Dr Richard C. Woolfson
Some children are natural-born survivors. They seem to have an instinctive ability to negotiate their way through the intricacies of life, knowing who to trust, how to duck and dive, and when to take advantage of an opportunity. Most children, though, are not street-smart. And if yours isn’t, you’ve already had the experience of him coming from school telling you that he’s lost his toys in the playground, or that other children took his lunch money from him.
You are furious at these episodes, because you know the culprits and the same thing had happened just a week ago. Understandably, you want your nine-year-old to be more assertive so that he can stand up for himself against his more street-smart pals who always manage to outmanoeuvre him. At the same time, however, you don’t want him to lose any of his charm, innocence and kindness.
Street-smart kids know how to look after themselves and their possessions. For instance, they don’t leave their toys lying around for others to pick up; they don’t flash their money around in front of their peers or leave piles of cash in jackets that are hung on unsupervised pegs in school; and they don’t reveal every single detail of their lives to others their own age. In other words, they tend to have better self-management.
Your child can improve in this area without losing any of his desirable personal qualities. Give him advice. For example, encourage him to keep all his money out of site and kept securely in a zipped pocket. Suggest that he keeps all his possessions in a sealed bag which he carries with him instead of leaving them scattered across his desk during recess. And advise him to be wary of telling his secrets to those who are not his absolute closest friends. These practical steps will make a difference straightaway.
Improved Negotiating Skills
Good negotiating skills also help make him street-smart. At the moment, your gullible eight-year-old probably lets others get what they want because he neither knows how to object nor how to voice his own preferences effectively. Give him a helping hand with nitty gritty of negotiating.
The typical street-smart child can:
* Say “no” to his peers and friends when he doesn’t want to do something
* Express his thoughts clearly and sensibly using spoken language
* Step back from the group if he does not want to go along with their plan
* Present his point of view convincingly without losing his temper
* Identify a specific goal and then strive to achieve it no matter what stands in his way
* Anticipate what the other person might say and know how to respond.
These negotiating skills are highly desirable, and prove that your child can become a street-smart negotiator without resorting to bullying tactics. Develop these skills in your nine-year-old through practice. Encourage him to make independent choices; teach him how to argue his case calmly and rationally so that he is more confident when talking with his peers; and explain to him that before he starts a negotiation, he should know what he wants to achieve.
It’s not fair for you to expect your vulnerable, naive child to turn overnight into a hardened street-smart kid – nor should that be your goal. Your child makes progress in this area at his own pace, depending on his personality and your support. Don’t try to make him into something he is not because that won’t work. Instead, look for his existing strengths and build on these so that he gradually learns to stand up for himself.