The days are long past when two children could roll around the playground punching and kicking, and adults would shrug it off with “Boys will be boys.” These days, kids have it drilled into them from toddler-hood that “good people” never strike anyone in anger, never pull hair, never call names.
These are good rules to live by, but emphasizing only the “don’ts” can create worse problems. What happens when a child with a justifiable or understandable complaint knows no alternative to simply holding in his anger? Might he become the youth who lets others bully him unopposed, while he learns to see himself as worthless and incapable of “handling things”? Or the one who finally lets years of buried rage burst out, violently attacking everyone in sight?
Small-scale or large, we definitely don’t want our children treating anyone (including themselves) roughly or abusively. However, neither should we want them believing that “nice people” just stand there and take even the cruelest treatment.
Here are a few things to teach your children about handling a difference of opinion or a tough situation
There are “nice guys” who turn the other cheek until all the skin has been slapped away. And there are hotheads who can’t face the absence of vanilla latte without cursing full volume, throwing things, or slapping someone across the face.
If you want your children to find the happy medium between, teach them to ask three questions when something annoys them:
Regularly evaluating situations by these questions saves an amazing amount of stress and energy trying to force “corrections” of things that don’t really matter.
Dale Carnegie said, “If you argue and rankle and contradict, you may achieve a victory sometimes; but it will be an empty victory because you will never get your opponent’s good will.” Every enemy made in the process of getting one’s own way equals a potential obstacle to future effectiveness.
In most cases, people we disagree with aren’t insensitive or evil: they have understandable reasons for thinking as they do. Always teach and model the value of listening to others and of looking for solutions that bring both sides maximum benefit.
Any martial arts expert will tell you that even with opponents who get pleasure from inflicting pain on others, avoiding or defusing a physical fight is the preferred first response. By all means, encourage your kids to defend themselves against real abuse. But emphasize that the primary goal is not to “teach troublemakers a lesson.” The primary goal is to build self-confidence and know how to minimize trouble without being a victim.
Also, emphasize working toward a world where everyone is confident, strong in the best ways, and committed to seeing that everyone else retains the right to dignity and respect. If enough members of the upcoming generation learn this, we can build a world where “fighting” is a thing of the past.