As my son practised soccer, I noticed that he wouldn’t leave the goal post and would just pass the ball to his team member. Upon further query he revealed that his team member had ordered him to handle the ball only as a goalkeeper or he would be excluded from the team. The team member in question was just a 7-year old, but this aggressive behaviour was enough to raise my mercury and make me feel bad for my son.
Aggressiveness and passiveness in a child are behaviours that most parents are struggling with today. An aggressive child will push, hit, scream and bully to have his way with everyone while a passive child will let others take advantage of him and not say anything. Both the scenarios are not favourable in the long run. Assertiveness is the art of communicating to others your needs and wants without aggression and disrespect. How can you help your child acquire this quality?
- Self-esteem: Children who have high self-esteem know how to assert themselves. They are seldom bullies and can deftly manage bullies. If as parents we can build our children’s self-esteem, assertiveness will follow naturally.
- Check peer worship: Sometimes kids copy and follow friends. This is natural but you must encourage your child to do and say what she likes. Tell her that even if she did not agree with her friends, they would like her still. If not, then they are not her friends.
- Encourage your shy child to speak up: When children are shy they also shy away from objecting when someone behaves unpleasantly with them. They don’t have to become extroverted but they do need to speak up and stand up for themselves. Tell them to firmly and calmly communicate what they don’t like and not accept it.
- Let them decide: We find it more efficient to take decisions for our children but sometimes we should let them call the shots for it will encourage them to speak up and have an opinion. Ask them open-ended questions so they are encouraged to think for themselves. Let them know there is no one right answer. This will help them trust themselves and their own opinions.
- Teach respectful discussion: Often we give an opinion in such aggressive manner that it hurts or offends the sentiments of others. This is aggression. An assertive person understands that an opinion is heard and understood only when spoken respectfully and kindly. Aggression just inspires aggression. Assertiveness ensures your point is put across without upsetting the other person. That is something we need to reiterate to children time and again.
- Role model: Do you deal with situations and people aggressively, passively or assertively? Your children will follow what you do. If you are complaining to customer care for poor service, your child is listening. So set an example for them and talk respectfully but assertively. Tell your child it’s important to be assertive to take care of one’s interest but aggression is not the way to achieve it.
- Disagreement is OK: We all tend to alter our opinions or refrain from speaking up for the sake of peace. Teach your child that it’s OK to have a loved one or an outsider disagree with her. Tell her that everyone thinks and feels differently and it’s not possible to find agreement with everyone. Another aspect of disagreement is saying no. Teach her it’s OK to say no (respectfully) to someone. This will equip her to efficiently deal with people in personal and professional situations and not be bullied into doing something she doesn’t want to.
- Follow-through is vital: When we tell our children to not do something, we are teaching them that there are physical and emotional boundaries that one must maintain for their own good and for others’ too. When you tell your child he can watch TV for half an hour only, stick to your words. This will teach your child to stick to his words. These boundaries will also teach him to not allow others to take advantage of him.
- Respect defiance: Following through on discipline is crucial. Having said that children often assert their autonomy as they grow up. They resist following rules and will express anger when you resist back. Do not get angry. This is a time when parents need to be discerning and flexible. Perhaps you can discuss why she doesn’t want to switch off the TV as per the rules. After much negotiation, if she is still adamant, tell her she must switch it off after half an hour. It’s important sometimes to let children have their way when they are asserting their autonomy or else they refrain from voicing their opinion or wish because they fear your disapproval or they feel powerless (which can permeate into other relationships and situations too).
- Fruitful criticism: It’s common for children to disagree with you or do things you don’t like. If your child whines when you ask him to do a chore, don’t tell him he is being a bad baby. It will just hurt his feelings. Instead tell him that when he whines, you can’t understand what he says or there is a better way to communicate or that this way of talking is unpleasant. This will encourage him to voice his opinions still but in a constructive/respectful way.
- Give logic: Children are much smarter than we give them credit for. If you reason with them on why they need to follow certain rules, they are more likely to follow them happily. Explaining rules lets your kid know that rules are not arbitrary.
Managing one’s emotions efficiently is a byproduct of assertiveness. By teaching assertiveness to our children, we not only ensure that they are neither doormats nor bullies but we can also help mitigate instances of unnecessary aggression in the world and reinforce a culture of respectful and tolerant discussion of multiple and conflicting views.