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Assertiveness: The Art of Getting Your Way Nicely

Teach Your Children To Be Assertive: Create Confident Offspring

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“When children are treated with acceptance, they develop self-acceptance.” - Stephanie Matson

Children experience pressure at home. For sure, they also experience pressure in school. So it is not too early to teach them to be assertive. Keep in mind that teaching them to be assertive is not the same thing as teaching them to be aggressive or obnoxious. It does not mean teaching them to go on the offensive.

It started when we were children and continued into our adult life. The situation is more difficult for the children. They are not yet aware that they have rights, the same as we adults do. Children (and even adults!) need to be taught that:

  • No one has the right to make them feel guilty, foolish, or ignorant. Though some may try to do just that, your child needs to know that those bullies do not have the right to do such mean things to anyone. They should be ignored and not listened to for the sake of your child’s well-being.

  • They do not need to make excuses to everyone for every little thing they do. Children are accountable only to few people and these are mainly their parents, brothers, sisters, close relatives and immediate family. Of course, they are also accountable to themselves but no one else.

  • They are allowed to change their minds and not feel bad about it. Sometimes, adults have a change of heart. So why can’t kids have the same? They need to know that it is okay to change their minds. Nothing is carved in stone, especially when it comes to children.

  • If things go wrong, it is not necessarily their fault. Many children internalize family problems. They take the blame for things they have no control of. In fact, these are things that they should not deal with at all. An example of this is the separation of their parents.

  • They do not have to know everything. It is okay to say, “I do not know” or “I do not understand”. Adults do not know everything so why should a child know everything? It is important to teach your child not to feel inferior because they do not have the right answers to all questions at once. Children often feel this way in the early years of school. They need to be reminded that their lack of knowledge is the primary reason why they have to study in school!

  • Making a mistake is not the end of the world. There is nothing wrong about committing mistakes. They need to know that no one is perfect and we all make mistakes. They should just admit the mistake and correct it, if possible. Mistakes are mechanisms that facilitate learning.

  • They do not have to be everybody’s friend. Not everyone is going to like them, but that is okay. Many children feel that there is something wrong with them if they have few friends in school. This is one of the basic lessons for children. They are going to meet other kids who will not like them. It is the same in the adult world, isn’t it?

  • If they do not understand something, it is okay to say, “I don’t get it.” Children feel bad if they do not get it. They think that they are inferior and there is something wrong with them. Not everybody gets it, but it is okay. Life still goes on.

  • They do not have to prove themselves to everyone they meet. Children need to be taught that they do not have to prove anything to others. It is okay just to be themselves. Having to prove something to everyone is exhausting and will sap the self-confidence you are trying to build in your child.

  • They do not have to be perfect. Perfection is not possible anyway. They should just be themselves. It is unfair to expect perfection from your child, when you cannot attain it yourself.

The biggest obstacle to your children’s personality development might just be their own social skills. Young children have social and communication skills to make them feel self-confident. Meeting new kids makes many children nervous. They are unsure about what to say or how to approach other children and adults.

You can prepare them for new social encounters by doing frequent little role-playing activities with them. Help them practice social conversation by pretending to be the new kid. Teach your child how to initiate and sustain conversation with others.

Teaching them social skills is the first step to making them more comfortable in just about any given situation. The more comfortable they feel in these situations, the easier they will learn how to be assertive. The better they understand themselves, the more they will know and articulate their needs.

As you go about the role-playing activities, you must teach your children how to ask questions and get others to respond. Also, equip them with skills on following up the information they receive. This will teach your kids to become good listeners. This is especially helpful for shy children. This way, you develop children to become good listeners, excellent conversationalists, self-confident and assertive individuals.

Because of their tender age, frustration easily sets in and children have a tendency to respond with anger. It is imperative to teach your children that anger is not a good tool for asserting themselves. As an adult, you already know that other people react negatively towards anger and aggressiveness. Anger distorts the message the child is trying to deliver, thus resulting to a breakdown in communication. Just as this is highly ineffective for adults, so it is with children.

Credibility is automatically discounted when they display anger.

Children are more expressive in communicating anger. Signs of anger may include dragging their feet (passive aggressive), throwing tantrums, breaking toys, or even hitting others. It may be hard to understand, especially for young children, that anger is not an effective tool in building assertiveness.

When you are asserting your authority over children, one of the qualities that you should have is persistence. Repetition is another effective way of teaching young toddlers. You repeat over and over what you want from them. Your children can use the same tool to help assert themselves to their peers. Yelling, screaming, and pounding will not get them what they want, but persistence will wear down the opposition.

Another useful tool is working out a compromise with others. Everyone wants to feel they won the round. A compromise insures that both sides win and nobody loses. Asserting without denying the rights of the other person can bring about a peaceful solution for everyone.

Non-assertive children will be oversensitive to criticisms, especially those expressed by family members. They are also terrified of getting caught making a mistake. They are constantly afraid of being wrong, doing something wrong, or being thought of as stupid. You can also spot non-assertive children because of their lack of persistence. They give up far too easily and do not try after a single failure.

Children must be taught to deal with mistakes. They have to know that it is not the end of the world if they make an error. Everybody makes mistakes, so it is okay as long as you admit and try to rectify it. When children are not taught how to cope up with mistakes, they tend to get extremely upset.

Learning to deal with one’s own faults and those of others is difficult enough for adults to deal with, let alone children. Let them know it is okay not to be perfect, none of us are. You should not expect them to perform perfectly all the time. Perfection is something none of us can live up to, no matter how hard we try. It is unfair to expect a child to be perfect.

Many children spend their whole lives trying to live up to their parents’ unfair expectations, instead of learning to be the best at whatever they choose.

As far as criticism is concerned, you should prepare your children in handling them. They will receive criticisms all throughout their lives. There will always be somebody around to criticize them. The critics are out there waiting to pounce on them for any imperfection or error. When children learn to relax, just be themselves, filter what others have to say, and learn not to be easily influenced by opinions of others, they will lead a happier and relaxed life.

They will grow up and become well-adjusted adults in the future.

Keep in mind that the only way you will be able to teach your children how to assert themselves is by learning how to be assertive yourself. As much as you want your children to be assertive and learn to stand up for themselves, you should not become a pushover parent.

If you find it hard to say “no” to your children when they are making unreasonable demands, and if you give in repeatedly, you are setting the stage for their demands to grow larger and larger with each passing day. It is up to you as the adult to set the example for your child. No means no, period, end of discussion. You do not need to become a doormat to ensure that your child becomes assertive.

Be a good role model for your children. Children learn what they see and experience. If you are assertive and fair, they will learn to become one, too. Always keep in mind what John W. Whitehead said, “Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.”

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