Teaching your child to be assertive involves a few simple strategies, like practicing active listening and helping them build emotional intelligence.
Assertiveness is the ability to self-advocate and express yourself while respecting the beliefs and rights of others. It’s a beneficial quality that many parents want for their kids, although it doesn’t always come naturally to everyone.
Some children might have no problem looking others in the eye and stating what they think. They may be comfortable offering a different opinion, and know how to ask for what they want.
But other children might be quieter and more hesitant. They may avoid disagreement out of fear of a negative consequence and may not know how to stand up for themselves.
If you think your child could benefit from increased assertive communication, there are ways you can help kids develop assertiveness skills.
Assertiveness is a skill your child can learn. Building confidence is part of learning to be more assertive.
Some kids develop quickly in this area, and others may need more time. Either way, there are things you can do to help.
Consider these 10 strategies for teaching your child to be assertive.
1. Build emotional intelligence
Feelings are a natural part of being human. Teaching your child to recognize and label their emotions can make them feel more in control. This can build confidence, which helps to boost emotional intelligence and assertiveness.
2. Practice active listening
Active listening means giving your undivided attention to your child and noticing as much as you can about what they’re trying to communicate. Active listening is a part of mindful parenting and can show your kid how to be more assertive.
A confident child can be one who believes their opinion counts. This doesn’t mean that they always get their way. However, active listening shows them that even if the answer is “no,” their input still matters.
3. Act on your child’s input
Sometimes your child asks for something appropriate and deliverable. But what if they want their bedroom walls painted yellow when you think green would be a great choice?
This change might not align with your design plans, but it can contribute to your child’s assertiveness skills by creating a positive experience connected to their self-advocacy.
4. Ask instead of telling
Many kids enjoy an afternoon trip to the park, but yours might not. Telling your child that the park is fun removes the chance for them to assert their own opinion.
If you ask how they feel and treat their answer with respect, they can learn the confidence to share their opinion.
5. Model assertiveness
Children learn by copying, which means behavior modeling can be an effective parental teaching tool, particularly if you wonder how to teach your kid to stand up for themselves.
Ways to model assertiveness for your child include:
- talking about your feelings and opinions
- staying calm
- using first-person statements
- creating boundaries
6. Cultivate confidence
Confidence isn’t just about feeling capable. It’s also about feeling empowered even with human imperfections.
Confident people often use their strengths, and they also tend to persevere if they don’t succeed the first time.
You can show your child that it’s OK to fail and try again. Let them see you:
7. Encourage extracurricular activities
Unstructured play and quiet family time are important, but extracurricular activities offer a chance for your child to practice assertiveness.
Team sports and performing arts are two examples of activities that often require confident peer interaction.
8. Practice acceptance
Parental acceptance and its anxiety-reducing effects may also contribute to assertiveness-boosting confidence and self-esteem in children.
9. Teach assertive behaviors
Sometimes the easiest way to teach a skill set is to target individual behaviors. They’re often specific and easier to understand.
Assertiveness behaviors include:
- starting or ending conversations
- making requests
- saying “no”
- talking about their feelings
- standing their ground
Try to choose one behavior to start, or wait for teachable moment opportunities and apply appropriate responses.
10. Delegate some decisions
Assertive kids can often feel comfortable making choices. If yours needs some encouragement in this area, start small, like choosing between two shirts to wear to school.
It might be uncomfortable to watch your child make mistakes in decision making, but this is a powerful learning opportunity. Mistakes teach better decision-making skills, and that adversity is something they can move past.
Assertiveness can benefit kids in numerous ways, such as enabling them to:
- advocate for themselves
- help others
- avoid bullying and peer pressure
- identify their feelings
- set limits and boundaries
- feel a sense of control
- negotiate and disagree respectfully
A small 2020 study involving seventh-grade students illustrated the benefits of assertiveness training for children. Researchers found that the training, and specifically learning the practice of saying “no,” helped increase self-confidence and assertiveness in the adolescent participants.
Assertiveness training may reduce anxiety in kids with learning disabilities. Findings from a small 2015 study involving elementary school students suggested that children with learning disabilities may have fewer assertiveness skills than their neurotypical peers.
Assertiveness training may even help ward off depression in adolescents and teenagers, according to a small 2018 study.
You can help your child to be more assertive. Assertiveness means self-confidence and self-advocacy, done in a calm way that isn’t aggressive or disrespectful of other people. It can help children feel in control and navigate social challenges, like bullying and peer pressure.
Teaching your child to be assertive can be done in several different ways, such as helping them control emotions and encouraging them to make decisions.
Some kids might take longer than others to learn assertiveness because of individual temperaments. However, it’s important to stick with them to learn self-advocacy skills.