- Family and Parenting
It's Okay To Be Rude, Dude. Teaching Kids to Self Advocate.
It's okay to be rude.
What? I know, I know, I've just shocked you. Grandparents are rolling around in their graves. Sodas have been spilled across keyboards. Someone is calling the parenting police. Put down the phone, give me a minute to explain.
For years, we've developed an image of what kids should be. Children should be seen, not heard. Kids need to show deference to their elders. Be respectful. Be quiet. Stop asking so many questions. Do what we say, not what we do.
But times have changed, while the rules haven't. There may have been a time in history when quiet, respectful children who blended in with the woodwork were a boon to their parents. And there was definitely a time in history when those who responded quickly and exactly to all demands of their elders had a much better survival rate. (Get away from that open cook fire! Don't touch the rattle snake! Stay inside that cabin no matter what!) But in today's world, there's more to safety than do's and don'ts. Kids need to understand why if they want to be safe.
And, life is much more complicated than it was even half a century ago. Families are spread further apart, neighborhoods don't resemble the Cleaver family's hometown, and there are fewer places where everyone knows your name, or your children's. Kids are frequently supervised by a network of providers, rather than the general parenting patrol. As there are more and more adults interacting with your kids, and more and more kids under the care of a variety of adults, children need to take a more proactive role in their own safety.
That means they have to ask questions. And they need to be able to say no. They need to know when and how to walk away, even from an adult. In short, they need to know it's okay to be rude.
Why Does A Child Need Self Advocacy Skills?
Why would they need to? I can think of a dozen reasons. One of the most important is when it comes to dietary restrictions. In many societies, it's rude to turn down food offered by a gracious host. However, in reality, a child (or an adult) with food allergies is in mortal danger from those chocolate chip cookies sitting on the offered plate. They need to learn the proper catch phrases that mean "I truly appreciate your generosity". They also need to know it's okay to hurt someone's feelings just a little bit in order to keep their own bodies safe and healthy.
In the long run, if the host truly understood food allergies, they'd realize that a visit ending in an ER visit and several injections of epinephrine really isn't a friendly offering in the first place. So it's much more polite to say 'No, thank you' than it is to projectile vomit while breaking out in hives. Unfortunately, reality simply doesn't detract from that momentary perceived 'rudeness' of turning down a food offering.
But it's NOT Okay to be Rude!
You've got me there. It's not okay to be downright rude. But I suspect your child's definition of rude and your (real) definition of rude will differ. How many times have you asked "Why didn't you say something?" Only to get a shrug, and maybe an "I didn't want you to be mad," in response.
Kids don't know the difference between tattling for safety and tattling for vengeance until we tell them. They don't know the difference between speaking up and talking back. And they don't necessarily know the difference between walking away and running.
The trick is to teach your children how to self advocate without being rude. They need to know that if they feel bullied for their limitations it's okay to walk away, even if the perceived bully is an adult. In fact, a child needs to know that if an adult is making them uncomfortable or acting inappropriately they don't have to just sit there and take it. (This skill can protect them from much more than low self esteem. If they can appropriately distance themselves from an authority figure who is crossing a line, they can use those same skills to walk away from cigarettes, alcohol and peer pressure.)
But they can't lash out, either. They need to know how to respectfully disagree, and how to walk away. For instance, if a teacher has forgotten that a child has a learning disability and is reducing them to tears over another botched spelling test, or forgets that a child's IEP entitles them to a fidget device to use discretely at their desk, the child needs to understand that it's okay to speak up. In this case it isn't 'rude' (although most kids will think it is). If that doesn't work, it's okay to quietly stand up, walk directly to the office and insist that the secretary allow them to call home.
It's perceived as rude. But it's effective (after all, the worst they can possibly do in response is...to call home and report it.) And it is an efficient way for your child to stand up for their own rights as well as resolving a matter they are not quite equipped to handle on their own.
Respect vs Rude
Just because you encourage a child to speak up for their rights doesn't mean that they have free reign. I'm not suggesting that children need to run wild if they disagree with a caregiver. In fact, children need to listen to authority figures. Authority figures are your child's first protection against the bigger, scarier world. But not all teachers and counselors are created equal.
Adults in charge of kids are usually in charge of a large number of kids. And each of them have unique needs, in one way or another. I can't always keep up with the unique needs of my own kids, let alone 30 others, so I can understand when the teacher tells my migraneur to sit down and see if her headache goes away in a few minutes. It's a standard technique, that is exactly what you should do for most kids who mention that their head is starting to hurt.
However, my kid isn't most kids. And if she ignores her headache and waits to 'see if it will go away' 4 times out of 5, she ends up on the floor, sick to her stomach and pale as a ghost, then misses school the next day. Which is why I taught her to 'talk back' and say "No, I need to go to the office and get some medication."
Now, you might not consider this rude. But occasionally, a substitute teacher has flagged me down to tell me how obstinate she is. She repeatedly complained of a headache, and then she walked out of the room, even though they offered her crackers in case it was hunger.
My response? I asked if she disrupted the class when she walked out. Did she throw things? Scream? Yell? Stomp her feet? No?
Then good for her. She did exactly the right things. And those crackers? If you'd read her record, she's gluten intolerant. They'd have made her violently ill a lot quicker than the untreated migraine. (They've never been happy with this response.)
My daughter worries about this behavior. I do what I can to work with school staff, but sometimes, things slip through. She doesn't want to be suspended, or sent to the principal's office. But she doesn't want to get sick either, so she perseveres. And I reassure her that as long as she is respectful, she is welcome to walk away from any situation that makes her feel uncomfortable. Whether it's because she's sick and needs help, uncomfortable with a lesson plan, an offer of food, or something more.
I don't know if it makes her stronger. But I do know she's walked away from situations that I didn't have in mind when I told her to go to the office for a headache even if a teacher tells her to sit down. She's turned down things that I didn't think about when I began teaching her how to respectfully turn down offers of food, even if the person offering got pushy.
And her friends? Sometimes I ask why they did something that sounds risky. They always answer that they didn't want to be rude. Or they were worried someone would get mad if they question authority. Which is why, in my book, it's okay to be rude. Just be respectful about it.