Have your kids ever come to you feeling upset because something is unfair? Sometimes kids whine (as we all do from time to time), but sometimes, they are upset for legitimate reasons.
Here are a few examples that might sound familiar:
We can empathize with our children, help put things in perspective if their viewpoint is off, and advocate for them when it is necessary, but could we do something more?
I believe it is important to teach kids to advocate for themselves and others. When we do this, we empower them. They become more than victims when something goes awry. Plus, if we challenge our kids to speak up about something that they view is wrong, it makes them think more deeply about it and examine if they truly were mistreated or if they are just whining because they didn't get their way.
If we teach our children to speak up for themselves and they are successful in their advocacy, they have learned to clearly communicate, persuade and create change. If unsuccessful, they learn about power and those who hold it, learn from the mistakes they made in their efforts, and can continue to look for solutions.
Either way, it's a win/win in my book.
But we've all seen obnoxious, whiny children. We've also seen children who are poised, respectful and well spoken. What makes the difference?
Here are 7 steps that help us teach our children how to do this well:
1. Take their concerns seriously.
In our robotics club this coming year, we will be changing the brand of robot we will be using. This is a big source of frustration to my son for several reasons, and he wants to continue using our existing robot.
The adults have already decided to switch, so I could just wave off his concern. But I can see that it is really bothering him. After talking with him about it for quite a while, I asked him to state the pros and cons for each side and develop a persuasive speech about it. He will give the adults his speech, and ask them to reconsider. By doing this, he feels validated, practices seeing a different point of view, and gets valuable practice in a safe arena.
2. Teach them to ask questions.
As Stephen Covey puts it, "Seek first to understand, then to be understood." When we teach our children to ask sincere questions, it helps them be humble and teachable about a situation that they might not have all of the information for or completely understand. In my son's case, he asked me the reasons why the adults decided to make the switch. Even though he doesn't agree with all of the reasons, he understands the situation better and he has less resentment and more understanding because of it.
3. Teach them to have integrity in their arguments.
This is key. Have you ever been persuaded to do something and then felt angry about it afterward? No bueno. We don't want our kids to persuade in this way and become dishonest and slick used car salesmen. I really admire my husband's ability to practice integrity and full disclosure as he runs his own business. First, he sees people as people, and not objects. Second, he acknowledges the good points of the opposing point of view, as well as the cons to his plan. Third, he is careful to not exaggerate either viewpoint. This builds trust, and when you are open and honest, people are more likely to have an open mind and listen to you. My husband gets MUCH more business because of his transparency with the people he works with.
4. Teach them to be respectful.
Learning to speak with a respectful tone of voice (and not whining!), eliminating character attacks and name calling, and noting the contributions the other side has made will ensure that others will be willing to work with your children in the future, even if they don't agree on a particular issue. Kids who practice this behavior will become adults who regularly treat people well. (Wouldn't it be great if adults today always behaved this way?)
5. Help them practice and let them speak for themselves.
Before my son gives his speech, he will practice it with me several times. I can help give him tips, see holes in his arguments, and help him feel more comfortable with his presentation.
Preparation = increased confidence.
But your child doesn't need to give a formal speech- that can be overwhelming for beginners! (Plus, few circumstances warrant that.)
Here are some other simple opportunities to practice in every day life:
Also, if someone has hurt your child's feelings, you can help role play a conversation and teach them how to address the issue with maturity and grace. We can teach them that it is ok to honor their feelings and fix problems in relationships--even if it feels awkward at first.
6. Remember it's not about you.
When I was in high school, there was a heated debate on a proposed change the school board was considering. My dad brought me along to listen to the discussion and hear the final verdict. As time was given to the public to make comments, I unexpectedly went to the microphone and said my piece. It was unrehearsed and heartfelt. My dad was surprised, but then told me that I did a good job. I don't know if I embarrassed him, if he agreed or disagreed with me, or how my comment reflected on him, but he congratulated me on having the courage to speak. He made it about me and my courage and not about how people would judge HIM.
7. Let them see you do it.
I must have a thing for school boards, because last year I made a presentation to our local school board and asked them to change a policy. My children saw me do research, write my speech and practice it. I asked them their opinion about it and they gave me good feedback. When it was over, and things didn't go my way, we talked about it.
Just remember--when they see you do this, they see ALL of it: the good, the bad and the ugly. I was pretty frustrated at the time and though I tried to be respectful, I know I said some things at home that I now regret. Give your kids a better example than I gave mine! Being gracious in victory AND defeat is an important character trait.
Even as we teach our children these things, let's not forget that this doesn't let us off the hook; we are ALWAYS their champion as well. Sometimes they need us to speak up for them, and sometimes they need to be told that they were out of line. (It happens!)
But as our kids experience life's ups and downs, we want them to be leaders, take positive action, speak up for themselves and others and not be passive victims. Even though some children are naturally shy, empowering them to be their own advocate is a great gift they will thank us for!
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