RTD: Teaching Kids to Stand Up for Themselves

Brothers-1024x682As my kids get older and grow up in a world rife with over-sensitivity and over-reaction, I’m starting to realize that teaching them the when and how of standing up for themselves is one of the harder challenges of parenthood.

When I grew up it was fairly simple — nobody is going to fight your battles for you, so figure it out sooner rather than later. Whether it was on the playground, at school, or even at home with one of your siblings or friends, learning to stand up for yourself was part of adolescence 101. But times were also much more simple back then. You either stood up for yourself or you didn’t, and the majority of the time, this was handled without any interference from adults.

Today, it’s much more complicated. For me it starts with the hard truth that it’s human nature to take a mile if given an inch, and kids are the worst offenders of this, but is compounded by this over-sensitive and over-reactive world we live in. Not without justification when considering things like the rise in mass murders committed by troubled youths, kids taking their lives because of extreme cases of bullying, and serious injury/death resulting from hazing gone too far. There’s no denying these are real concerns in society and to ignore them and not react accordingly would be negligent and irresponsible for us as adults.

But nor can we ignore the importance of teaching our children to stand up for themselves when appropriate. And therein lies the problem — when is it appropriate and how should it be done?

I’m seeing these challenges right now while trying to raise two, active boys. They clash with their friends at play, they clash with their classmates, and they clash with each other. It’s important that I teach them that their first (and second?) response to any situation has to be using their words and properly communicating how the other person’s actions are making them feel, but I also feel strongly that if the instigator still continues after this communication then something other than words is needed.

Part of me feels that these negative trends in society are partly a result of such actions being dissuaded lately. Troubled kids have been taking a mile when given an inch and the result seems to be that they will either keep taking to the point where it causes serious injury, and tragically sometimes more, or that when these kids are finally challenged later in life they have no idea how to deal with it and the results are often just as serious.

Teaching our kids to shrink from confrontation is not the answer, but nor do the black and white rules we all grew up with apply any longer.

This is the challenge we all now face as parents.


When is it appropriate for our kids to stand up for themselves? How should they stand up for themselves? Are words enough in all situations or do you believe physical action becomes justified at some point? If yes to physical action, how many warnings should the instigator be given first? How do these responses differ from playground, to school, to home? How, if at all, does any of this differ from boys to girls? Do you agree/disagree with the society tie-ins made above about our “step down” rather than “stand up” approach to confrontation lately?

This Wednesday 6pm PST / 9pm EST, let’s discuss this complicated aspect of parenting — the how and when of teaching our kids to stand up for themselves.

Use the #DadsRT hashtag to follow along and participate.


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About Brad the Dad

Enjoy a unique, fresh and entertaining perspective on parenting as Brad the Dad learns what it takes to raise 2 boys in today's world. #DadsRT co-founder.

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  1. Thanks for posting this.

    I have had the same situation with my 3 year old son. There was a boy in his pre-school class that was hitting/pushing him and and taking his toys away. I found this out after the fact as I am divorced and his mother didn’t tell me until after she switched the days he goes. So I had to school my son after it was all over but I still had to talk with him about it.

    I told him exactly as you stated here. Use your words first and tell an adult. If it happens again then use your words again. If it happens a third time then take physical action by pushing him back and telling the other boy not to touch him any more.

    I was bullied myself as a kid because I was always smaller than everyone but my older brother taught me how to fight at 5 yrs old so I was able to stand up for myself. But even then I still attempted to use my words before it got physical. I kind of don’t want my boy always fighting like I did. He will most likely be bigger than I was so I need to make sure he knows physically standing up for yourself is a last resort.

    • Brad the Dad says:

      Thanks for sharing your situation with us. It’s tough watching our kids go through this because we know how it feels to go through it ourselves. I wouldn’t actually say I was bullied growing up as much as I wasn’t a stranger to whole thing. But the one thing that didn’t take me long to figure out was that even if these kids were bigger/meaner, they always moved on if you pushed back or presented any sort of challenge, even verbally.

      And your right, if your first reaction to these situations is to immediately “throw down” then you almost come out worse for wear because they know they can get under your skin right away. I definitely think physical action holds more weight if they don’t think it’s coming right away and aren’t prepared for it.

      But again, this the challenge. Physical action these days carries so much more negative than it did yesterday that even in defense of yourself after multiple verbal warning you still risk much. YET, to let these kids bully unchecked….

      This is a tough one.

This is what I think...