How to Raise Assertive Kids Who Speak Up for Themselves and Others

by | May 14, 2013 | Courage and Assertiveness, Peer Pressure


7 solutions to help kids develop self-confidence, buck peer pressure and speak up for themselves

Let’s face it. It’s a hard time to be growing up, and the data confirms it.

Bullying is fiercer. Peer pressure is tougher. Kids are more aggressive (and at younger ages!).

Girls are meaner. Tougher temptations like drinking, sex, and drugs are hitting our kids at younger ages as well as those sticky-tricky situations like copying homework or letting a peer cheat on a test!

 Of course we can’t always be there to stick up or speak up for our kids. 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 real parenting solution to helping our kids handle those tougher life issues in that sometimes-vicious social jungle is helping them learn how to be more assertive so they can speak up and defend themselves.  And the sooner we do so the better.

Yes, our kids do have different temperaments and some are shyer and more sensitive. But the good news is that assertiveness is comprised of skills that can be taught. Here are seven ways to help your child learn to be respectfully assertive from my book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions.


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.

Don’t expect your child to be assertive if you’re not a model of assertiveness.

Be a democratic household

Hold kitchen table debates. Use family meetings. Listen to each child (and that doesn’t mean you have to agree their views).

When kids know their opinions count, they are more likely to talk out and feel comfortable speaking up for themselves. The best place for your child to learn to find his voice is in your home. Make sure that each of your kids has a chance to speak and be heard.

Do watch out for more domineering siblings who can squelch the voice of a shyer child. Each child needs to learn to defend him or herself and speak up!

Acknowledge assertiveness

 Let your child know you value people who speak their mind. Reinforce your child’s assertiveness. “I like how you spoke up!” Reinforce those behaviors in your child and let her know you honor her opinions. Then step back and let your child find her voice and speak up for herself –without your rescue! If you always step in and defend your child she won’t develop that inner confidence and may learn to rely on you! Step back!

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. (Again, watch out for over-powering siblings as well). This doesn’t mean this has to be the only pal your kid hangs with, but he or she will be one buddy your kid can practice assertiveness on a more equal footing.

Provide early leadership opportunities

Research from 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, teambuilding, 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 also enroll your child in public speaking or theatre to build confidence in speaking in front of others.

Teach C.A.L.M. Assertion

There are four steps I developed that help kids stand up and speak up for themselves or others I call it “CALM” (I’ve found acronyms really help kids). I’ve taught the model to children all over the world-Colombia, New Zealand, Finland, Hong Kong, Taipei, Canada, USA-and no matter where I go, kids say this helps. You must practice the skill with your child over and over until he or she feels confident using it in the real world. Practice assertiveness (at any age!) can be empowering. So practice together. 

Kids also learn skills best if you SHOW not TELL. So model it. Point it out in others. And break each part of the four steps into a separate skill. Then teach each (C then A then L then M) until your child can master all four elements.

Here are the four steps to C.A.L.M.-you might want to make it into a poster and put it on your fridge. Counselors and teachers put this on a wall. It is the first core skill that also helps kids be less likely to be bullied or victimized.  

           Teaching CALM Assertion 

  • C – Stay cool. Assertive kids are cool. Tell your child, “If you get upset, ticked off, cry, pout you don’t appear as  confident and a bully says ‘yes!'” 
  • A – Assert yourself. Teach your child a few comeback lines say in different situations where he may need to assertive himself: “Cut it out.” “Stop it.” “That’s not right.” “You’re hurting her feelings.” “Because I don’t want to!” “Cool it!” A strong, short statement is all that is needed. Never insult back. Stick to the action you want to happen “Stop it.” One word can do it, “Enough!”  End it with an exclamation point. Walk off. 
  • L – Look the person in the eye.  Kids have to “look” confident before they can be taken seriously. And the best way to appear more confident is by using eye contact. Just by looking the person in the eye you will appear more confident. You can teach even toddlers eye contact by making one rule in your home: “Always look at the color of the talker’s eyes!” For a shy child, suggest he look between the person’s eyes – at the bridge of their nose. (The kid will not know the difference). I trained autistic kids to look through the person on the other side. 
  • 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 –but not yelling tone–to get  his point across. 

Role-play assertive posture, assertive phrases and a firm-sounding tone over and over until your child has the confidence to hold his own without you. And when he does, congratulations! You will have taught your child one of the most critical skills that he will need to use in every arena of his life, not only now but forever.

Get more Parenting Solutions by following me on twitter @MicheleBorba or on my website, Dr. Michele Borba

I am the author of over 22 books including The Big Book of Parenting Solutions and now available for purchase online. Portions of this blog are excerpted from this book.