Can you remember a situation where you felt you “couldn’t say no”?
By Mrs. Shaindel Cohen
We’ve all been there. The last-minute Shabbos guests with nowhere else to go; the desperate mom who needs someone to watch her kids for a few minutes at an inconvenient time; the boss who makes it clear that if we don’t stay overtime, there will be grave consequences.
Situations like these can make us feel helpless. We are taught to be kind and generous; offering to help with a smile and without complaint is highly valued in our society. But is saying “yes” in such situations always the healthiest approach?
It is, of course, wonderful to be a giving spirit who is happy to accommodate others’ needs. However, what we sometimes fail to realize is that we cannot truly give to others when we are empty ourselves. When we drain all our resources in service of others, there may be nothing left for us—and our #1 responsibility is to ourselves! That’s why knowing how to say “no” in uncomfortable situations like these—setting healthy boundaries—is such an important skill.
Being assertive and setting healthy boundaries is even more important in situations of abuse, manipulation, or bullying. This is just as true for children as it is for adults—if not more so.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics, between 1 in 4 and 1 in 3 students in the USA report being bullied in school. An Israeli study found that close to 70% of elementary, middle, and high school students were bullied in school. Included in these statistics are diverse types of bullying: verbal, physical, social, and online.
Every type of bullying can have serious and long-lasting effects on the victim, including depression and anxiety, increased feelings of sadness and loneliness, changes in sleep and eating patterns, loss of interest in activities one used to enjoy, various physical ailments, decreased academic achievement, and other symptoms of trauma and distress. These effects can persist into and throughout the victim’s adulthood.
Children who are victims of bullying are often given two pieces of advice to handle the bullying: ignore it, or tell an adult.
The reasoning behind ignoring is that the bully gets his sense of power from the victim’s reaction, so avoiding a reaction may make the bully lose interest. The problem is, this only works some of the time—and other times, it can actually escalate the situation and make the bully more violent.
Telling an adult is another strategy that may be effective in some cases, and not in others. Telling an adult only works if there is an adult present and available to help (which there often isn’t) who happens to be equipped to handle the bully (which many aren’t). Additionally, even if an adult is available to help one time, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will be there the next time—and the bully can make sure that they won’t.
There are schools and other institutions that practice a zero-tolerance policy. However, this doesn’t always work, and if your own child is being bullied at school, you won’t want to wait for other people to act to protect your child.
The good news is, you don’t have to.
Almost without exception, people who exhibit bullying behavior have been victims of bullying themselves. Bullying is a destructive response to a sense of powerlessness; bullies abuse others to gain a sense of control over their lives. For this reason, bullies usually select “easy targets” for their abuse: victims who seem likely to submit to them and don’t project self-confidence, especially ones who are socially isolated, or who have something “different” about them. This way, the bully can exert his physical, mental, and social power over the other child, and this makes him feel powerful. We see these behaviors in the adult world as well—more subtle, perhaps, but just as destructive. Child bullies often grow into adult bullies if they are never taught how to cope with their difficult emotions more constructively. I once worked with a 63-year-old client who was being bullied by his 65-year-old sister!
Bullies are much less likely to pick on people who are assertive and sure of themselves. Fortunately, even people who are naturally cautious and timid can learn how to be assertive, set healthy boundaries, and respond effectively to bullying!
If you or your child is a victim of bullying, it’s important that you know that you can put a stop to it. Assertiveness, boundary-setting, and de-escalation skills can help you feel less helpless and more in control of your life. All you need to do is learn how.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mrs. Shaindel Cohen is an internationally acclaimed educational consultant and social skills specialist who has lectured in Israel, England, Canada, Mexico, and throughout the United States. She specializes in nurturing the shy and selective mute child and has designed and taught programs related to this field such as communication and friendship issues, assertiveness training and self esteem, social skills, conflict resolution and much much more. She is available to work with children, teens and adults on any related social skills challenges.
Mrs. Shaindel Cohen can be reached at 02-543-0734 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org