Armor of assertiveness
Very few of us escape our young childhood years without at least a few effects of misguided parenting here and there. And even if we had the greatest parents who made sure we felt love and supplied everything we needed, there may have been another whole realm of skills–assertiveness–that was overlooked. If you find yourself wishing that your assertiveness skills were a little beefier, this is for you. Lack of assertiveness is a chief cause of the bully/bullied syndrome. (If we are the products of parents who were quite off track–somewhere on the spectrum between the abusers and helicopters–we will also benefit by doing some work over in the Starfish Mission area. We need to heal our damaged souls to avoid passing on the hurt.)
In my post, Assertiveness: Mirror +1, I talked about the importance of recognizing our children’s unique qualities, and that often, adult strengths looked like weaknesses or problems early on. These are the areas that also tend to become the most annoying for us as parents.
Examples: too shy or quiet, easily embarrassed, always physically “on the go”, exceedingly curious, loud and vocal, etc.
I would like you to suspend your disbelief a moment. Consider your child as a little soul having suffered an incredible bout of amnesia at birth, having to relearn everything, but having once been very wise about something. If you can manage that vision, you tend to look at your child differently–like the compassion you might feel for an accident victim having to relearn in a state of lost dignity. Tiny souls have a strong sense of lost dignity!
Our child’s special mission
Now, for a moment, think about your child as having participated in the decision to undertake the mission of working on a certain quality of character, such as initiative, restraint, being open to ideas, etc. This targeted mission is what they will spend their greatest life-energy overcoming and achieving. It will be the most treasured part of themselves, and they will also realize that others could see it as a weakness or vulnerability, because they will tend to keep it hidden and out of harm’s way. Older children (and adults) who have been hurt themselves in their most sensitive places naturally seek out victims who, like themselves, have tried unsuccessfully to hide and guard their personal treasure. There, you have the ingredients for the classic bully/bullied conundrum.
As parents, our job then becomes a process of recognizing the mission, mirroring back to the child that we recognize it, and letting them know that WE know it is valuable. The way we frame our conversations early on will determine how our children can both guard and use their special treasure. Understandably, our children’s strongest feelings of want will originate from whatever they hold most dear. Understandably, too, we parents can become fairly annoyed when the want is repeated again and again.
For example, if our child has a tendency to play and mess with food, it can be unsettling. There is, however, a good chance that there is an artistic eye at work. So, we say, “Honey, it looks like you enjoy mixing things together. Yes?” If the floors and carpet can stand it, we just get through the messy meal and then, later, experiment. When the mess is cleared, our nerves have settled, and when the urgency of the “want” in your child’s mind has passed, we try substituting some Play Doh, or something else that is similar, to see if that was really the goal. Then, we help put words to it. We introduce the talk about the colors, the textures, and how they make your child feel. Also, we are sure to say, next time when she is eating, that she should not mix up her food–because table manners help us all enjoy eating together.
We don’t stop there, though. Now it becomes essential for our child to build the armor of assertiveness around the treasured mission. Now, we will want to start giving our children the words to express what they want–whatever it is–and then learn how to appropriately guard and support their mission development. We will become relentless in gently offering simple choices: “Do you want choice #1 or choice #2?” Building the efficacy of decision-making is priceless.
Ask and you shall receive
Learning to ask for what we want builds our armor to guard, protect, and support our most vulnerable parts: our mission.This is where we continue our consistent and relentless mode of gentle modeling, building the pattern for our child’s assertiveness armor. Children learn best from modeling, so we need to do our very best with this task: we will be helping them to protect their very souls. We model with lots of small everyday situations, so emotions don’t build into knotty balls of unidentifiable anger.
- State the thought (what is perceived to be true): “It looks like you are trying to mix up your food.” (Suspension of judgement is essential for this part.) We need to understand that our feelings are absolutely valid. So are the feelings of anyone else who is involved. Rules have very little to do with it at this point, other than doing our best to take care of ourselves AND others. Rule-building comes later.
- State the feeling. “I’m sad about you mixing up your food, because I worked hard to make it look nice for you. I worry that we won’t be happy when we eat together, unless we all use the same manners.
- State the want. “Honey, next time when we eat, I want you to keep your food separated. (We have to be careful to avoid “don’t want” statements, because that leaves too many choices and unknowns. A simple direction is much easier to deal with and eliminates the child’s frustrating guesswork.) I will make sure that you have something else that you can mix up later. We can have fun doing that together.”
Practice, Practice, Practice: THINK, FEEL, WANT
Let your child see how you use the “I think, I feel, I want” sequence as often as possible. Later, the mutually-agreed-upon rules will start to build as a result of the exchanges of “I think, I feel, I want”. We don’t need to ask them to do it-yet. They will pick it up naturally. When we see that they are getting the message, we mirror back. “You just used think, feel, want! Yay!” When we know that they recognize it and can do it, we can start to remind them to do so. (You wouldn’t ask someone to pick up a jillywag, unless they knew what it was, right?)
Who knows, with these new skills, you might start getting more of what you want in the process!
What is your experience with assertiveness? Do you teach it in some way to children and/or adults? If so, what has worked for you? I invite your comments and discussion below!
Love, ❤ ❤ ❤