How can one teach a child assertiveness skills?
May 12, 2014
In recent years, there has been a great deal of talk about bullying. Although this issue should be taken seriously, I feel the term “bullying” is much overused. I argue that adults and children alike tend to feel that bullying comes at us constantly in many forms and faces. But is it really bullying or something else?
One thing is certain: our role is to help empower children to learnassertiveness, a skill intended to help them throughout their lives.
What can we do as adults?
On certain occasions, we may unknowingly overreact to external events. As parents, we have a natural tendency to be overprotective and insulate our children from experiencing adversity. Try to avoid using the word “bullying” the minute your child tells you about an unpleasant situation he faced to prevent him from seeing himself as a victim.
Avoid trivializing what’s happening
It is also important not to take lightly the content of what your child is saying to you. If he chooses to open up, this means that he feels compelled to do so. Sadly enough, standard phrases like “Just ignore them” or “Don't give them attention, and they will stop” will not be of any help for the child to assert himself.
Be open and show empathy
Your child needs to feel listened to and understood. Don't be afraid to help him put into words his emotions.
Encourage the child to voice his opinions
The more the child opens up with his family, the more he will be assertive with his peers.
Use phrases like “Be nice” with moderation
We expect children to be “nice” all the time from early childhood. One consequence is that certain children do not dare to be assertive as a result of their desire to avoid displeasing others. Yet, it is essential that they can command respect from their counterparts to some extent.
What can the child do?
Role playing is an effective way to learn how to be assertive and have some degree of assurance. This approach allows the child to get some “practice” for that purpose in a safe environment.
Here are a few pointers that you can use with your child:
- Help him develop a self-confident style of walking (e.g. walking with one’s head held high, shoulders square and with firm and normal-pace steps).
- Help him learn how to object to others if necessary. If your child has repeatedly tempted to rebut someone without any conclusive outcome, allow him to try again but with stronger remarks ― phrases like “Leave me alone” or “Go play elsewhere” are good examples ― and in a slightly offhand manner. This can be expressed through a glance, a posture or a voice tone that may signal to the bully that his comments are far from being intimidating.
Book suggestion: “Non à l’intimidation. J’apprends à m’affirmer” (French only). This book is intended directly for school-aged children to better understand and deal with the challenge of intimidation. Together with your child, you can discuss the book’s content and put into practice some of the strategies.
There are lots of things that can be done to help your child become more assertive or stop being bullied. Ultimately, the key is to find the right measure of assertiveness and self-esteem!
Hélène Fagnan, Family Coach