My son will be starting kindergarten soon and he is really nervous about being bullied. I don’t want him to be a wimp and also want him to feel safe. How do I teach him boundaries on what’s okay and what’s not. Recently, a five year-old at a soccer game called him a loser and he wouldn’t listen to anything other than the fact that he’s a loser. He now believes he is a loser. I feel sad for him and want some help on ways that I can help him understand that just because someone calls him a bad name doesn’t mean that it is true. I look forward to your guidance!
Sad for my son
Dear Sad for My Son,
First off, kudos to you for inquiring about teaching him boundaries! You are already one step ahead of the game. Poor dude, it breaks my heart to hear that he was called a loser. I hope that kid’s mother knows about her son calling your son a name. There are two separate pieces that I hear in your story. One is boundaries, and the other is our own truth. I will elaborate on both; but each of these topics can be fun teaching moments. I have even come up with a game to play for each lesson!
Boundaries Thermometer: Starting with boundaries… many adults even struggle with this topic because they are not black and white, which is why it is so important to practice setting boundaries at a young age! So pat yourself on your back! They are also personalized for each individual. One 5 yo might be fine with another kid spraying him with his water bottle; however I definitely know some kids who would not be okay with that behavior. Explaining what a boundary is to your son is necessary so he understands the concept. I consider boundaries to be guidelines we have for ourselves that determine how we allow other people to treat us; as well as how we respond to the behavior to communicate our boundaries. In more child friendly terms: boundaries are rules we make for ourselves that tell us how other people can treat us and how to let other people know about our rules. There are three parts to this process: 1) identify the behavior, 2) recognize feelings about the behavior, and then 3) determine the response. You can walk through this process in the game that I describe below.
1) Identify the behavior: So the first step would be to explore his boundaries by writing down different scenarios on flash cards. Making this an activity where he can color the cards might be special. I would start with 10 bothersome behaviors and 5 not-so-bothersome behaviors. You can always add on to these at any time. Examples: spiting, calling bad names, taking something of mine, yelling, not listening, not sharing, making a face at me, touching my hair, etc. Just think of scenarios that would commonly come up.
2) Recognize feelings about the behavior: Next, create a feeling thermometer (you can use this http://twistynoodle.com/thermometer-coloring-page/). You can change the title here as well, I label mine Boundaries Thermometer. Write numbers, 1 – 5, then write the description of each: 1=I’m okay/don’t mind, 2=didn’t like that but not bothered, 3=didn’t like and bothered, 4=feelings are hurt, 5=very upset/makes me cry. You can tailor the descriptions to what fits for your lo’s preferences. Or you can just print my examples. I have one with words (Boundaries Thermometer 1) for you to read off of and one with pictures (Boundaries Thermometer) for your son to use.
3) Determine the response: Then for the responses, figure out an appropriate response next to the feeling. For example, 1=I’m okay → smile or give thumbs up, 2=didn’t like but not bothered… → tell the person “I didn’t like that”, 3=didn’t like and bothered → tell the person to “stop”, 4=feelings are hurt → tell the person to “stop” and walk away, 5=very upset… → tell the person to “stop”, walk away and tell an adult. These responses would be best tailored to what you and your son come up with that also align with what you believe is an appropriate plan of action.
How to Play: To play you go through the flash cards, then have him identify where he is at on the thermometer, the associated feeling and his response. I would recommend playing this game with your son once a week until he seems to know the ratings and responses without looking. As always, rewarding him with something positive during or after the game is encouraged! Keep adding to and updating the behaviors as time goes by; when new behaviors are occurring then new boundaries are needed. Each time he is treated in a way that does not already exist in his boundaries cards, creating and adding a notecard is a educational way you can help him process how he feels about the behavior and what his response could have been and/or still can be.
Your Truth, My Truth, Everyone’s Truth: This activity teaches a kid that just because it is your truth doesn’t mean it has to be my truth. The goal is that your son will gain an understanding that people can have different truths as well as recognize the difference between an individual truth versus a general truth. You can play this game with two or more people; it would be a ton of fun as a family game too! First, go over the definition of what each of these “truths” mean. This is likely something you will have to remind your little one of throughout the game until he seems to grasp the concept. I have provided my interpretation of what each truth means to me, but your “truth” definitions might be different! Ha, get it?!?!
- Your Truth– Something that is true for another person but not for everyone
- My Truth- Something that is true for me but not for everyone
- Everyone’s Truth- Something that is true for everyone
- Note- Helpful synonyms for true are: real, right, and correct
My Truth: Each player gets five, or more if you wish, flash cards (I swear I don’t sell flash cards as my side job!) Note: all flash cards have to be the same color so they don’t give away whose is whose. You will obviously have to write down your son’s truths on his card for him or he can draw a picture! Good ways to prompt his answers are asking him what things he thinks, feels, has or sees that makes him special or unique OR that are real for him but maybe not be for someone else.
My Truth Cards:
- Prompt: I think __________ is/are _____________
Ex: I think oranges are gross
- Prompt: I feel ___________ when ______________
Ex: I feel silly when my Dad tickles me
- Prompt: I see ____________
Ex: I see (dog’s name) when I wake up in the mornings
- Prompt: I have __________
Ex: I have one sister
Everyone’s Truth: Complete around 15 cards, you want to try to match the number of My Truth cards with the number of Everyone’s Truth cards. These are just examples to give you an idea of what these cards could look like.
Everyone’s Truth Cards:
- (Person’s name) is a boy/girl
- The sky is blue
- Our address is ___(write in your address)___
- My name is __(fill in the blank)__ (leave this one as is so the person who draws the card says his/her name)
- Water is wet
- (Person’s name) is _____ years old
- Birds fly in the sky
- Cats have tongues
- We breathe air
- People eat food
- Tears come from our eyes
- This is called a nose (point to your nose)
- Dogs wag their tails
- Trees have leaves
- Grass grows in the ground
- Clouds are in the sky
- The sun is bright and warm
How to Play: Alrighty, once the cards are all ready then shuffle them up and place them in the center with the words facing down. Each player takes a turn picking up a card and reading out loud what it says – helping those who need assistance with reading! Then that player who drew the card guesses whose truth it is. It can either be “my truth”, “your truth (as you point to another person who is playing)” or “everyone’s truth”. Helpful prompts to help your little one figure out whose truth it might be are definitely encouraged here! For example, “Who is that true for?”, “Is that true for you?”, “Is that true for me?”, “Is that true for everyone?”. Also, make up your own reward for this game. For instance, each time you guess a truth right you get a sticker and once you collect 5 stickers you win! The winner gets… (fill in your prize). Prize ideas = ice cream, pick out the movie tonight, to stay outside and play an extra 30 minutes, etc.
Hopefully these games will help you and your son connect in a fun way over him learning valuable life lessons. Unfortunately kids can be mean sometimes and being prepared for this will likely lessen some nervousness about new social situations like going to school. The next time someone calls him a terrible name he will know how he feels about the behavior and what to do about it; as well as know that what the kid said may be that person’s truth but it CERTAINLY is not my truth NOR everyone’s truth! Best wishes on the teachable moments ahead and as always the most strength is in asking for a helping hand.
Your fellow game player,