Are My Kids on Track: Girls and Boundaries Part Two

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Building Block #2: A Good Template

“I don’t know how to confront someone.” Girl after girl after girl has said these words to me in my counseling office. Girls of all ages . . . women of all ages, in fact. I honestly don’t know how at times, either. But I have a friend who does. She confronts people who don’t even know they’ve been confronted. I’ve watched her do it over the years with friends, with her husband, and with anyone who crosses over the line of her strong, kind boundaries.

I remember when she had a baby and I called to ask if I could bring a meal the day she came home from the hospital. “That is so kind of you. I’d love to see you tomorrow.” There she goes. She made me feel so good, I didn’t even know she was setting up a boundary. When one of her friends said something hurtful to her, she replied, “I know that what you just said was not what you meant. You’re way too kind to say something that hurtful. What is it exactly that you’re trying to say?” Have you noticed what’s underlying her words? She assumes the best. She assumes that the other person wants to be kind. She assumes that they want to do the right thing. She gives them the benefit of the doubt . . . even when she’s not entirely sure they deserve it.

I’ve learned a lot from this friend over the years. I use the same practice in my counseling today. For example, when parents are going through a difficult divorce, I’ll say some version of, “I know you want to do everything you can to help your daughter work through this. In light of that, I know you two would never deliberately put her in the middle or talk bad about the other parent to her. You both know that would really hurt her.” I’m going on and assuming that’s the case, even though I’m not completely sure. And so I’m going to talk to them out of that place, rather than an accusatory, assuming-the-worst kind of place. Assuming the worst brings out the worst in all of us.

Talk to your daughter about assuming the best.

“Maybe Meredith didn’t know that she hurt your feelings.”

“Why don’t you talk to Allison? I think she’d want to know.”

“I bet something else is going on in Allye’s life that might be making her sad.”

And then, “Why don’t you talk to her? I’ll help you figure out how.”

Constructive boundaries assume the best. They also often follow a certain template in their choice of words. In her book, The Curse of the Good Girl, Rachel Simmons outlines the “Four Steps of Healthy Conflict.” She has the same concern I do. Girls don’t use their voices often because they don’t know how to speak up. They don’t have the words, but we can help.

Simmons outlines the following steps:

• Step One: Affirm the Relationship.

• Step Two: Use an “I” statement. “I feel _________ when _________.”

• Step Three: Say your contribution. “I’m sorry I __________.”

• Step Four: Ask How you can solve this together. “I can ___________. Can you __________?”

In other words, “Meredith, I’m really glad we’re friends. But I feel hurt when you leave me out on the playground. I’m sorry I laughed at you in front of Alex yesterday. I won’t laugh at you any more in front of other people. Can you try to include me more? I want to be friends with you.”

Or, a teenage version: “Alexi, we’ve been friends for a long time. Your friendship really matters to me. But I felt really sad when I heard that you talked about me to Ellen. I’m sorry I haven’t been such a good friend lately and haven’t been trying as hard in our friendship. I can work on it. Can you talk to me before you say things to other people? It would mean a lot to me.”

Many girls naturally gravitate toward and escalate drama. Teach them to disarm it instead. Help girls find their voices in ways that strengthen relationships rather than rupture them. They need a good template for working through conflict. They need lessons from us in boundaries that are both strong and kind. But, more than that, they need a reason to have those boundaries in the first place. They need a bottom-line assurance that who they are is enough.

Pick up a copy of Are My Kids on Track for more information on how to teach girls and boys boundaries.