Voices Are for Standing Up for Yourself

My son Zach is very big for his age and always has been. Obviously, when our daughter Kaylee was born, we told him to be gentle with her because she was just a baby, and he could easily hurt her. Over the past three years, he has been gentle with her for the most part, only infrequently pushing or tripping her.

Now, he’s six years old, a foot taller than her, and over 20 lbs. heavier. He still follows our edict to be gentle with her, but I’m noticing that it’s having effects I never intended.

Kaylee knows that Zach will not hit her back, so she’s been hitting him a lot lately, completely unprovoked, seemingly just because she can. When I tell her to stop, she just keeps hitting him until I pick her up and put her in timeout. After doing this for a few days in a row, I realized what I’ve been doing is clearly not effective.

So, today, while Kayle was still hitting him, I asked Zach if he thought it was okay. He said, “No,” so I told him to tell her that, and to tell her to stop. It surprised me when he started laughing as he said half-heartedly, “Stop it.” Of course, she just kept hitting him. I told him to say it more sternly, and he laughed again and said it just as weakly. I took Kaylee away and put her in timeout.

I went back to Zach and explained that if he doesn’t say, “stop,” like he means it, other kids won’t think they really need to stop. I explained that laughing makes it seem like he’s having fun. I suspect that he’s laughing because he feels uncomfortable being stern or loud. I yell loudly when I’m angry, and I’m worried now that he thinks it’s always bad to yell.

I had him practice saying, “I don’t like it! Stop it!” a few times. I told him it’s okay to stand up for himself and let other people know when he wants them to stop.

Boy saying,

At bedtime, we read a book I had gotten from the library, “I Have Self-Respect” by Sarah L. Schuette. I like the message of taking care of yourself by respecting your feelings, trying at school even when things are hard, feeling okay with making mistakes, and being kind. (I felt a bit of sticker-shock that the hardcover edition of this book costs $21. I need to look into buying a bunch of books like these and donating them to the library and the school district.)

As soon as Kaylee’s timeout was done, I kept her seated in the chair, and reminded her that hands are not for hitting, hitting is not okay because it hurts people, and Zach might get so mad that he might hit her back. I said that if she wants to hit something, she can hit a pillow. I asked her to say, “No more hitting,” and she did.

I know she’s only three, but I think it’s important to keep reminding her that she’s old enough to follow the rules. She’s been getting away with a lot because she’s the baby, and she’s cute and stubborn, but I‘m not comfortable with Zach having to carry the burden of having all of the good behavior. She’s old enough to bear more of the responsibility for them working things out and getting along.

I’m going to keep role-playing with Zach to say with authority, “I don’t like that. Stop it!” I’m going to remind him, your voice isn’t only to be kind to people, it’s also to stand up for yourself.

I’m going to remind myself to use my voice with authority when I want the kids to do something, but not to let my temper get the better of me to where I’m using my voice to scare them or make them feel bad about their behavior. I got yelled a lot as a kid by my father, and I have a lot of unlearning to do, but I see how much my kids can benefit from my working on this.

Do any of you deal with this with your own kids where one is afraid to stand up to the other(s)? How do you help each kid work on being more effective or kinder?

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2 thoughts on “Voices Are for Standing Up for Yourself

  1. Mara Migraineur August 4, 2013 at 10:07 am Reply

    I think that my kids have a similar dynamic and I feel just as you do about it. I keep telling my son to “use his words” with his sister, but I like the role play suggestion, because too often if he does use his words, they are angry ones. I’d like to check that book out myself.

    Also, I can give you the name of the children’s book buyer at the library. She has told me to suggest books for her to buy. It’s worth a shot so that you don’t have to pay for it yourself!

    • flawson August 4, 2013 at 8:04 pm Reply

      It’s an interesting challenge, teaching the kids that it’s okay to have feelings, but to be effective they have to stay calm while they’re speaking. Otherwise, the other child is easily distracted by the emotional messages (Kaylee gets excited the more angry Zach gets).

      I don’t mind the price so much for myself as for families who have a more limited income, or for schools (although they probably get an education discount).

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