Assertiveness: Saying No and Being Heard

The skill of assertiveness teaches respect. It is vital that we speak assertively so that our children feel safe. When an adult speaks using a tone of confidence and no doubt, he or she creates the sense that “all is well. Mommy and/or Daddy is going to keep me safe.” Conversely, if we speak from a passive tone, our children may not know what to do and they probably will not feel safe because it does not carry the message of “I’ve got this; you are safe with me” from the adult(s) in their life.

It is imperative that we describe exactly what we want the child to do versus stating what we do not want.  For example, if a child is running in the house an assertive statement would sound like, “Ava, walk through the house like this.” as we model what safe walking looks like. If we approach the situation by stating, “Ava, please don’t run in the house, okay?” we have focused on what we do not want while speaking in a passive tone. Please and okay are words that convey that there is a choice in the situation. When we use these words when no choice exists, we create confusion for children. Use words such as please and thank you when a child has a choice of whether to follow through on an action or task. If it’s not an expectation for a child to follow through on a task, you could state, “James, are you willing to bring that paper to me?” If the child agrees and follows through, then we would add, “Thanks! That was helpful!”

Aggressive statements are equally as confusing for children, and are more so confusing when we combine them with a tone of passivity. Statements such as, “I guess you don’t care about getting hurt,” or, “Do you want to get lost in this store?” both carry aggressive and confusing messages that do not give our children any information they can use to solve a problem.

The way to teach assertiveness is by being assertive:

  • Tell children what to do. Ex.  “Maddie, put the puzzles on the shelf.” Gesturing to the puzzles and pointing to the shelf while you are speaking provides a helpful visual for young children.
  • Use a ‘just do it’ tone in your voice, speak with confidence.
  • Be clear, direct, specific.

For the child who is having a hard time getting started on a task, we can offer the following assertive statements:

  • “I’m going to show you what to do.”
  • “I’m going to show you how to get started.”
  • “How can I help you get started?”

When we notice the child following through it is equally as important to notice and describe the child’s actions. Something as simple as, “You’re doing it!” goes a long way in reinforcing the assertive messages we send to our children.

Children learn concepts, skills and behaviors through repetition. These concepts and skills often include rituals such as leaving the house, getting dressed, or washing our hands. We as adults sometimes take these rituals for granted as they have become second nature to us.  Keeping in mind that repetition is key, we must be willing to provide time for repeated practice and modeling.

Wishing you well as you give the gift of assertiveness to your children.

 

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