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Teaching children to stand up for themselves

It’s important for children to apologise. But what about the instances when a child should not apologise? Maybe they simply took a stand for something they believe in, but which offended another person.

Talk to children about social issues

Children are interacting with the world, drawing their own conclusions and developing their belief system. Providing a space for them to talk about their ideas prepares them to engage with the broader world.

What do you think? Why do you think that? Encourage open discussion about social issues in order to start giving them appropriate language to express their thoughts.

Also, talk to them about when they should speak out and stand up for themselves and others — if they see someone being hurt or cruelly teased or if they think something is unfair or unjust.

The situations may vary depending on your values, but pointing out possible scenarios allows you to talk through appropriate responses.

Teach assertiveness and politeness

Once a child begins to grasp their boundaries and beliefs, you can move to teaching them how to stand up for themselves without being rude. Exercising their manners in emotionally charged situations can be tough for young children; therefore, teach children to breathe and take a moment before responding. 

Then teach them to stand or sit up tall, make eye contact and have good body language and to watch their tone. Emphasise that name-calling and personal attacks are never acceptable.

Know when and how to concede

There are adults who don’t think it’s ever appropriate for a child to stand up to them, and they may demand an apology. If your child did lose their temper or resort to name-calling or if their words were not appropriate or respectful, they may need to apologise. But there is a difference between apologising for how the message was conveyed and apologising for the message itself.

When urging your child to apologise, draw that distinction for them. “It’s perfectly all right that you had an opinion, but the way that you spoke to your grandmother was disrespectful.” The apology should be, “I’m sorry that I raised my voice or called you a name when expressing myself.” It should not be an apology for the opinion itself.

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