Tips for Raising Confident & Assertive Kiddos
Updated: Nov 30, 2019
By: Lynn Blackbourn, LPC-IT, NBCC
Raising kids is difficult enough, but the days when they come home in tears (or blow up at you in anger) about uncomfortable situations and normal conflict can be almost unbearable. We want to give our kids all of the tools they need to be strong and confident individuals. One key piece in helping kids to handle tough situations is teaching them to be assertive.
Assertive kids know how to stand up for themselves (and others) without being hurtful or mean about it. They can communicate “no” clearly and maintain positive relationships that meet their own needs as well as others’ needs.
Here are some ideas to help support your kids in developing assertiveness skills:
Talk about it - Talk with your kids about the three basic styles of communication. When we communicate and interact with others we choose one of these styles: Passive, Aggressive, or Assertive:
Passive - this style might include a lack of eye contact, not expressing our feelings or needs, or avoiding problems. We might hear our kids say things like, “I’m okay with whatever you want” or “It’s fine. I don’t want to get anyone in trouble.”
Aggressive - this style might include eye rolling, angry or forceful words, being rude or bossy, blaming of others, and/or focusing solely on the person’s own needs. It might sound like “this is what we’re doing” or statements that begin with “you” such as “you can’t play with me if you don’t do this”.
Assertive - this style involves more eye contact, having a calm and firm voice, and respecting your rights and the rights of others. You might hear statements that begin with “I”, such as “I don’t want to play soccer. Do you want to play football instead?” or “I feel sad that I wasn’t invited to your party”.
Once you’ve talked with your kids about these communication styles, see if they can recognize and identify these styles in others - maybe while watching a favorite movie or TV show. (Disney movies almost always have a strong, assertive character!)
Define Boundaries - Explore that there are boundaries in our world or lines that shouldn’t be crossed. One way to respect these boundaries is by discussing the power of “no”. Through setting boundaries and saying “no”, “stop”, or “I don’t like that” it keeps our bodies and minds safe and healthy. Assertive communication means considering the needs of others, but never at our own expense.
Teach “I” Messages - “I” messages can be a great problem-solving strategy. It helps kids to share how they’re feeling and what they’d like to happen. These statements don’t blame or criticize and so the listener doesn’t feel attacked or defensive.
It looks like: “I feel (insert feeling) when you (insert behavior). I would like you to (insert request).” For example, “I feel angry when you tell me I can’t play. I would like you to let me join in.”
If this feels too scripted for older kids they can come up with their own wording and structure, while still addressing how they feel and what behavior they want.
Build Friendship Skills - Assertiveness skills aren’t just necessary for dealing with the playground bully. It’s often are closest friendships that require making our needs and feelings known. Explore what qualities your child wants most in a friend... What kinds of things make a good friend? How do friends act?
Discuss how conflict in friendships is normal and it can be opportunities to grow your assertiveness skills. Identify some common disagreements such as: not enjoying the same activities, feeling left out or excluded, and a friend who brags a lot. Take one or two situations and role play how to handle them - maybe practicing some “I” messages.
Model Confidence - Kids watch what we do more than what we say. If we hope to raise confident kids it’s important to communicate assertively in our own lives.
Maybe start by:
Speaking up when you need to, and letting your child see you say (and stick to) “no”
Discussing the times assertiveness is difficult for you, and how you can overcome it by practicing
Using a calm, confident voice when stating your views
Assertiveness takes practice for all of us. Modeling assertive communication allows both us and our kiddos to reap it’s powerful benefits, including confidence, high self-esteem and positive relationships.
P.S. Does your child tend to fall more on the aggressive end of things...maybe even to the point of displaying oppositional behaviors? Check out this post for some strategies on how to respond.
If you are interested in scheduling an appointment with Lynn, you can reach her via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call our intake line: 608-709-6972.
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[This article does not create a client-counselor relationship. This article is general counseling information and is not to be considered legal or medical advice. Please consult with your mental health professional before you rely on this information.]