You're Not My Boss: Learning to Be Assertive Rather Than Aggressive
Adjust for Stress
Kim had woken late. Exhausted from packing for their move, she'd slept right through the alarm. Now she was rushing, trying to get her two sons ready for school and herself out the door. She couldn't afford to be late for work again. Suddenly Brad insisted that he had to find his library book. "Forget it," Kim tried to tell him. "Everything is in boxes. I can't find it. We'll find it when we get to our new apartment." "No," he screamed back. "I want it now! Get it for me!" The accusations and demands hit Kim so fast and furiously she couldn't even respond to them. There was no coaching to be done here.
When you feel as though every other word out of your child's mouth is a challenge or a demand for power, take a look at the stress level. Something is up. It might be temporary, or ongoing, but no matter which, your child is drowning in intensity. You have to deal with that first.
Kim was desperate. She couldn't be late for work again, but she realized she had to bring the intensity down before she could get her son to work with her. Pausing, she bent down and gave him a hug, saying, "I'm sorry, I can't look for your book."
"But my teacher will yell at me," Brad sobbed, pushing away from her. "She already did yesterday."
Kim sighed. Now understanding his vehemence, she promised, "I'll call your teacher and make sure she knows we're moving."
It took Kim two minutes, but that two minutes kept Brad working with her. They got out the door, and she arrived at work on time.
Later, maybe that evening or perhaps after the move, when everyone is calmer, Kim can coach Ben. She might say something like, "What happened today isn't acceptable. Next time you can say 'Mom, I'm scared. My teacher yelled at me yesterday, and I'm afraid to have her yell at me again,' or 'Mom, please listen, this is very important to me.'"
Consider Medical Factors
Joanne's son was a raving extrovert, who also happened to have attention deficit disorder. "He just doesn't seem to be getting it," she said in class one day. "Keep working," I reassured her. "If your child is an extrovert who thinks by talking and has difficulty managing impulses due to his medical condition, he will have to work harder to learn this skill. His path is longer and more complicated. He will need more concrete practice, and more structure. You may even have to make a chart listing some of the most important statements you want him to use. Adjust your expectations. Be clear and consistent. You'll get there!"
When Consequences Are Needed
If you feel as though you've been working with your child and she is not responding, it may be time for consequences. Remember, consequences reinforce the same concept you're trying to teach. If you child is saying hurtful things despite your coaching, you can say to her, "The next time you bulldoze, there will be a consequence. When we say things that are hurtful we are not treating people respectfully. If we're not respectful, we need to make amends. You'll need to do something for that person and/or apologize." Decide together what the consequence will be. Then the next time your child gets angry and starts letting loose, you can say, "Stop. Remember what we talked about. Are you choosing to do dishes for me as we decided, or are you choosing to use more suitable words to tell me how angry you are? The choice is yours." Ninety percent of the time you'll never have to enforce the consequence, but if you do, stay cool, be firm. Let your child know she will do the dishes for you. (If necessary, get your backup person to help you enforce it.) Remind her that next time she'll have the opportunity to make a different choice.
"Wait a minute," Paula interjected. "Yesterday my daughter said to me, 'I'm so angry at you, I could hit you.' But she didn't hit me, she just said it. Should I punish her for talking to me that way?"
The key to Paula's question is that her daughter didn't hit her. She made a different choice. She used words, honest words that Paula may have not wished to hear, but words. Paula could choose to teach her daughter to say merely, "I'm really angry at you," but she can also celebrate her daughter's ability to stop herself from hitting and instead use words to express her frustration instead. This is progress not perfection, but progress.
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.