Believe people; respect boundaries

A while back, I was at a going-away party at a school. There were sandwiches, chips, etc. set out cafeteria-style, and some of the lunch ladies were helping distribute it.

lunch lady: Do you want some chips?

me: No thank you.

LL: It’s OK to cheat.

me: It’s not cheating.

LL: You’re on a diet. It’s OK to cheat.

me: I’m not on a diet. I don’t actually want any chips.

There are a few problems with this conversation.

First: If you offer and someone says no, respect them, believe them, and move on.

Second: If you’re not going to believe them, don’t project your issues onto them and assume they’re on a diet.

Third: If they are on a diet (or following a diet), don’t try to steer them off it.

From the other side:

If someone offers and you don’t want it, say no. If you do want it, say yes. If you’re not sure, say you’re not sure. Use your words.

If someone continues to pressure you to eat food that you told them you don’t want, you are not obligated to eat it just because they lack manners. Stop teaching people that ignoring boundaries gets them what they want. (Why was she so invested in me eating chips, anyway?)

This applies to so much more than food. Shall we take a tangent?

I learned this first in teaching. You establish classroom rules, with positive and negative consequences. You enforce consistently and fairly, and kids typically learn how to function in your room.

Fortunately, I had a solid foundation of this before having a kid of my own, because this is a boundary they push constantly.

If a kid asks you for something and you say no, maybe they ask why and you give them a solid reason (because you have a solid reason, right?), and they ask again, the answer is still no. And still no. And still no. And if, on the 14th time they ask, you’re so tired of them asking that you change the answer to yes just so they’ll be quiet, they have just started to learn that pestering you is the way to get what they want. Or they’ve continued to learn it, if it’s not your first time.

We can get mad that they pester us, but if we’re rock solid in consistency, they learn. No catchy “technique” compensates for inconsistency. (Holy cow it takes a long time, though. Years.)

(That said, if The Kid—or a student—offers a counter argument that is solid, I will acknowledge that it’s a solid argument and explain why or why not it works in this case. Because we’re two people having a conversation. Because I want them to learn to advocate for themselves, even (especially?) if it’s inconvenient to me. Because I want to be fair, whether “fair” results in their happiness or not.)

When a mobile child is in your space (as mobile children are likely to do) and you don’t want them to be in your space, gently tell them. They don’t read body language in that way. And while it is a parent’s responsibility to keep their kid in check to some degree, if the kid is bothering you, tell them. Model boundary-setting. (Also helps the kid to learn that it’s not just their parents making up arbitrary rules about how they should act around other people.)

Back to the original tangent:

This is not a lesson we stop learning. I bet you can name someone who will crack if you keep asking. Or three other someones who never say no in the first place.

Set reasonable boundaries and stick to them.

Respect other people’s boundaries.

But also—it’s not your job to set other people’s boundaries. That’s something they need to learn to do for themselves.

And, to add one more layer … I learned in therapy—and this blew my mind at the time—that setting boundaries for yourself includes keeping yourself reigned in. That explosive anger (among other out-of-control actions) is not respecting your own boundaries.

In light of that, respect your own boundaries. Learn anger/sadness management skills. (I list anger and sadness because, in my experience, those are the two emotions most likely to lead to disrespecting yourself.)

This is such a pervasive problem in our culture, in all walks of life, across all different habitats. See what you can do to make it better.


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