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You’re not the boss of me.

Norah goes to a classical program once a week. 

This week, her teacher stepped out of the room and I was the only adult in the class.  The kids wandered closer and closer to the door to peek outside.  Finally, I told them to come back into the room.

“You’re not the boss of me.”

It was spoken matter-of-factly by one of the boys.  As a statement.  Not rudely or smugly. 

My first reaction was, “Thank goodness Norah isn’t the only one who says that!”

My second reaction was, “Oh yes I am.  I’m the grown-up.” 

My third reaction was, “Well, technically, he is right.”

The teacher didn’t put me in charge.  I’m not his mama.  And as I thought more about the incident, I realized just how important his point was. 

Norah’s school is in the middle of a renovation.  There are construction workers everywhere.  Let’s play, “what if?”

Now, of course, the kids are not left unsupervised but what if. 

What if a construction worker walked into the gym while the kids were playing and said, “I need one of you to come with me.  You there, little girl.” 

Have I taught my little girl that she does not obey all grown-ups simply because they are grown-ups?

I certainly don’t want her to be an 18 yr old one day forced to a strip search by her employer

My favorite book about teaching children to be safe is Gavin de Becker’s Protecting the Gift.  He describes 12 tests to keep kids safe.  Here is number three. 

3) Kids know it is ok to REBUFF AND DEFY adults

Have I taught her this important lesson?

Good for the mama of this little boy who taught her son to assert himself!

9 responses »

  1. Not sure how much weight my opinion carries since I’m not a parent, but I AM a teacher, and I do HAVE parents. I would argue that point 3 needs a modification. There is a TIME and PLACE for children to “rebuff and deny”. There is quite a difference between learning when directions are safe to follow and when it’s obstinate and disrespectful. In the scenario of “what if” – – suppose said little boy had wandered outside the classroom and gotten injured by the construction?? I’m not advocating blind obedience, but how do we teach children this fine line?

  2. “You’re not the boss of me!” I love it.
    Well, I love it when the child is under the age of 5. After that, the kid should have a better, more respectful, retort.

    Great point about raising children that know they are allowed to deny an adult any unreasonable request. My kids were always told, anything, ANY thing that makes you uncomfortable requires specific words. It is your (the child’s) job and responsibility to say “That makes me uncomfortable, I won’t be able to comply, you can call my parents if you need to.”

    The child feels powerful & no adult (that is doing something untoward) is going to take the child up on the offer to call the parents, but they will know that this kid isn’t one to mess with.

    • I will be teaching my boys (4 and almost 2) those EXACT words. My husband and I have been having discussions lately about keeping our children safe and teaching them to be aware of their surroundings and what to do if anything makes them feel uncomfortable. I think having this sentence in their repertoire will be fantastic.

  3. What a fantastic post. I’m glad I’m not alone in wondering what and how to teach Ryleigh about safety.
    I tell Brian all the time that I am glad Ryleigh is so strong willed because if she’s willing to be strong willed with the people that love her most;hopefully, she’ll be strong willed with the “bad guys”…
    Then again I think I failed miserably with the stranger talk because all she does is point out every man she sees in public and ask him if he’s a bad guy. And women she has no hesitation whatsoever to strike up a conversation.
    Everyday I wonder if we are preparing too much or too little for the “what-if”.

  4. I agree that it’s a fine line. But you clearly were not asking the little boy to do something that would make him uncomfortable. I completely get the ‘what if’ and we’ve definitely tried to discourage blind obedience. However, there are certain rules that need to be followed (i.e. you can’t wander around the construction zone simply because the teacher stepped out of the room) and it seems that some kids (mine probably included!) are a little too comfortable using this “your not the boss of me” argument. Tricky issue but I think it comes down to teaching them to use this safety tool in a responsible way – not as a blanket attempt to avoid complying with all adults.

  5. Fantastic points one and all. I’ve been thinking about this since Rachel’s first response and re-reading the oh-so-wonderful Protecting the Gift. (You really must go get this book).

    Yes, it is a terribly fine line–defiance versus safety. And I’m not sure you can teach a 4 year old the difference. I don’t know the answer to what if he wandered on the construction site.

    In this particular instance, the kid was not snide or bratty. And he actually said it after obeying my instruction to come back in. It was a statement.

    I could have been offended by it. I’m certain some adults would have been. But in looking at the bottom line…he was right.

    I don’t want my daughter to “obey her elders just because they are elders.” Did anyone see the Oprah Child Lures episode in which it took an average of 35 seconds to lure a child from the playground? Number one on that list of safety steps was to teach children to listen to their uncomfortable feelings. Maybe that is the key to teaching respect versus blind obedience.

  6. Really good post–I don’t know why I didn’t see it pop up in my feed list! This is a tough one for me, because I totally agree that, especially in the south, children are expected to respect and obey their elders above all (or at least most) else. However, I do need my kids to obey ME without a lengthy explanation at certain times, like when safety is an issue. My girls don’t go to school and they aren’t left alone with anyone other than about six or seven people including grandparents whom we love and trust, but still. They need to learn to speak up for what’s right in any situation, not just safety ones.

    I had this one awful teacher who bullied students. No one said anything, of course, because she was the adult. One day she made this sweet little boy cry in front of everybody by yelling at him and then told him to “suck it up.” If that ever happened in front of one of my kids, I’d like them to feel free to stand up and say “excuse me, do you really think that’s a kind thing to say?” I definitely didn’t feel like I could, although I did tell my parents about it later–totally ineffective. There are several times as a child I wish I could have stood up to an adult.

    • “However I do need my kids to obey ME…”

      Yes, I would love to know the secret to teaching kids to question and to think for themselves AND obey me without wanting to know why, and what will happen if, and when, and “well, you’re not the boss of daddy and he said…” or “well, you’re not the boss of my food and so I’ll eat it when I want to.”

      Sigh. Parenting is hard.

  7. Pingback: Sunday Surf for week of October 31 « A Little Bit of All of It

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