School has barely started and yet, here I am facing packed lunch woes with my 6-year-old daughter. As a picky eater, we’ve dealt with our share of unfinished (and even untouched) lunch, but these days, we’re facing a different problem altogether. For how many days since school started, my daughter comes home with an almost empty lunchbox.
I should be celebrating. I should be filled with glee. I would be if not for the story that accompanies it: “my classmate ate my packed lunch!” She tells me with no hint of sadness whatsoever. It would’ve been okay with me but of course, I also got a bit worried when she told me that she wasn’t able to eat lunch because her classmate finished her packed lunch during recess, leaving her with no more viand for lunch (they have one recess and one lunch). Seeing her consume two plates-full of rice whenever she arrives home from school does not sit well with me either.
Of course, just like most moms these days, I asked other mom-friends for advice. One mom suggested to pack extra packed lunch for the seemingly hungry classmate — okay, I can do this, but it will translate to more work for me and my husband in the morning when we’re barely coping as is (plus additional costs as well). Another suggested to tell the mom about it — this one I wouldn’t even consider because that would be awkward to the highest levels! I can barely imagine telling or texting the other mom: Hi! My daughter told me that your daughter ate her packed lunch for the past few days, can you please pack more lunch for her? Because my daughter is thin enough already and I want her to eat. I don’t think so.
So just like any other millennial mom, I went to the next best thing: I asked Google. And therein I saw part of the problem: most of the articles I found regarding sharing are teaching kids to share. And not much on how to say no to friends, or how to be more assertive, or how to put oneself first before others. Don’t get me wrong. Sharing, kindness, and caring for others are all good qualities that I want my daughter to have. But there should also be limits. She should also learn when to prioritize and take care of herself. And getting her fill of her packed lunch first before her classmates definitely falls in this category.
Upon much thought and reading, here are a few ways on how I plan to raise and train my daughter to stand up for herself more.
Treat them with respect.
A number of articles have cited research that states: children who are raised in authoritative families whose parents are firm yet receptive are more likely to display assertive behavior. This is probably due to the fact that since they know and respect clear boundaries given to them at home, they are more likely to practice the same outside the home.
“No” is not a bad thing.
Yes, most toddlers go through the “no” phase, but after that, we sometimes tend to dismiss their “no’s.” When we don’t stop tickling them when they say no or stop, or when we still kiss them even if they say no, we’re teaching them that their no’s do not matter or that no’s can sometimes mean yes. This might be a problem outside of them home when they might also dismiss their peers no’s — and yes, could lead them to eat their classmates’ packed lunch even when the latter already said no.
By respecting their no’s, we teach them that no means no. At the same time, we’re also teaching them to respect others’ choices — and that it’s ok when their friend says no.
Let them know that their opinions matter.
Aside from teaching them that it’s okay to say “no,” we should also let them know that their choices and opinions matter. We can do this by involving them in the decision-making process — especially in ones that directly involve them. It can be as small as letting them choose their clothes (the pink or red dress?) or asking them to help come up with a solution. Doing so not only shows them that their opinions matter, but they also get into the habit of expressing themselves. And the more comfortable they are about expressing themselves and their opinions, the higher the probability that they’ll stand up for themselves and for what they believe in.
I know these three steps might seem a lot just to get her to say no when a classmate asks for her packed lunch, but everything starts small. Today, these could empower her to get the lion’s share of her packed lunch, but in a few years, it could empower her to do more — to stand up for herself and even for others. To put herself first especially when she needs it most.
To add, I went the simpler route of telling her that it’s okay to share but it’s also okay to say no when she really wants something or in this case, is still hungry. She agreed. The next day when I asked her about it, she gleefully said: I ate a lot of my packed lunch today! After telling her good job, she then said: it’s because classmate transferred to another desk today.
Oh well, small victories. But at least we can now start on her road to self-empowerment.