Being assertive can be incredibly difficult, no matter how old you are. For kids in particular, it can be even harder to practise assertive behaviour in front of more confident or outspoken children, especially bullies.
It is crucial for your child to learn to stand up for themselves from a young age, as well as to express their feelings and be able to say ‘no’ while they establish their own boundaries.
Learning assertive skills is particularly important when coping with bullying or aggressive behaviour as your child grows up. Being assertive will also teach your child how to stand up for themselves and others when they observe unfair or unjust words or actions.
Build your child’s self-confidence
Building self-confidence is one of the first steps in your child becoming assertive. Once your child believes in themselves, they will find it easier to stand up for what they believe in.
Allow your child to feel comfortable using self-expression at home so that they can practise asserting their thoughts, feelings and opinions.
Talk about the different ways you can communicate
It can help to talk to your kids and explain that there are three main types of communication: passive, aggressive and assertive communication.
Passive communication involves the following behaviours:
Aggressive communication looks like the following:
Assertive communication can include:
There are many types of boundaries that exist in the world.
Explain to your child that there are physical boundaries which can be seen and touched, like fences and gates, however there are also personal and emotional boundaries which can be harder to understand because they can’t be seen or touched. Examples of these could be your child’s ‘personal space bubble’ or things that might hurt their feelings.
It is important to establish that this means your child needs to establish their own personal and emotional boundaries by teaching them to say ‘no’. This is all about empowering your child to know that they have the freedom to make their own choices, if they are feeling uncomfortable in any situation.
Allow your child to understand that saying ‘no’ is a powerful tool and something they will need to use on many occasions throughout life, whether it is an unwanted hug from a family member or a bossy child at school. It can even be helpful to let them know they have some choices at home too.
In saying ‘no’ and setting their own boundaries, your child will learn to keep their body and mind healthy and safe.
The simple format for ‘I’ sentences is:
“I feel ___ when you ___. I would like you to ___.”
A common example would be: “I feel hurt when you don’t let me play. I would like you to include me.”
These statements are non-judgemental and do not pass blame or come off as defensive.
Kids are constantly imitating learned behaviours, which includes how you, as a parent, act around them. This step is crucial. It allows your child to observe your own assertive communication and then learn from it. In other words, ‘practise what you preach’.
Allow your child to observe you saying ‘no’ when needed and make sure to explain your reasons behind saying no to your child.
It can also help to discuss occasions when you found being assertive hard and even asking your child what you could have done in that situation.
Avoid being passive or aggressive during conversations in front of your children, instead use a calm and assertive tone to show your child the best way to deal with conflict that may arise.
Make sure your child knows that it is okay to ask for help in any situation and that being assertive may not help in some scary or unknown situations.
To help your kids understand the different types of communication better, it can be helpful to ask your kids to choose animals which they think best represents each of these behaviours. Good examples would be a lion for aggression, a mouse for passiveness and a family dog for assertiveness.
Make sure to praise your child when you notice them using assertive communication. Point out examples of each behaviour when your child is watching TV or a movie and make sure to explain how each of the characters react to each type of behaviour.
Although assertive skills are great to deal with conflict and bullies, it is also important for your children to apply these skills to create balanced friendship and to normalise the fact that friendship conflicts can be common. It can be helpful to come up with some examples of conflict and then brainstorm what assertive skills would help to overcome each conflict scenario.
At All About Kids, we want to foster healthy mental health and wellbeing for kids. If you have any more questions about teaching your child to be assertive, or would like to enquire about support, please get in touch with one of our friendly staff who will assist you.
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