Can your child stand up for themselves? Or are they a pushover. We’ve had to work on this skill in our family and I say it is a skill. Being assertive is a tricky thing to learn, especially in a family where you are highlighting the importance of considering the other person.
We’ve had a few situations early in our family life where we saw that this needed to be addressed – it needed to be taught. One time we were on holidays and the kids were taking turns at having the first choice of which bed whenever we walked into a motel room. One night the person with the choice was so torn because they really wanted to the top bunk and yet they knew one of their siblings wanted it as well. We could have commended them because of their heart towards the other person but instead we assured them that sometimes they can choose something for themselves as well. Another situation was when the kids played sport – they would almost stand aside and let the opposition take the ball out of good-manners. We had to teach them the difference between good sportsmanship and good manners! A time for both!
These days, we have a little foster child on and off – we are respite carers. She is not yet 2 and she says “StDop” in very forceful way – admittedly sometimes bossy but also says it when people get in her face and she needs some space. She is no pushover, but there is room to teach her grace as well!
So somewhere in the middle here we need to teach our kids to place boundaries around themselves, to be assertive when needed and yet never to lose the heart to put other people first.
Here are some key thoughts for parents to consider:
1– Acknowledge that your child has rights. They are a person – they have to be respected. When we respect our child’s personhood, and we expect siblings to respect each other as people, we set the framework for the kids themselves to see that they deserve to be respected. This is the foundation for standing up for yourself.
2– Allow your children to have an opinion, and encourage them to speak up in conversations.
3– Teach your kids some key phrases that quickly communicate when they feel impinged upon: Stop, No, or No More. Our family rule is to not say these words unless you mean them, and regardless of the situation, if you hear those words, take heed. Our kids need to learn that it is okay to say these words.
4– Teach your child to recognise their emotions – what they are feeling. Acknowledge these feelings as real (even if you, the parent, see the lack of logic – it is what they are feeling)
5– Encourage your children to talk about their feelings. If they are struggling, they need to say so (sometimes kids can hold back cause they don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings). We have often gone into another room, so the child can talk with parent, without hurting the feelings of the other child. This helps the child process their feelings – then there are times they then need to go and talk to their sibling. When a child has feelings against us, the parent, we just need to be big shouldered enough to bare their raw words. Hold everything together and don’t take offense!
6– Help your child to use “I” statements when expressing their feelings. Their feelings are their deal, circumstances happen, but no-one makes you feel anything. “When this happens….” “I feel….”
7– Teach your child that they have needs too and that they need to look after themselves by meeting those needs. But at no time should those needs be disrespectful of other people. This is the balance.
8– Teach your children to make choices – let them make choices. Initially we limit kids’ choices because they don’t have the where-with-all to make wise choices, but if we are teaching our kids what is wise, we need to give them opportunity to make decisions about their world. This gives them opportunity to learn to say “No, thank you” without feeling they are letting people down.
9– Teach your kids to ask for help – We have a little signal in our family that the kids can give telling us they need help out of a situation. Of course, we won’t always be there, and they will need to ask for help from others – but this is a mindset, the kids don’t have to stand up for themselves, by themselves.
Family life, let alone mixing with friends, gives us plenty of opportunity to teach our kids these things. Kids will be
- pushed around
- disagreed with
- taken advantage of
When our kids are in any such situation, they can react in three ways:
- Aggressive – this often involves yelling, name calling, maybe even physical reaction
- Passive – this involves ignoring it and taking on the pain
- Assertive – this involves calmly, but truthfully bringing balance into the situation with words and actions
Obviously assertive is the best reaction. I like this definition of assertive: recognizing and standing up for our own rights, while at the same time recognizing and respecting the rights of others. It doesn’t play tit for tat, or retaliate. It doesn’t use the same methods that are making you feel less. It doesn’t get angry or over-react. In fact assertiveness is based on respect – respect for yourself, respect for others.
As parents we often start seeing these issues in the teen years. Suddenly it is important that they know how to say ‘no’ to drugs, or sex etc. Big things. But these are skills, relational skills that all kids need. All people need – even as I write, I am reminded myself and want to handle certain relational situations different next time. Being assertive is a life skill and we need to model it, teach it, practice it, and expect it in our families, and close social circles, so that our kids are prepared for broader social situations.
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