Five Ways to Teach Children How to Be Assertive

by on January 6th, 2011
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Dare to question the wizard even if it gets you kicked out of Oz-
Robin Laurain

Somewhere in our parent brains we have gotten the message that the only way to have successful children is to teach them to “fit in” and to be a part of the pack. We really do have their best interests at heart. We want our kids to belong to the in crowd, color within the lines, and be part of the winner’s group. We subliminally give our kids the message not to rock the boat and good things will come their way.

Every kid gets an award, they all wear the same uniform to school, and we teach them to never ask why.
This conformist mind set can set kids up to be door mats at the low end and victims at the high end of the conformity scale.

Kids trying to be part of the team have created situations where kids have been brutalized by hazing as well as sexual abuse by pedophile coaches. After having said all of the above, I do understand that children incapable of conformity fill our juvenile detention centers. So where is the balance?

The answer to this question is not an easy one. Many parents will face situations where what we think is the best situation for a child may actually be making their life miserable. By teaching our children at an early age how to be assertive, we reduce the risk that the situation will go undetected. We can teach our children how to get their needs met without being disrespectful or aggressive.

Model assertive behavior- Children watch what we do and say. I have often overheard my kids say to their friends, “My mom said” or “My mom did it this way”. They may never admit this to you, but it is a sure bet that any daughter who observes her mother never stand up for her own rights will do either one of two things: Become a carbon copy of mom the doormat that everyone wipes their feet on or so over the top aggressive as to be the total opposite of door mat you. Both are not desired outcomes. We want our children to be confident enough to be able to express what they need without aggression. If someone is making our son feel uncomfortable we want him to be able to say firmly, “No, don’t do that!”

Don’t place your kids in all or nothing situations- Many times parents will tell their kids that they have to make a situation work or they will not achieve their goal. Parents do this to motivate or to impress upon the child the seriousness of the situation. Rarely, is one person the end all to your child’s goal. They may make it easier for your child to achieve his goal with their help, but we never want to give all that power to one person. An unhealthy person could zero in on your child’s desperateness to please them and use it in an unsafe way. You don’t want your kids to think they have to put up with something that isn’t safe just to please this person.

Remember kids brains aren’t fully developed until they are about 25- This means you need to do some thinking with them. Don’t assume they know how to handle a situation because you went over it with them one time. They also have magical thinking and believe it will all work out and may put up with a situation thinking it will magically go away on it’s own. Role play situations with your children so you give them the opportunity to practice assertive behavior.

Tell your kids to follow their gut and to remove themselves from situations that feel wrong- That statement is what it is. If it feels wrong, it is wrong!

Allow your kids to pick your brains- Talk to your kids about situations that bother them. Let them know it is o.k. to confide in you and believe what they tell you.

Keeping kids safe starts with teaching kids how to be assertive and not passive victims. Telling kids it is o.k. to question authority is a healthy thing all parents must do.


Michigan Association for Children’s Mental Health Care web site
SAMHSA web site

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