Let’s face it. It’s a tougher time to be growing up, and the data confirms it. Bullying is fiercer. Peer pressure is tougher. Kids are also more aggressive at younger ages. Girls are meaner. Of course we can’t always be there to pick up the pieces or help our kids stand up for themselves, nor should we. After all, the more our children see us as their rescuers, the more they learn to rely on us to solve their problems.
The secret is help our kids learn how to be more assertive and speak up for themselves. Here are seven ways to help your child learn to be respectfully assertive especially in those more difficult situations when they need to hold their own!
1. Model assertiveness
Be the model you want your child to copy. Don’t be meek. Stand up for your views even if they may not be unpopular. Let your kids know that even though you might feel uncomfortable, you always feel it’s best to stand up for your rights or the rights of others. Your child is watching your behavior and will copy. So ask yourself if you are an example of assertiveness you want your child to copy? For instance, do you speak up to your girlfriend who is pushing you to do something you may not want to do? Or what about holding your own to that relative who wants you to allow your young kids to watch that PG movie you feel is inappropriate?
2. Be a democratic household
Hold debates. Use family meetings. Listen to each child (it doesn’t mean you agree with them). When kids know their opinions count they are more likely to speak out and feel comfortable doing it.
3. Acknowledge your child’s assertiveness
Let your child know you value people who speak their mind. Reinforce your child’s assertiveness. “I like how you spoke up!” Encourage those confident, assertive behaviors in your child. Let her know you honor her opinions.
4. Find less domineering friends
If your child is a bit more timid and always hangs around a bossy playmate, provide him the opportunity to find a less domineering pal so he will be more likely to speak up and gain confidence.
Watch out for domineering siblings as well. Make sure your child has the opportunity to practice his voice and not be squelched by a brother or sister (or even other parent).
5. Provide early leadership opportunities
Research from the Girl Scouts of America says kids say their confidence in speaking up and leading others dwindles by the fifth grade. Kids also tell us they gain that confidence is by entering into activities, clubs, team building, etc. and the earlier the better.
So provide opportunities for your child to be a member of a team, take charge of a project or lead others. You might enroll your child in public speaking or theatre to build confidence in speaking in front of others!
Find a platform that fits your child’s passions, talents, and comfort level!
6. Teach your child C.A.L.M. assertion
Here’s a skill that I’ve shared with hundreds of kids around the world-and I do mean that literally. I’ve taught C.A.L.M. to kids in Taipei, Colombia, Finland, Malaysia, Mexico, Canada as well as hundreds of schools from coast to coast in the US. It is a strategy that boosts assertiveness, but also helps the child learn to defend himself to others and hold his own. It’s the basic skill to stop teasing, negative peer pressure as well as bullying and victimization.
The photo image above is high school students who are teaching the skill to elementary students in a near by school as part of their service learning project. The “cross age tutoring” model is also a fabulous way for children to learn a new new skill.
There are four steps to learning the skill. Each part is essential. You may need to help your child practice each of the four steps separately until he or she can comfortably use all four parts on his or her own.
4 Steps to Being Assertive and Staying C.A.L.M.
C – Stay Cool
If you get upset, ticked off, cry, pout you don’t appear as confident.
A – Assert
Teach your child a few comeback lines to say in different situations. “No!” “Not cool.” “Because I said so!” “I don’t want to.”
L – Look Eye to Eye
The best way to appear more confident is by using eye contact. If your child is timid or eye contact is difficult, suggest he look between the persons’ eyes on the spot in the middle of their forehead. I’ve also taught children on the autism spectrum to look behind (or through the person). The trick is to “appear” confident.
M – Mean It!
Teach your child the difference between how a wimpy and a strong voice sound. Then encourage your child to assert himself using a strong and firm tone–but not yelling tone–to get his point across.
7. Role-play “assertive posture and voice tone”
Kids learn best from seeing and practicing skills. So help your child rehearse assertive phrases like: “Stop it!” “No, not this time, thanks!,” “Hey, cut it out!”
Practice using the skill so your child has a firm-sounding tone and until your child has the confidence to hold his own without you. And when he does, congratulate yourself. You will have taught your child a critical skill that he will need to use in every arena of his life but now and forever.
I am an educational psychologist, parenting expert, TODAY show contributor and author of 22 books including The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries. You can also refer to my blog, Dr. Borba’s Reality Check for ongoing parenting solutions and late-breaking news and research about child development.
My new book, UNSELFIE: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World will be in print June 2016. (Yahoo!) I’ve spent the last five years researching and writing this book as well as literally flying around the world to find the best ways we can activate our children’s hearts. My goal is to create a conversation that makes us rethink or view of success as exclusively grades, rank and score and includes traits of humanity! It’s filled with common-sense solutions based on the latest science to help us raise compassionate, caring, courageous kids. It’s time to include “empathy” in our parenting and teaching!