Some people confuse assertiveness with aggression, and think that to assert yourself means to be pushy, selfish, or rude. However, that is not necessarily true. Being assertive means having the ability to stand up for yourself, your ideas, and your beliefs, without being aggressive or demanding.
Assertive people are able to respectfully communicate their needs, wants, feelings, beliefs and opinions to others in a direct, confident, and honest manner, without intentionally hurting anyone's feelings. Assertiveness is the middle ground between aggression and passivity. Even assertive people may not get everything they want or need every time they want or need it. There will always be disappointments, even when a situation has been handled well. However, when your children know their values and beliefs, and can convey them to others, more often than not they will feel successful and confident about themselves and their decisions.
All young people need assertiveness training. It is a life-long skill that helps people lead healthy lives and make wise choices. Assertiveness is a skill that many people have a difficult time with, but it is a skill that with time and practice anyone can learn - even your children. In our Second Step curriculum, students learn how to be assertive in the classroom.
How do children learn this skill?
Parents can take an active role in teaching children to be assertive by helping to foster their self-image, develop effective communication skills, gain an awareness of one's own values and beliefs, and most importantly by serving as good role models.
How can I help my child boost his or her self-image?
A child who has a healthy self-image and is confident in their opinion is more likely to assert his or her beliefs. Assisting your child to develop this confidence requires welcoming them to voice their own thoughts and beliefs. Teaching children that there is one right answer or one best way of doing something will lead them to think speaking their minds can get them in trouble.
Let your children know their beliefs are valued. Help them understand that they can say "no" or disagree and still be liked and respected. Allow your child to voice his or her opinions and encourage them to talk with you about their thoughts. Be open to what your child has to say. Ask questions to learn more about how they developed their thoughts. Probing for more details will cultivate your children's ability to examine his or her own beliefs. Even if you disagree with your child, make sure to let him or her know that you respect their opinion. It is important for children to understand and appreciate that people can have different thoughts and beliefs, so be sure to share your thoughts and beliefs, as well.
Good communication skills are critical to being assertive. Encourage your child to talk and write about things that are important to them. Writing can help children gather and express their thoughts and opinions more clearly.
Young people also need to learn the value of listening. Part of being a good communicator is being an active listener. Active listeners are engaged in conversations, ask questions, and seek clarification when they are unsure about what is being said. As a parent, you can both model and teach these skills by role-playing different situations with your child.
Role-playing is a great way to rehearse what you want to say and prepare for what response may be given back. Practice how to react in different situations and share some feedback with your child on how he or she is delivering the message. Help your child look at an issue from another person's perspective.
Be a Good Role Model
Parents can model assertive behavior for their children. Teaching by example is one of the best ways to demonstrate this skill to young children. Remember that your children are watching your actions. If you are easily frustrated or angered, most likely your child will see that and learn to be that way as well. Being assertive is a difficult task for many adults. You may also need to practice and role play a situation before you tackle it head on. Showing your child that you are able to confront a situation before you tackle it head on. Showing your child that you are able to confront a situation openly and honestly will give them the courage to do so, as well. This will also show them that you, too, need to practice this skill and that is "okay."
Television and books are useful tools for teaching your child to recognize the feelings of others. Point out and talk about assertive, aggressive, and passive behaviors you see in movies, videos and television programs you watch together.
Recognize situations in which your children are asserting themselves and compliment them for that. This shows your children that you are proud of how they handled a difficult situation, builds their self-image and encourages them to express their feelings clearly in the future.
Treat your child with empathy and respect, and they will learn to treat others in the same way. The key to promoting positive interactions among children is teaching them to assert themselves in an effective and respectful manner.