Raising children is no easy task. It requires patience, consistency, and a lot of guidance. As parents, we have the responsibility to teach our children the important skills they will need to live successful and rewarding lives. One such skill is assertiveness.
Assertiveness is a form of communication which involves expressing oneself openly and honestly, with consideration for the rights of others. It is an important skill for children to develop as it helps them become more confident and secure in their self-expression. It encourages children to have healthy relationships with others, respect boundaries and stand up for themselves.
In this blog post, we will explore why assertiveness is important for children, the main benefits of being assertive, and tips on how to teach assertiveness.
What is assertiveness and why is it important for children?
Assertiveness entails expressing one’s opinions or perspectives confidently and respectfully. And I consider it a crucial skill for children as it allows them to communicate their thoughts, emotions, and ideas clearly while also considering the feelings of others.
But let me emphasize that assertiveness is not the same as aggression. It is important to differentiate between making your point in a confident and respectful way, versus using forceful and intimidating language that can be off-putting to others. Additionally, assertiveness should be expressed in a way that is honest and direct, but not rude or condescending.
What are the main benefits of being assertive?
Assertiveness can be useful to resolve problems, as it helps children to be aware of their own needs, as well as the needs of others. This awareness can then be used to come up with creative solutions to conflicts or disagreements. For example, if your child is facing a problem with a friend, they can use assertiveness to communicate what they need and come up with a plan that works for everyone.
This skill also helps children to effectively communicate with others. Through assertive communication, children are able to express their thoughts and feelings in a way that is direct but not aggressive, and allows them to be understood and taken seriously by their peers. Additionally, it can help to build trust between the involved parties, as each person is able to trust that the other is being honest and trustworthy in their interactions.
Lastly, assertiveness encourages children to take an active role in advocating for their needs and wants. It helps them to recognize their own value and to recognize that their voice is important. This can be especially beneficial for shy or introverted children, as it gives them confidence to speak up and make their opinions known.
Tips on how to teach assertiveness
The first tip I want to share is to model assertive behaviour. This means that I express my own feelings in a respectful and direct manner, without being aggressive or passive. I also ensure that I listen to my children and allow their opinions, feelings and wishes to be heard. By doing this, I hope to teach my children that they can express themselves in a confident, non-aggressive manner too.
Another tip is to practice role-play. This can be done by creating scenarios in which children can practice expressing their own needs, while also respecting the needs of others. Here are some examples:
Ordering food at a restaurant: Have your child pretend to be the customer and you play the role of the server. Encourage your child to practice ordering politely and assertively, making sure to speak clearly and make eye contact.
Standing up to a bully: Create a scenario in which your child is being bullied by another child. Encourage your child to assertively communicate their feelings, telling the other child how their actions are making them feel and standing up for themselves.
Negotiating with a friend: Set up a scenario in which your child and a friend have a disagreement over something, such as sharing toys or playing a game. Encourage your child to assertively communicate their needs and wants, while also being willing to compromise and find a solution that works for both parties.
Asking for help: Create a scenario in which your child needs help with something, such as completing a task or understanding a lesson. Encourage your child to assertively ask for help, making sure to clearly communicate what they need assistance with and why.
And the last tip is that we should try to use positive assertive language when disciplining children. This means that we must explain why a certain behaviour is not acceptable and provide alternatives. Here are some examples:
I understand that you want to keep playing, but it’s time to clean up now.
I can see that you’re upset, but hitting your brother is not okay. Let’s find a better way to express your feelings.
I understand that you’re frustrated, but we don’t yell in our house. Let’s take a deep breath and try to communicate calmly.
I know you didn’t mean to spill the juice, but it’s important to clean up after ourselves. Let’s work together to clean it up.
I understand that you’re feeling angry right now, but it’s not okay to throw things. Let’s take a break and come back to this when we’re both feeling calmer.
The key is to use “I” statements, acknowledge the child’s feelings, and offer alternatives or solutions that promote positive behaviour.
Use assertiveness to set boundaries
As a mother and a professional, I understand the importance of setting boundaries for children. Establishing clear limits helps children learn self-control, emotional regulation, and respect for others. By using assertiveness, we can communicate our expectations and model the behavior we’d like our children to adopt. Additionally, setting boundaries helps create a sense of security for children, as they know what to expect and can navigate their environment with confidence.
Again, role-playing can be an excellent tool for teaching boundary-setting skills to children. By engaging in various scenarios, children can practice expressing their needs and standing up for themselves in a safe and controlled environment. Here are some examples:
Role-play a situation where a friend wants to borrow a favourite toy, but your child isn’t comfortable sharing it. Encourage your child to practice saying “no” assertively and calmly, explaining their reasoning without becoming defensive or aggressive.
In a role-play scenario involving peer pressure, you could have your child pretend they are at a party where friends are pressuring them to engage in activities they are uncomfortable with, such as trying a new risky game or consuming unhealthy snacks. Encourage your child to practice assertively expressing their feelings and standing their ground, while also suggesting alternative activities that align with their values.
Another role-play situation could involve addressing bullying at school. Have your child imagine they are witnessing someone being teased or mistreated. Help them practice assertively intervening by telling the bully to stop, standing up for the victim, and reporting the incident to a trusted adult. This will help them develop the confidence and skills needed to handle such situations in real life.
A scenario involving personal space boundaries could involve your child pretending to play with a friend who is consistently invading their personal space or touching them without permission. Encourage your child to practice assertively communicating their discomfort and setting clear limits on physical contact, while remaining respectful and empathetic towards their friend.
To practice assertiveness in the context of family dynamics, create a role-play scenario in which a sibling or relative is continually borrowing your child’s belongings without asking. Help your child practice expressing their feelings about the situation and setting clear boundaries around the use of their possessions, emphasizing the importance of mutual respect and communication.
Lastly, consider a role-play situation where your child needs to advocate for themselves in an academic setting. For example, they could pretend they’ve been given an unfair grade on a project. Encourage your child to practice assertively discussing their concerns with the “teacher” (played by you or another family member), presenting evidence to support their case and respectfully asking for a grade reconsideration. This will help them develop the skills needed to navigate challenging situations in their educational journey.
In conclusion, assertiveness is an important skill for children to develop. It helps to foster healthy relationships, encourages honest communication, and allows children to stand up for themselves in challenging situations. By modeling assertive behavior and engaging in role-play scenarios, we can teach children how to express themselves confidently and respectfully. This, in turn, will help them lead more meaningful and fulfilling lives.
Marina Mele has experience in artificial intelligence implementation and has led tech teams for over a decade. On her personal blog (marinamele.com), she writes about personal growth, family values, AI, and other topics she’s passionate about. Marina also publishes a weekly AI newsletter featuring the latest advancements and innovations in the field (marinamele.substack.com)