Assertiveness is a way to communicate feelings, thoughts, opinions and beliefs in a manner that is clear and respectful. It helps people recognize and stand up for their rights, while recognizing and respecting the rights of others. This is a critical social tool for everyone, especially children.

Why is Assertiveness Important?
When children are assertive, they learn how identify their feelings, express themselves and build resilience. Assertiveness also helps them form and maintain stronger relationships.

Psychologist Michelle Bertrand weighs in. “The way I see it,” she says, “Assertiveness is a relational and communication skill that is essential to help ensure good self-esteem, proper boundaries in relationships, and feeling able to get help and support when needed.”

While assertiveness is innate for some, others may have a personality that tends towards being shy or passive. In any case, assertiveness can be taught. When children learn this skill at a young age, it increases their chances of becoming assertive teens and adults.

Assertiveness vs Aggression
Being assertive means you are self-assured and confident, without being aggressive. “The line lies with respect,” says Bertrand. “Being aggressive is interacting in a way that omits respect for the other person. Unlike assertiveness, it is a way of expression that can be belittling, hurtful or inconsiderate of the other person.”

No parent wants their child to be bullied, but by the same token, no parent wants their child to bully others. Every child should be able to stand up for themselves, voice their opinion or disagree with someone if need be, so long as it is done in a respectful manner.

Children are often taught to resolve things peacefully, but avoiding confrontation is not the answer. Assertiveness gives them the tools to navigate their way through difficult situations in constructive ways.

How to teach Assertiveness
Bertrand recommends that parents practice becoming emotional coaches for their children at an early age. “Kids and adults need to know the difference between their thoughts, feelings and behaviors. This will help them be more self-aware,” she says. How we feel and how we react are two separate things.

For example, parents can tell their children that if a friend says something that hurts them, they should say, “Please don’t talk to me like that, I don’t like it.” They learn to be assertive rather than be reactive in an aggressive way.

Likewise, feeling sad in itself is not problematic. It shows you that you need to take action in a situation that isn’t working for you. Yelling or name calling as a way to express that sadness is not a positive action. Being assertive cultivates self-awareness, where children begin to identify what’s bothering them and find solutions that empower them.

Bertrand proposes teaching assertiveness to children through modeling, practice and play:
1.     Model: Watching a parent act assertively helps kids internalize this skill.

2.     Play: This works well with younger children. You can communicate through dolls and toys.

Practice: Come up with different scenarios where your child might need to be assertive and do a few role-plays together.