‘That’s So Rude!’ Teaching kids how to respond to insensitivity

It’s unsettling to hear your children tell you about someone being rude, uncool or insensitive toward them. It hurts you almost as much as it hurts them. But it shouldn’t surprise us. This behavior doesn’t come out of the blue. It starts early. Sometimes it’s modeled behavior from the adults they have in their lives. Then it’s perpetuated because it never gets corrected by those adults.

When my daughter, Grace, was in high school, she was confronted every day by a girl who pestered her about athletics and asked Grace a lot of questions about her team in a way that put her down. I suggested that Grace simply tell the girl that she’s not going to discuss the topic and walk away, which she did. The girl was so taken aback that this shut her up, and she didn’t bother Grace again.

When someone doesn’t get the rise out of you that they are looking for, they leave you alone. This technique works for me to this day.

I recently asked Grace, now that she is in college, how she deals with rude people. “First of all, you don’t have to explain yourself to anyone,” she told me. “We are all adults, or almost, and I am the one who makes my own decisions. I challenge them on why they have said what they said. I ask why they thought what they said was funny or what it sounded like to them when they said it.”

My older daughter, Paige, has a rather healthy way to deal with rude, insensitive people. First, she decides whether it is worth a confrontation. “If it’s a friend who you care about, or it comes from someone who is a part of your life, think about how their comments or line of thinking are going to affect your relationship,” she said. “For me, I choose to say something if it is from a friend or close colleague. It’s worth the strife because I can use their comments as a teachable moment. It also can improve my relationship with those individuals and make me feel less resentful because I don’t have to bottle up a reaction. No one has time for that.”

On the flip side, if the comment comes from “someone you’ll never see again, consider whether it’s worth the energy to correct them,” she said. “The truth is, you can’t reach everyone, and everyone isn’t going to be open.”

If a stranger says something rude to my oldest daughter, she usually doesn’t confront that person. She shares her feelings with a girlfriend, venting and, as she says, “keeping it in the family.”

As a person in the spotlight myself, I have been sent nasty emails about stories that people don’t like. I hold on to them, but I don’t respond.

In public, people say things to me such as, “You look better in person” or “You are much smaller in person.” I still am not sure how to respond to either of those comments. I realize people say things like that partly because they are surprised to see me in person and are trying to say something nice. Believe it or not, even for a person who makes her living on television, it’s hard to listen to some of the things they say.

For example, two women came up to me and said, “TV makes you look big.” When they said it, they filled their cheeks with air to make their faces fat. I was taken aback, but I told them, “That’s just not nice.”

For the less harsh remarks, I have learned to simply say, “Thank you.”
Here’s my advice for kids: When you feel that someone is being insensitive to you, don’t react right away. Take a minute to decide whether the remark really hurts you. Consider that this person may be having a bad day or maybe that’s just the way they are, and walk away. Don’t be drawn into further drama by responding in a similar way. There are rude people in the world, and they probably won’t change.

Most importantly, treat people like you want to be treated. Be kind and respectful. Go ahead and set the standard.

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