please stop what you are doing and look at me so I will know I
have your attention?

3. Circle a negative reaction from this list that you’d like to practice dealing with.

Denial: “I never did/said/meant that. You misunderstood me.”

Minimizing: “You’re overreacting…. You are so sensitive … You are making a big deal out of nothing… It
was just a joke…Don’t you have a sense of humor?” … “I am sorry this [insulting/unfair remark or action that
you are setting boundaries about] was so hard for you to hear.”

Counterattacking with emotional coercion including guilt or blame: “How can you say that to me? … Don’t
you care about me? …You are just saying this because you only think of yourself… I will NOT be okay unless
I get my way … You will make me leave/get sick/get hurt/die/kill myself … You’re jealous… You’re crazy…
You have too many problems…You’re defensive.” …”What about what YOU did to me?”

Denying your right to have a boundary: “I will do whatever I want. You can’t stop me. You HAVE to do
what I want or else you will lose –our relationship/your job/money/time with your children…I am your —
boss/parent/teacher/child and you MUST do what I say…I’ll hurt you! … JUST SHUT UP!”

Being so devastated that you feel tempted to take care of him or her: “I am so awful for saying that…. I am
sure you won’t want anything to do with me anymore…. I am just too messed up to be with anyone…I hate
myself for having done that… I can’t deal with this…. I can’t talk about this anymore.”

4. Circle a positive response you’d like to practice using.

Acknowledge feelings. “You sound upset.” … “I appreciate your concern.”

Express caring. “You are important to me even though I don’t like what you did.” “If you feel sick, let me take
you to the doctor or call 9-1-1.” “If you feel trapped, let me take you wherever you want to go.”

Restate your boundary: “This is important to me because ______. I feel…when you…. would you please….”
… “Now that you have told me your feelings, I do not want to have you bring this up again.”

Find a common ground. “Let’s see if we can find a solution that will meet both our needs…Perhaps we
misunderstood each other…What do you think you said/meant/did? This is what I think I said/meant/did.” …”I
am sorry this upset you. I would like to talk when you feel ready to listen.” … “Let’s agree to disagree.”

State a consequence that is realistic and balanced for this situation. “Stop or I will leave…Stop or you have
to leave…Stop or I will report you…. This behavior needs to change or our relationship will need to change.”

Take a break and try again later. “Let’s give ourselves some time to calm down so we can think more
clearly…. Let’s get some rest and try to talk when we are less tired.”

Request clarification. “I am confused. What was your purpose in making that comment?”

Write it down. Writing things down gets people’s attention and creates documentation if you need it.

Let the other person have the last word. Just disengage. You can say nothing at all or, in a very respectful
way, “Thank you for telling me!”

Leave with care. If someone is very upset, you can leave as you say, “You are important to me. I care about
you. We’ll talk later when we’ve had a chance to calm down.”

Leave quietly and get help. If someone is threatening or violent or any time your personal safety is at risk,
leaving is almost always the safest thing to do. Making threats about fighting back is dangerous.

As a last resort, know when and how to use physical self defense. If you are in danger and cannot get away
safely, remember that you have the choice to defend yourself physically. As soon as you can, leave and get

5. Practice out loud using assertive tone of voice, body language, facial expressions, etc.

Practice with a partner, telling this person who he or she is in a general way and which negative reaction to use.

Have your partner end with a positive close, “I’ll try… I’ll think about it .. Okay… I’m sorry.”

You can also do this in front of a mirror, taking on both roles. The key is to rehearse out loud in a powerful, respectful, persistent way.

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Published: April 15, 2020   |   Last Updated: April 15, 2020

Kidpower Founder and Executive Irene van der Zande is a master at teaching safety through stories and practices and at inspiring others to do the same. Her child protection and personal safety expertise has been featured by USA Today, CNN, Today Moms, the LA Times, and The Wall Street Journal. Publications include: cartoon-illustrated Kidpower Safety Comics and Kidpower Teaching Books curriculum; Bullying: What Adults Need to Know and Do to Keep Kids Safe; the Relationship Safety Skills Handbook for Teens and Adults; Earliest Teachable Moment: Personal Safety for Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers; The Kidpower Book for Caring Adults: Personal Safety, Self-Protection, Confidence, and Advocacy for Young People, and the Amazon Best Seller Doing Right by Our Kids: Protecting Child Safety at All Levels.

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