Saying 'No' is undoubtedly a very difficult thing. We all struggle with it while knowing it very well that It is also the most important step to stop being wronged by others. A recent conversation with my six-year-old led to learning an important life-lesson.
My daughter and I have fairly engaging conversations on what we call our weekend walk-the- talk, and I have to say she brings on an interesting perspective to things though she may not fully understand them herself. On one such walk, the conversation transpired somewhat this way:
Me: Let's talk about being nice today. I noticed sometimes you are not nice to people. You always need to pay attention to how someone else feels when you talk or play or work with them. You need to be polite at all times and if someone's hurting you or teasing you or not being nice to you, you cannot get angry or be rude to them.
(After a pause that seemed like eternity)
Daughter: But being nice does not always help, Mom. What if someone is hurting you again and again?
Me: You still got to be polite to them. A fight or anger does not help.
Daughter: It does not work. Always being nice does not work, Mom.
(I stumble in my walk. The conviction in her voice is surprising. I know she is not incorrect in that observation. I am intrigued. So I ask for her opinion.)
Daughter: May be I can give an eye message. I can give an eye message and still be nice.
Me: Yes you can. That is a wonderful idea. I think it will work.
Eye message, is perhaps the most important tool that has been taught in the first year of my daughter's school. I must applaud the teacher for teaching something so simple yet powerful. How does it work? Fairly easy!
If you do not like what someone says or does to you, you look them straight in their eye and politely but firmly say, "I do not like what you said or did to me. Please do not do/say it." If the person repeats, you repeat the eye message.
You may think it may not work, but it actually does. Not just with the kids, but also with the adults. Most of the time, people corner you, bully you, walk over you, be rude to you, when you do not know how to say NO to them. What is important is that you look them in the eye and convey the message. It takes every bit of courage to do that. Looking in the eye is why it is called an "eye message".
How I wish this was something I learnt early-on in life too. So many times in life there have been moments of an impolite statement, a passing remark in the hallway at work, a disapproving comment from a friend, an overdose of unsolicited advice from a relative (who does not mean a thing to you), rudeness in the pretext of transparency or the general sarcasm people handover to you in your everyday life. I would admit most of these times I would be left dumbfounded and not say a word. Not protesting was part of being nice. That is what I had been taught and I am sure many of you have been too.
But after almost half my life, my daughter has given me a life lesson that tells me to think and do things differently. What makes me glad is that she has learnt to fight her battles more smartly than me. (At least I hope so!)
Our cultural inclination is to ingrain tolerance and endurance in kids. But it is equally important to be able to teach them to stand-up and express a polite "NO".
Just a few days after the weekend chat, my daughter complained of being labeled "shy" at school. I asked her whether she had tried the "eye message" with her friends. The next day, she came back and gleefully told me. "I gave an eye message today I said I am not shy. I just like to be quiet. I like it that way." No one had supposedly repeated calling her "shy" anymore.
A small but an important battle won. But one that will help fight many more important battles in future.