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If there is one question I get over and over again, it's this: "How can I teach my kid to be more assertive?"
This is a common concern for parents of young children. Speaking up is no easy task. While some kids seem to enter this world with loud voices and a willingness to speak up, others need time and practice. It's a tricky balance, that's for sure. I would know.
I spend a fair amount of time empowering my daughter to speak her mind while trying to dull her brother's impulse to speak for her. This can be a difficult task. He is naturally more assertive, and I certainly don't want to stunt that, but he does need to give her the time and space to assert her needs in a way that works for her.
As parents, we
spend a lot of time teaching kids how to be responsible. We set rules and
limits. We create expectations. We tell them where they have to be, what they
have to do and, sometimes, even what they must wear. When you stop and think
about it, that doesn't leave a lot of room for kids to assert their wants and
respond well to visuals, and they respond even better when they get to create
the visuals. Help your child create an assertiveness bill of rights. It might
include things like: I have the right to say "no," I have the right to disagree,
I have the right to feel or express anger, or I have the right to recognize my
needs as important. Teaching assertiveness skills can be tricky at times, and
it is important to help your child balance her own needs with the needs of
others. Part of assertive communication
is listening to others and finding the middle ground. Be sure to let your child come up with as
many rights as possible, as this is a great first step toward becoming more
A pretend sales pitch is a great way to practice assertive communication, and kids have a lot of fun in the process.
2. Teach 'I' statements
feels good to blame someone or something when you're stressed or angry. It might even feel good to lash out by way of
a verbally aggressive statement ... for a minute. But the minute kids start blaming others for their feelings—personal
power is lost. There is a significant
difference between saying "I feel angry when you ignore me" and "You make me
angry when you ignore me." When kids
learn to spot the difference and take ownership of their feelings, it puts them
using "I" statements at home. Use them
when you're frustrated or upset by something to model a calm way to assert your
needs as a parent. When your kids see
that "I" statements help you remain calm and focused while asserting your
feelings and needs, they learn that they can do the same with peers. They learn to shift the feeling from
overwhelmed and out of control to calm and solution-focused.
parents, we are always teaching kids to listen. We teach them that eye contact shows attention. We teach them to stop what they're doing and
keep their hands still to demonstrate good listening skills. But do we remember to teach them what
assertiveness looks like?
assertive communicator stands tall, maintains eye contact and speaks in a
clear but firm voice. Where a passive
communicator speaks quietly and has difficulty maintaining eye contact and an
aggressive communicator is too loud and possibly in your face, an assertive
communicator knows when to speak, when to listen and how to maintain a calm
and clear voice tone.
your kids examples of assertive communicators throughout history. If you're up for it, consider running a
family election. Come up with some fun
positions that need filling (ex: light monitor or grocery list maker) and have
everyone write and deliver speeches to earn the positions. Make sure to cue the kids to use assertive
body language and voice tone at the podium.
4. Sales pitch!
a product is no easy task. I feel guilty
every time I turn away a kid standing at my door trying to convince me to buy a
magazine in support of the school band, because I know that it takes a lot of
courage to go door-to-door selling those magazines. And I can always tell which kids have been
prepped, which kids have self-confidence and which kids wish they could run
away and hide.
pretend sales pitch is a great way to practice assertive communication, and
kids have a lot of fun in the process. Send your kids off in search of hidden treasures in their rooms and then
have them prepare a sales pitch and attempt to sell you the product. Ask them follow up questions to keep them
engaged and give them specific feedback on their pitches, including praise for
The important thing about praise is that it should have meaning.
5. Praise out loud
is a significant amount of backlash about praise these days. Some feel that kids are coddled and receive
too much praise, that less praise builds more character. Some lash out about participation trophies,
as if cheap plastic awards are creating entitled children who don't understand
the value of hard work. Please don't
crawl into this rabbit hole of parental negativity. Praise can do a lot of good. And when things like participation trophies
are awarded to children at the end of a season, children have a transitional
object to remind them of a great season working toward a common goal with a
group of friends. Is that really such a
important thing about praise is that it should have meaning. When you praise your child's efforts rather
than the finished product, for example, you teach your child that the hard work
put into the product is what matters most. When you praise your child's character for acts of kindness, you teach
your child that kindness matters. Be
specific with your praise. Try not to
over-think how often you praise your kids, as everyone enjoys positive feedback
at times. I know I always enjoy a pat on
the back, don't you? Doesn't it make
sense to pay it forward and give our children the same?
bonus: When you praise your child's
character to another adult within earshot of your child, your child will
definitely take note. It's not about
bragging about accomplishments to other parents, it's about sharing
heartwarming moments in parenting. Those
are the moments you want your child to internalize and return to at another