5 Ways to Instill Self-Empowerment and Self-Advocacy in Children

What follows is a guest post by self-defense and safety expert, Jarrett Arthur.  She has been teaching kids self-defense for over a decade now to educate and equip these students with skills and decision-making strategies.  This is definitely about confidence and self-expression, so be sure to read (not skim) it, and share what you learn.  -Akilah

Somewhere along the way we’ve lost something so incredibly fundamental it’s found in every living creature on this planet. We started with it to be sure, but a downy cushion of comfort, expectations, and fear has tiptoed in and all but snuffed it out. I see it everywhere. It is the loss of a quality that defines us as living…the desperate, driving desire, urge, need to continue to live…to continue to thrive. At our most basic level we are organisms designed to survive.

We are equipped with physical, physiological and mental tools to stand up to any threat to that survival, even knowing that survival is never guaranteed. We have the inherent ability to be violent and aggressive when it counts, when our wellbeing or that of our family is on the line. At what point did that begin to fade away? Every month I come across a new student who tells me with confidence that her fear of fighting back is so great she is prepared to roll over and die in the face of someone who wants to harm her. Without any judgement I feel sad. How did we get here? How did society, relationships, and experiences beat that fundamental drive out of some women? And perhaps more importantly, how do we get that back?

I believe that we live in a “Culture of Passivity,” where having a voice and standing up for yourself is looked down upon, and sometimes even punished. Vanishing face-to-face conflicts requiring direct communication is one of the main components of this shift today, although it’s been happening for longer than social media and the world wide web has been in existence. Example: Hiding behind a text or email to address a conflict with a friend or loved one instead of sitting down for a discussion. Another large piece of the puzzle is our newfound insistence of fairness in the face of what is and has always been an unfair world. Example: Zero tolerance policies in schools that punish the victim for defending himself, along with the bully.

I know from personal experience and ten years of teaching experience that paralytic fear of fighting back in a violent confrontation, as well as mistrust in ones own abilities to do so, along with an unwillingness to engage in direct verbal conflict, contaminate many other aspects of our lives, especially for women and kids; aspects such as school, relationships, work, and self-love. Gain back the foundational skill set of knowing how to fight back, trusting that you will successfully fight back, directly standing up for what you want and need, and addressing anyone who might be interfering with those things, and you gain a confidence and sense of empowerment strong enough to conquer so many other obstacles in your life.

Here are 5 simple ways you can start eradicating your own culture of passivity today:

1) Reinstate face-to-face conversations: As tempting as it might be to opt for a virtual conflict resolution strategy, make it a personal rule to address issues directly with family members, friends, colleagues, coworkers, and clients.

2) Think of “no” as a complete sentence: If you haven’t read “The Gift of Fear,” by Gavin DeBecker, I highly recommend that you do so. One of his most valuable tips for effective boundary setting is to think of “no” as a complete sentence, and to try to stop including a lengthy excuse, reason, or rational behind your “no.”

3) Respect your own personal boundaries: How often are we in a position where someone we don’t know violates our personal space bubble? Maybe it’s the person standing too close to us in the check-out line, but we often (always?) put up with it, feeling extremely uncomfortable until the circumstances change on their own. Practice politely expressing your need and the associated request, “Excuse me, you’re a little close, please back up a few steps.” If the thought of doing that makes your stomach drop, that’s a good indication that this is something you really need to practice.

4) Take a self-defense class: When I was pressured into taking my very first self-defense class (by my mom of all people!) I walked into the gym with the attitude that I just wanted to get it over with. The sense of empowerment I felt after the first 15 minutes was so unexpectedly immense, I walked away from a Master’s degree to pursue training, and spreading the same feeling to other women through teaching, right away and never looked back. There isn’t anything on the planet as empowering as learning how to physically fight back.

5) Help your kids develop a voice: Not only are our kids up to their necks in our new “Culture of Passivity,” but they see it modeled at home as well. It is so important that we help our kids develop a voice. Have them order for themselves at restaurants. If there is a problem with the order or purchase, empower them to communicate it themselves and politely ask for a solution. Empower them with the appropriate skills to handle bullies (verbal and physical bullying) instead of only asking them to rely on adults to handle the situation.

A society wide shift away from passivity is a long term goal, but you can take it upon yourself to change how you exist in your own world, and the same for your kids, so that you approach conflict.

Jarrett Arthur’s passion is helping others transform through self-defense training and education, with a particular focus on women, mothers and children. One of the highest ranking female Krav Maga black belts in the U.S., Jarrett comes armed with years of teaching experience and has taught hundreds of men, women, and children over the course of her 10 year career. Jarrett has been featured as an expert on national television shows including Ellen, Access Hollywood and Good Day LA, as well as in numerous publications including Fitness Magazine and The New York Times.  Follow Jarrett on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/trainwithjarrett

  • This is a provoking post. I know that I can personally look back at times where I was more assertive in my life. I truly believe that somewhere along the way I embraced the belief that “going along” would help me to be more successful in life, especially in the corporate business world as an employee. The more I adapted, the more I was rewarded with promotions and a social acceptance. However, I felt muted. Now that I am a self employed entrepreneur, I have begun to realize just how much of my authenticity, tenacity, and assertiveness I traded in for “success”.Because, as an entrepreneur, I need every ounce of it to back now. I’m reconnecting with my voice. Sometimes it pisses people off, but that’s okay, because my voice deserves to be heard and I am determined to thrive! Thank you for this!

    • I feel you, Ivy! This is why I am so grateful for entrepreneurship as a part of my Life Design. We get to learn so much about how to BE how we are, not how we think we need to be.

  • Wow. Really love this post. Five very strong points.

  • Sandra

    This was poignant! Made me think, time to check myself (and my kids)