teaching kids to stand up for themselves

teach kids to stand up for themselves


It’s been a gorgeous fall week here, so one morning, Owen, Cora, and I spent a good while at the park with our buddies.  Turns out there were a handful of 4’s and 5’s there, and Owen made fast friends playing superheroes with ‘the big guys’.

Little did I know that this seemingly eventful playdate would lend itself to a great ‘teachable moment’ –one that every kiddo needs to experience and one that every parent should find time to sneak in: a lesson on standing up for themselves.

It’s a Quick Trick because it only takes seconds to give children the words they need to build confidence and, in the long run, create better friendships.

  • Teaching Kids to Stand Up For Themselves:  I am so far from an expert on parenting that it’s not even funny.  Every single day I’m learning something new, researching one thing or other, begging my pals for advice, calling my mom and dad, wondering how terribly I’m screwing up my kids, and trying to figure out this parenting gig.

I do, however read a ton and continually refer back to those parenting books that have found a permanent place on our shelves.  I’ve learned to take pieces from one guy and parts from another and form them into some sort of recipe for my own parenting madness. It’s not perfect, and it’s certainly a work in progress.

One person I do love and often keep close at hand is Dr. Becky Bailey’s and her whole Conscious Discipline approach. Her advice on empowering even the littlest guys by giving them the words they can use to stand up for themselves is something I really admire and often use.

So on the playground this week, when my Owen came-a-runnin’ to his mama saying that some little guy was name-calling and wouldn’t stop, I said,  What did you say to him?

Owen told me, I told him ‘don’t say that’ and ‘no I’m not’ but he still won’t stop.  So I don’t want to play with him.

I felt really sad for my uuber-sensitive boy because I knew the guys were really having a fun time zooming around the equipment, flying from buildings and saving the universe, all the while playing soccer on the side. And I knew Owen was probably really confused about why this guy was calling him a poopie-whatever-whatever.

So I said, Did you try saying ‘I don’t like it when you name call me because it hurts my feelings’?

He said, No.  Will you come with me and I’ll do it?teach kids to stand up for themselves

Of course I said I would, and we walked over together.  Owen bravely put his chin up and said I don’t like it when you name call me and it’s not okay because it’s not nice.

And did the rest of the conversation unravel perfectly like I wished, with the little guy saying ‘I’m sorry‘ and the two buddies slapping five and heading back to superhero world? No, not really.  Bummer.

But I can only worry about my Owen and how he handled things and hope that by sticking up for himself he felt better and more confident about the situation.  And I really think he did.

I guess my point is simple: that kids need to know that it’s okay to stand up for themselves. That if one guy on the playground says or does something that isn’t cool with the next guy, that the second guy can–and should–say something like ‘I don’t like it when you (hit me/ run away from me/ take my ball).  It makes me feel (sad/ upset/ frustrated/ angry).

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being kids direct with their friends–even new friends–about how they’re being treated. It’s better in the long run, and although the identification of feelings is hard for little ones, it may come with time.  And there’s no arguing the way that someone makes you feel.  It’s not like saying ‘I don’t like it when you run away because you’re a big creep.‘  Even if they end their ‘I don’t like it when you (whatever) with a ‘so I’m not going to play right now’ or ‘so I’m taking a break from this game‘ it’s something.  It’s empowering because we’re teaching our kids to step into the driver’s seat, which ultimately becomes a confidence builder because our little guys–and gals–should not tolerate unkind behavior from one of their pals.

So that’s it–just a little Quick Trick teachable moment on the playground this week, thanks to a couple of 4 and 5 year old superhero soccer players.

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teach kids to stand up for themselves
teach kids to stand up for themselves




  1. Courtney says

    Very timely tip for me, thanks! My four-year-old is very sensitive and I’d been telling her not to worry about what others said or did, but I hadn’t told her how to respond to it. I’m going to start practicing with her tomorrow!

  2. Valree Elarton says

    I’m a teacher in a public school program for 3 and 4 year old children. We use Becky Bailey’s Conscious Discipline. I was SO encouraged to see your post and to know that parents are working to empower their children to use their big voices and stick up for themselves. Keep up the good work. You did it!!

    • amy says

      Valree!! Your words are so kind and totally appreciated. I think the more people who read Dr. Bailey and try to incorporate some of her ideas into their daily lives, the better we’ll all be in the long run! Many thanks and good luck with your 3’s and 4’s!

  3. Kelly says

    This was quite timely for us as well. My daughter was punched several times in the chest by another 4 year old girl on the playground and I witnessed the incident. Watching this was heartbreaking, but we need to teach our kids to stand up for themselves so they will know what to do when we are not there. Thanks for this post :-)

    • amy says

      OH MY GOSH, Kelly. I am so sorry. Hopefully all will work out with your daughter and her classmate. Keep me in the loop!

  4. says

    As I was reading this, I was thinking that when I grew up we would have learnt these types of behaviours from observing the older children in the ‘gang,’ which was our neighborhood cohort. Now it is parents who are providing the model, thank you for the reminder.

    • amy says

      Christie–you’re so correct. We learned a lot from our neighborhood pals–some of it not that great, right? Now it really is up to parents to model strategies for communicating with others.

  5. zebaby says

    Timely for us as well. It’s nice to know that even if sticking up for themselves doesn’t always fully resolve the issue, it’s still worth it for them. I hate when I try to put words to his feelings and it goes right over the other child’s head! At least now I will remind myself that it is the empowerment that counts.

    • amy says

      I agree–the feelings part is sometimes better for older kids–even adults!–but the fact that we’re teaching our kiddos that they don’t need to take this kind of treatment–I think that’s what counts.

      Many thanks for reading, and best to you!

  6. Grace says

    My son’s school did this type of thing well. They taught the kids to say, “I don’t like it when you ______.” The teacher would stand with the child and say, “Did you hear it when he said he didn’t like it when you ______?” And then, “What are you going to do about it?” The other child would respond, and the teacher would end the exchange with, “I’ll be watching you.” That way there is no smart-aleck or depressing response like, “I don’t care if you don’t like it,” so that the child learns what the exchange should be like. There was also no judgement made about the behavior–that it had been mean or not nice, etc. The benefit of this was that it did not make the other child angry and therefore more receptive to the request.


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