I had a Girl Smarts workshop I presented last week that I really liked. While I usually work with fourth and fifth-grade girls, this was a sixth-grade group. It’s fun to work with older girls. We have some great conversations, and I am able to touch upon more mature topics; albeit lightly, then I do with the younger girls. With the workshop I covered last week, I broached the concept of avoiding conflict, and standing up to harassment and unwanted physical touches. I want the girls to be prepared with strategies to respond if something happens that is out of bounds.
The workshop is called “Stand Up.” In the coming few blogs, I want to share some of the skills I give the girls and conversation starters so you can teach your children. These ideas will work with both boys and girls.
The “Stand Up” workshop starts with an activity, which always gets the girls going. I started by having them all come into a circle. I told them the shape they were forming literally represented the circle of life. Then I showed them an egg I’d brought. I explained for this exercise the egg represented a young girl heading into middle school.
I wanted us to explore the possibility of life tossing them around in the coming years.
“What do we know about eggs?” I asked.
The girls called out the obvious.
“When they break they are messy, and can’t really be put back together.”
Then another girl piped up and said, “Eggs can withstand a tremendous amount of force and are really hard to break under some applied pressures.”
“Exactly.” I said to the group. “Now you are going to take this egg and start tossing it around the circle.”
The giggled and started tossing the egg. A few moments later, I added another egg, and another, and another. There were a total of six eggs now being tossed about. As expected, one fell. It broke into pieces and made a mess in the plastic baggie I’d used to contain its splatter. The girls laughed harder, but then another fell. It didn’t break. It cracked, and you could see it had taken an impact, but it was still relatively whole.
“They’re hard boiled.” one girl called out.
“No they aren’t.” said another. “Look,” she said, as she held up a bag with a broken egg visible in the bag. “I guess only some are.”
I stopped the exercise, asked the girls to take their seats, and then asked:
“What was the difference between the eggs that didn’t make it around the circle whole, and those that did?”
One little girl raised her hand and she said, “I think it is because some of them were prepared.”
My smile came to my face from deep inside and I said,
“Yes, it was prepared. Life is going to toss you around some, it is the nature of things. But if you are prepared, while you may crack, and it may change you a bit; but if you are prepared you can come through everything life throws at you, and still be who you are.”
Sometimes the lessons cause them to have a moment where I can literally see they understand. This was one. I went on to talk with the girls about how important it is for them to become comfortable with saying “No” and setting personal boundaries for themselves, their time, and to protect themselves from others who may mean to do them harm.
Many women have a difficult time saying no. Think about your life now. At PTA, work or classroom requests, are you feeling pressure to always help and sign up for the events when someone asks you? Do you find it tough to say no even when you understand you are overbooking, or stressing yourself for others at the cost of caring for yourself? That sort of behavior can really mess with you physically and mentally. It is just not healthy.
Setting boundaries is a learned skill, and getting good at this skill takes practice. As girls we are taught to be kind and caring and helpful, and we sometimes say yes to others because we think saying no might cause them to dislike us. But there are ways to set ourselves up for success, and strategies for learning to say no gently, but with conviction.
I know personally, I am a better leader because I have learned to say no, and a better wife and mother because I am not overreaching to do things that take too much time away from our family.
I have written about this technique before, but this time I’m presenting it for both young people and adults:
When I first heard about this strategy it was related to salary negotiations at work. The idea was so simple I thought it would be great to introduce to the girls as a way to gracefully decline an invitation or a request, and feel OK about it. It also helps as a strategy whenever you want to avoid conflict. There are lots of pressures on our youth and Girl Smarts believes we must equip the girls with the language to get through uncomfortable situations. Using the yes-no-yes strategy offers a way forward when you want to say no to a request.
For our children, it may look like this.
A friend asks your daughter to hang out with them this weekend but she already has plans to go to a party. Your girl doesn’t want to hurt her friend’s feelings so she can say:
“Oh, I always have so much fun when we hang out.” (Yes)
“This weekend I’m already busy with something else I scheduled last week.” (No)
“But maybe we can figure out something for next weekend or some other time?” (Yes)
For an adult, being asked to chair the school’s carnival committee again, after already chairing several events at the school, it would go something like this.
Volunteer Coordinator: “Susie, you are so good at organization and did such a great job with the Holiday Shoppe, we’re hoping you’ll jump in and take on the carnival this year. Everyone knows you can handle it.”
Susie: “Oh gosh, yes I did have a lot of fun chairing that holiday event. I’m glad it went so well and that you have such faith in me.” (Yes statement)
“Still, I have to turn down this request. I am simply out of time to schedule anything else for the next three months.” (No statement)
“Perhaps I can give whomever accepts the task some tips on staying organized and moving forward.” (Yes statement).
Volunteer Coordinator: “But Susie, we’ll never find someone as good as you to make this happen. Please, please do it, or we’ll have to cancel the carnival totally.”
Susie: “I know how much fun this is for the kids and I’d love to have a chance to bring my son this year, and enjoy things with him.” (Yes)
“But, I am not willing to commit to the effort again. I have learned from taking on too much that it really isn’t healthy for me, so please respect my decision to decline.” (No)
“I hope you can find someone to take this on because it really is a valuable family event for our school.” (Yes)
If you’re like me, you don’t like turning requests down when you know you can have a positive impact. It’s kind of flattering to be asked and trusted. Unfortunately, saying yes to everything can also lead to being taken advantage of, or being taken for granted.
Being empowered to say no is a gift and a skill we can all use to retake control of our time and have a better mental state of being. Start teaching your children how to use this skill so they can avoid some of the yes traps we can all fall into.
Next Up: Rumble Language