Why it Matters
Saying “No” is one of the earliest forms of self-protection and self-assertion in children. However, as we get older we are stripped of that power from the adults in our lives resulting in more vulnerable beings.
Just as we teach our children to be nice or polite, we also have a responsibility to teach them other necessary skills such as how to be assertive. This is not to be confused with teaching children to be aggressive or combative. The act of being assertive involves the ability to clearly express one’s rights and needs in a confident manner. Unlike with aggressive behavior, being assertive allows one to be direct while keeping the emotions and needs of those involved in mind. Those who are assertive know how to stand up for themselves and for what is right, but are mindful of respecting the needs and opinions of others.
When children learn how to be assertive, it is easier for them to acknowledge when something doesn’t feel right and ensure their confidence and ability to take corrective action when necessary. For example, when a child is being instructed to do something they don’t agree with, being assertive allows for them to respectfully stand up for what is right. Being assertive can also help children learn how to take action in things that interest them such as stepping up to volunteer for a project within the school or the community.
How to Teach Children Assertiveness
-Reflect on the situation and observe how it makes them feel. What about this makes them feel: upset, frustrated, hurt, excited, interested, etc.
-Pause and identify their options before making decisions. Pausing will allow time for reflection and the ability to ask themselves, “What can I do about it? ”
-Confidently take action and trust the decisions that they make. In each present moment, we all have the power to choose the right course of action by asking “which one of my options would be the best one at THIS moment?”
Keeping themselves Safe
Children need to know how to set boundaries with others to keep themselves safe. Build their confidence in their ability to do so by regularly modeling the appropriate behavior and engaging in role-playing.
Role-playing with your children can teach them the power of their presence. Our bodies and the way we present ourselves determine how others perceive the messages we are sending. When role-playing we can demonstrate how different aspects of how we present ourselves can make all the difference such as our body language, word choice, tone of voice, and volume of voice.
Body Language for Demonstrating Assertiveness
- Stand tall
- Make eye contact
- Remove their hand from your body (if warranted)
- Using “I” statements.
- Make a request or a demand
For example: “I am not interested in doing that”, “I will not XYZ, I am uncomfortable doing XYZ. ” or “Take your hands off of me. Don’t touch me.”
Tone of Voice
- Be firm
- Be direct
- Be serious
Ex: stooooooooop vs. STOP
Volume of Voice
- Increase volume so that you can be heard with confidence
The truth is, we cannot be around our children all the time and they need to know how to stand up for and protect themselves. Assertive children can keep themselves safe and often turn into confident and secure adults.
Set Realistic Expectations
As you start to teach your children how to be assertive, they may begin to stand up for themselves more. Try not to tell them if they are right or wrong when they assert themselves but ask them reflective questions to come to their own conclusions. “What did you think about that incident? What would you do differently next time? What did you do that made you feel proud of yourself? ”The frustrating thing about knowledge is, we can’t turn it off when it’s convenient so if and when they assert themselves with you, take a moment to discuss the scenario with them. Help them (or maybe help yourself ) to gain some clarity and insight into the situation. Inform them that although you understand their point of view, as a parent you believe XYZ is the best thing to do. Reassure them that you still love them and as they age and gain more experience the decision may make more sense to them.This will help them to conceptualize that assertiveness does not always yield us the results we want but we do have a voice and can always utilize it to the best of our ability.All in all, learning to assert themselves in childhood will decrease the likelihood of them being bullied, taken advantage of, a victim of abuse, and/or other ill treatment in life.