Most of us were taught the virtues of politeness from a young age, that we should mind our manners. This is especially true for women, who are taught from a young age to put everyone’s else’s needs before our own. We were taught to smile at creepy relatives and neighbors. To perform politeness to make everyone else feel comfortable.
But how many of us are now trying our best to change that behavior? I know I am. But it’s hard to start asserting your needs, setting boundaries, and communicating honest opinions and discomfort as adults. It feels unnatural, but these are important behaviors to model for your children.
Is this rude, though?
The sad truth about politeness is that it can be weaponized to hurt and silence people, especially people who lack power, like children. Kids taught to appease adults or other authority figures can become targets for abusers. The alternative is to teach kids to embrace behaviors that may feel rude, but are pro-safety and increase their sense of self-confidence.
- Reject unwanted touching or talking - as you know, kids are often pressured by family, friends and other adults to give hugs, handshakes, etc. Make it clear to your child that they don’t need to do anything that makes them uncomfortable, it’s always up to them because they are in charge of their bodies. If your kids are young, it’s great to step in when you see these situations to communicate your values and expectations to both your children and the adults involved.
- Listen to their body and instincts - we want kids to listen to their bodies, especially if they sense a situation is uncomfortable. When you think your child is feeling this way, get them out of the situation, and once they are comfortable ask them to remember what they felt in their body. This is an important signal you want them to pay attention to whenever they experience the sensation.
- Speak up and make a scene - this is a tough one, but we need to teach kids to speak up when they are feeling unsafe. Even if that means making a scene. If it’s about safety, they should yell, and do whatever is needed to until help arrives and they feel secure.
- Be kind, but honest - an often overlooked aspect of performing politeness is that you have to lie to people to avoid hurting their feelings. This kind of appeasement feels harmless, but it’s another path to people pleasing. The alternative is to be kind but honest, which takes practice.
Model it, be awkward
Of course, the best way to learn and practice is to see the new behavior modeled. That’s where your commitment to changing your own behaviors come in. You cannot teach your children to speak up, reject unwanted requests, or to advocate for themselves and their own safety… if you can’t do it for yourself.
So next time someone stands too close to you, next time the creepy neighbor tells your child to smile, or you're tempted to lie for someone else’s comfort… practice. And practice in front of your children as much as you can. Explain to your kids why it’s hard for you and what you’re trying to show them and teach them. Be awkward, make a scene, decline a hug, talk about sensing something in your gut and show your child how you listen to your own gut. Because they are listening to you!