While you wouldn’t want your child to react aggressively towards their bullies, you do hope that they are assertive and can stand their ground, so that they aren’t easy targets for abuse or bullies. Nor do you want to raise kids who are pushovers and are easily swayed by peers to engage in harmful activities.
“Raising an assertive child is very important to prevent them from being taken advantage of by others,” points out Dr Reena Dabas, a child development specialist and associate lecturer in psychology at the Singapore University of Social Sciences and SIM Global Education. “Assertiveness also helps kids develop confidence and the ability to value oneself more.”
She adds, “Assertive children are more open, expressive and able to make their own choices. This makes them feel better about themselves, respect themselves and other people more and socialise better.”
“Assertive children are more open, expressive and able to make their own choices. This makes them feel better about themselves, respect themselves and other people more and socialise better.”
#1. Be consistent
“Inconsistencies would be demanding assertiveness from one’s children while behaving submissively oneself, or rewarding children for being assertive with peers but punishing them for expressing themselves assertively towards adults.”
Also, both parents should model the same assertive behaviour, in other words, not have one parent be aggressive, while the other is assertive. The conflicting outcomes will confuse your children.
#2. Let your children express their feelings openly
Letting your children articulate their beliefs and feelings honestly is pivotal in instilling assertiveness.
So, let your child know that your accept and value their ideas and feelings. Reinforce your child’s assertiveness with positive praise as this will give them the confidence to continue expressing themselves.
Dr Reena also stresses the importance of teaching your children to express themselves in a non-accusatory manner. “Let them convey feelings of happiness, sadness, anger or annoyance without placing blame on anyone else.”
#3. Give them opportunities to be assertive
Look for opportunities to hone your child’s ability to assert themselves, Dr Reena suggests.
For example, find common sources of disagreement between you and your child. This could be the amount of playtime they get after completing their homework, or their curfew when going out with friends.
“Encourage an open discussion of how to handle these disagreements,” she notes. “This will allow kids to openly express their views, and increase their confidence in handling such situations.”
Debating with your child doesn't necessarily mean you have to agree with them. When kids know that their opinions matter, they’ll be more empowered to speak up for themselves ― both in and outside the home ― especially regarding issues they feel strongly about.
#4. Allow them to make their own decisions
“This responsibility of making their own choices will increase their ability to assert themselves in the long run,” Dr Reena points out.
For instance, let them decide which family-friendly movie to watch together, which T-shirt to wear or which weekend activity (for instance, cycling or swimming) to engage in.
#5. Teach them the importance of saying “no”
If you don’t want your mini-me to turn into a yes-man, teach them how and when to say no.
Dr Reena states, “Discuss with children personal and physical boundaries. Talking about their boundaries will assist them in identifying violations, and consequently, help them to say no when others violate these boundaries.”
Spell out specific situations where they should say no, such as when their classmate asks to copy their homework, when friends encourage them to skip school, or when someone does something physically inappropriate.
As a parent, be prepared to respect and accept the word “no” over negotiable issues as well. For example, if your little one says no to finishing their food because they are already full, don’t force them to do so.
“Discuss with children personal and physical boundaries. Talking about their boundaries will assist them in identifying violations, and consequently, help them to say no when others violate these boundaries.”
#6. Teach them to strike a balance between looking out for themselves and pleasing others
Many kids are naturally people-pleasers, and hate disappointing those around them.
Therefore, teach them it’s important to be considerate of others while still looking out for their own needs, Dr Reena advises.
“Knowing how to strike that balance will allow them to say no to their friends when they are already swamped with their own schoolwork, or decline an invitation when they are too busy to attend a family event.”
Even if friends or family members express disappointment, explain to your child that they needn’t feel guilty about prioritising their own well-being.
“This encourages them to speak up for themselves with confidence and without fear of what others may think or say,” she notes.
Dr Reena also outlines tips for raising a self-assured child who isn’t aggressive.
* Develop relationship-based caregiving between yourself and your child. A healthy and positive sense of self is the result of positive, loving adult-child attachment. This will nurture empathy in children.
* Just like how your child wants others to respect their limits, teach them to respect others’ limits as well. For example, when a sibling or friend says no, make it clear to your child that “no means no”.
* Encourage children to think about how their friend might be feeling in a given situation. Mirroring others’ feelings not only give them perspective, it lets them link actions to the feelings they cause.
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