The radical changes in society over the past few decades are reflected in our childrearing practices. Parenting is generally far removed from the strict, punitive methods employed only a few generations ago.
Fewer parents use physical punishments, instead relying on enforcing clear rules, combined with reasoning and positive parenting techniques.
We also encourage our children to speak up for themselves and educate them about their rights. This is underpinned by the curriculum in schools, which includes modules on children’s rights and how children can protect themselves.
The following are some ideas you could consider when encouraging your children to be assertive.
Children learn by example
The main way in which children learn how to behave is by observing those around them.
They will observe how their parents deal with tricky situations and are likely to copy their techniques.
So when you need to complain about something do you say nothing, become annoyed and start giving out, or calmly point out your problem and try to solve it in a reasonable way?
Remember, your child is watching and learning.
Respect your child’s rights
If you are teaching your child that he has the right to speak out and be heard, it is essential that he first learns this lesson at home.
He will need to have the experience of being listened to and having his views respected.
The reality of your relationship is that you have the most power, meaning it is your role to set limits and ensure your child’s safety.
However, this does not mean that you should enforce your rules without ever taking account of your child’s views.
One of the fundamental tasks of a parent is to teach children to take responsibility for their own selves. To encourage your child to become an assertive individual, you will need to encourage him to express his views and listen to his suggestions.
Assertiveness and aggression are not the same
Being assertive does not mean bulldozing the opposition into submission.
This may work at times on a sports field, but in day-to-day life this is a form of bullying. Being assertive does not mean that you always get your own way.
So, while you should encourage your children to speak up for themselves, and (if necessary ) defend themselves, offer them suggestions on how to do this without hurting or humiliating the other person.
Practice is important
The ability to speak up and manage tricky situations does not develop automatically. It would be unrealistic to expect your child to be assertive without some direction.
Look out for situations in which your child can begin to practise these skills.
For the younger child, you could begin by showing him ways of negotiating with his friends. For the older child, you could begin to encourage him to be assertive when he is unhappy with purchases. It might be a good idea to practise at home first.
Help your child to take action, for example, if he wants to change something in a shop, don’t always do it for him.
But at the same time, be aware of when he does need you to step in to help.
Not only do children need to hear how important and valued they are, they also need to hear that they are competent and can overcome hurdles.
These are important messages to convey to your child. If he develops a sense of himself as an individual who can effect change and solve everyday problems, he is more likely to tackle them with confidence.
So if your child is making attempts to remedy difficult situations, praise his efforts, and don’t expect too much too soon.
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