You're Not My Boss: Learning to Be Assertive Rather Than Aggressive
Step Two: Identify the Emotions: Keeping Your Cool
No matter whether the rush of emotions hits you in the head or in the gut, you don't have to let it push you over the edge and disconnect you from your child. Take time to reflect on the emotions you experience. Write down your reaction. What feelings strike you? Then look at those emotions and decide what they tell you. Some you'll definitely want to pay attention to and use as a guide that your boundaries are being invaded. No one deserves to be verbally knocked around. You can expect to be treated respectfully. This is anger that, as Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way, writes, "is meant to be listened to."
Other times you might realize that when your kids "push" your buttons, they've actually tapped into your own struggles learning how to assert yourself. If as a child your attempts to assert yourself were met with shame or anger, your emotions may overwhelm you as you try to work with your child. These are the emotions you'll want to examine carefully.
Catching your emotions and becoming aware of them makes it much easier for you to help your child understand what she's experiencing. It also allows you to be "the bigger person." When you recognize the "hook," you can swim past it. You don't have to grab it and get pulled into a confrontation. Instead, you can choose to find a way to keep your child working with you, even when the two of you disagree.
Step Three: Teaching Your Child What He Can Say
The next time your child hits you with words or actions that "invade" you, tell him, "Stop, that's bulldozing! I think you have something very important to say, but when you say it that way I stop listening. You can say it in a way that persuades me to listen." Then think quickly, What's the emotion that's fueling this behavior? You can even ask your child, "Are you frustrated?" "Do you need some power?" "Did you think I wasn't listening to you?" "Do you need a choice?" Once you've helped your child identify the emotion, or at least have given it your best shot, you can help him think of a way to express that emotion that is more suitable to the situation and respectful to the people in it.
Changing Bulldozing to Persuading
Here's a little exercise that might help you. Grab a piece of paper and on the left side of your sheet, write down all the phrases your child uses that "push your buttons." Feel free to include the nastiest, most embarrassing, and infuriating ones. You can even include a few that you've heard other kids use, just to give yourself more practice and to enjoy the relief that your child hasn't tried them at least not yet!
Now pull out your second-grade picture, the one in which you have no front teeth. Or perhaps one from early adolescence when your body hasn't caught up with your nose or your feet. Place the photo right there on the table in front of you. Try to remember back to the times you shouted, or thought about shouting, "You're not my boss!" or "You can't make me!" What were you feeling? What were you trying to say?
Now use your wisdom and experience as an adult to change those "button-pushing" statements to words that clearly communicate your feelings but at the same time are respectful to your listener and that persuade him to keep listening and working with you. If you can't connect at all with the "child" in the picture, think about your office. If you disagreed with your boss, it is unlikely you would scream, "You can't make me." Instead you're more likely to ask, "Can we talk about this?" The point is to open a discussion. Your list may look like this:
|Bulldozing statements||Statements that persuade others to listen|
|You're not my boss. |
You can't make me.
I'm telling Dad.
You're not my friend.
I hate you.
I'm not your slave.
I'll do what I want.
You don't love me.
Fine! You just don't understand.
Everyone else can.
What are you going to do about it?
Mom says ...
It's not fair.
You're being so old-fashioned.
This is dumb.
I can't do it.
I have rights.
I don't care.
|I'd like a choice. |
Can we talk about this?
Please listen to me.
I'd like a turn.
I didn't like what you said.
This doesn't seem fair.
This is important to me; please listen.
I need to take a break.
I need to try.
There are things I need you to understand.
I need attention.
I'm feeling pushed.
Please listen to my point of view.
I don't want to be left out.
I feel like I am capable and responsible.
I feel left out.
I'm feeling pressured.
I don't know how.
Please help me.
Please let me have a choice.
More on: Behavior and Discipline
From the book KIDS, PARENTS, AND POWER STRUGGLES: Winning for a Lifetime by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, published by HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 2000 by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. All rights reserved.
Buy the book at www.harpercollins.com.