We can provide our students with the knowledge and tools to make the kinds of choices that lead to healthy, give and take relationships. Towards that end, it is helpful for students to understand that people sometimes feel pressured to do things that others tell them to do. In doing so, they allow others to determine the choices they make.
They might give in to pressure to act a certain way because they are afraid that others might think badly of them and not like them if they do not do so. They might assume that it is crucial to be liked by everyone.
It is helpful for students to examine and edit the assumption, “If I don’t give in, I won’t be liked, and that would be awful.” We can help students see that they don’t have a crystal ball and cannot predict the future with certainty. They can become aware that there are a range of possibilities of what might happen if they didn’t give in. They can see that even if someone did not like them because they did not give in, while not preferable, that would not necessarily be awful. They could even be helped to understand that if someone only likes them when they agree with them, they may not be the kind of friend they choose to have.
Students can be helped to understand that the need for friendship is so strong that many people may be pulled to make ineffective choices to gain or keep friends. Students can learn that they can be the kind of friend and choose the kind of friends that accept us for who we are; that support us even when we disagree; those that understand that all our friends do not have to act exactly as we do; those that listen as well as talk; those that compromise and work out conflicts together.
If students have been used to giving in to other people, they may initially struggle with keeping their ground and asking for what they want. They may not feel that they have the right to do so. Or they may ask for what they want, but they may do so using very little energy.
By acting passively, they are telling others by what they say and how they say it that they really don’t have a right to be saying no or to ask for what they want. They are letting others know that they don’t expect to receive what they are requesting. We can help students understand that they have the right to ask for what they want and refuse what they do not.
We can also help our students to use their bodies in a way that reflects that understanding. We can let them know that there is a way to use just the right amount of energy to ask for what is wanted and to refuse what is not. Students can practice saying no and asking for things assertively, which acknowledges their rights while not imposing on others’ rights. Students can learn to speak loud enough to be heard, but not louder than they need to be.
Students can practice using their bodies in such a way that they are taking just enough space – not imposing on others’ space but not taking so little space as to be pulling into themselves, effectively disappearing. They can also practice using eye contact and erect posture to convey assertiveness.
We can help our students to establish the beliefs and practice the tools to assert their rights. We can help them maximize the probability of building healthy, enjoyable, win-win relationships.
We can reinforce these healthy friendship choices with stories, books, and songs. For ideas, please see the provided lists in the “For Whom” section of this website.