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Why You Must Teach Your Children to Be Assertive

  Written by Riley Mitchell

Childhood is a valuable time for life lessons. Alongside the regular school curriculum of maths, English and science, we learn key social skills that help us navigate our way through adolescence, into adult life. We teach our kids to “play nicely”, to share with their friends and to be polite. But, just as we learn the language skills of English or French, there’s a subtler social language that underpins all of our interactions and that many of us aren’t taught; assertiveness.

Many kids aren’t born assertive, and the skills that go along with it aren’t introduced or nurtured at school or at home. This can have two behavioral outcomes; a) our child becomes quiet and shy or b) they take on more aggressive traits, without a proper steer, and they bully others to achieve their goals. As parents, neither one of these outcomes, the bully or the potentially bullied, is what we would want for our child. Both have the potential to profoundly influence their later life and lead to unhappiness. So, as we support our kids through their homework so that they can achieve in their school life, as we take them to the doctor and dentist to ensure that they grow up healthy, we have a duty to support their emotional and behavioral development through the teaching of assertiveness skills. Where do we start then?

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What does a passive child look like?

Lots of kids are shy when they first meet new people. And many of us would probably prefer a quiet child over a bully. But one of the potential repercussions of being “quiet” is that kids don’t learn how to articulate their boundaries and stick up for themselves, thus making them a target for children who only know how to express themselves aggressively. The bullies.

Both aggressive and passive personalities have trouble with self-expression, on opposite ends of the spectrum. Where a playground bully might shove and snatch to get what they want, a passive child won’t be able to express the fact that this isn’t OK. It might not always be obvious that you have a passive child on your hands, so here are some of the things to look out for [1].

●      Your child might seem dull, or lethargic: Passive kids tend to lack the high energy levels of their assertive or aggressive counterparts. This might present itself as laziness, or a lack of imagination in finding things to occupy themselves with throughout the day.

●      They might appear to lack “zest for life”: Passive personalities, in childhood or adulthood, tend to have trouble expressing themselves through active body language. This can present as an expressionless face, a lack of excitement and enthusiasm, no twinkle in their eye or difficulty laughing and smiling.

●      They have trouble maintaining attention: A passive child often gets lost in their own thoughts. They drift off and lose focus on a task in hand.

●      They’re less creative: Kids tend to love expressing themselves creatively, through crafts, drawing, painting or dressing up. But passive children find these activities boring and often won’t engage in, or maintain play with, them for long.

●      They struggle to mix with others: Passive kids are withdrawn, around other kids and even around their parents. They don’t enjoy playing with other children, preferring their own company, and they may even lack affection towards you, your partner or their grandparents.

●      They enjoy puzzle solving: Because passive personalities prefer to live in their own heads, they enjoy activities which involve deep, solitary, thinking. Puzzle games and problem-solving computer games, for example.

●      They might not enjoy their food: This could be because of the generally social nature of eating family meals together, at a table. Or it could just be because there’s a tendency for passive kids to be fussier, since they haven’t been able to work through their likes and dislikes fully, but passive children often gain little enjoyment from eating.

●      They enjoy sleep: Passive kids like to sleep long and deeply. Theirs is often a more sedentary lifestyle, so the accumulated lethargy of the day might be to blame.

●      They can seem invisible to others: At school, around other kids or in any other social situation, those with a passive personality tend to be overlooked. This is trend which continues into adulthood, if not nipped in the bud.

Like all habits, if these behaviors go unchecked for too long they can become deeply ingrained. And it doesn’t take much of a stretch of the imagination to see how damaging this lifestyle could be for a child’s development. Passive personalities struggle to engage with their peers which means that they’ll have a great deal of difficulty forming close bonds with other people and the impact that this has on later life is obvious.

How can assertiveness help overcome passive behavior?

Assertiveness teaches skills of self-expression and it does so diplomatically. A few ways that assertiveness can help your child express themselves better are;

●      It will help them to identify their feelings.

●      They’ll learn how to voice their opinions and boundaries, with diplomacy, respect for the opinions of others and powerful negotiating skills -- remember, what we would never want to do is turn a passive kid into a bully!

●      They’ll learn to say ‘no’ without the associated feelings of guilt.

●      It will develop their self-confidence, encouraging them out of their head and into interaction with others. This, in turn, will mean that they’re not overlooked by their peers.

●      They’ll learn how to build strong, supportive, relationships.

How can assertiveness nip bullying in the bud?

We’ve talked about developing assertiveness to prevent passive tendencies, but it’s just as important in preventing aggression in young children. Just like passiveness, aggression comes from a lack of being able to express oneself appropriately. And so in learning to identify their feelings early on, learning the skills of diplomatic negotiation and empathy toward the feelings of others, those children who might be leaning towards aggression can be encouraged out of the trend.

How can you be a role model in assertiveness?

There are many ways that you can contribute to the development of your child’s assertiveness. The first, and most obvious, one being developing those skills yourself and transferring them, actively, day-to-day. We’ve information on assertiveness courses that can benefit you, here. There is also a wealth of information available via online videos and articles, which you can watch with your child and discuss afterwards. You might wish to talk to your child’s school about the measures that they take to develop key social skills and whether there’s anything that can be done to promote this.

So perhaps start to dedicate some time to brushing up on your own knowledge, then look for ways that you may be able to influence your child’s wider social network. Developing this key life skill early on is the best way to start your family on the path to future fulfillment and happiness.

Want to Be More Assertive?

We have online courses with full 12-months' access.
RRP from $229 – limited time offer just $49



[1] Transforming a Passive Child into Active Child - Characteristics of a Passive Child:

[gen ref] Building Assertiveness: How to Help Your Quiet Child Speak Up:

[gen ref] Raising Assertive Kids:

[gen ref] Assertiveness:

[gen ref] Teaching our children “empathetic assertiveness”:
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