All of us were teased about something when we were kids. Even if it was just once or twice, I bet it stayed with you. So it breaks a mom’s heart to know her child is being teased, whether by a sibling or a classmate. It’s like we’re living it alongside our kids all over again, feeling angry or helpless. But you can teach your children to stand up for themselves when they’re being teased. Here’s what got through to my daughter.
It was a lazy Sunday afternoon and my 11-year-old son was getting bored, so he defaulted to one of his favorite pastimes: pestering his eight-year-old sister. He grabbed a fuzzy weed from the flower bed and tapped it on her neck. “You have a spider on your neck!” he laughed. She screamed, “Stop it!” as he started a chase, with her cries of “Mooom!” piercing our eardrums.
Although my normal response is to address the instigator’s behavior, on this day, I decided to turn to the victim instead.
I pulled her aside and showed her a video of a unique plant called “The Wilting Plant.” She watched in awe as, with one little touch, the plant wilted dramatically. Even a person blowing on it caused it to close its leaves rapidly and droop!
“It’s fun to watch it wilt like that, right?” I asked her. “Yes, play it again!” she replied. “Well, first,” I said, “touch a regular plant and tell me what happens.” She reached out and tapped the nearest plant leaf, and it wobbled a tiny bit, but otherwise, did nothing. It remained standing.
“Which one do you want to be? The wilting plant or the regular plant?”
I explained that it comes down to this: The only thing we can really control in life is our own response. If we wilt every time someone tries to “touch” us, bother us, or annoy us, we are allowing others to control us. We act like the wilting plant, and the instigator likes to “play it again” to see our reaction over and over. But if we choose to continue to stand tall, we remain in control.
It was a powerful comparison—one that made an impression on her. But she still didn’t know exactly how to be that non-wilting plant. Great! Another teaching opportunity!
Here are a few empowering phrases to teach your children to stand up for themselves.
Let’s say the instigator says something like, “You have a spider on your neck.” You can say…
1. “No, I don’t. I know you’re just teasing.”
2. “Oh good. I like spiders.”
3. “So what?” and shrug.
4. …or walk away and say nothing at all.
Amazingly, these responses can be used in almost any kind of teasing situation. And the reason they work so well is that instead of getting a big, wild reaction (like the wilting plant), the instigator is only getting a little wobble. The reactor stands tall, communicating confidence and self-assurance. The reactor isn’t being mean back, but he or she is simply calling the instigator’s bluff, diffusing the situation, and basically taking all the fun out of it.
But an equal part of the challenge for reactors is to stay calm so they can think of what to say.
So before they do or say anything, teach them to:
1. Pause and take a slow breath.
2. Crack a tiny smile (this shows confidence).
3. Say a little prayer, or say to yourself, “I’m not wilting today.”
How do you teach your children to stand up for themselves?