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How to Help Passive Children Become Assertive

By Liza Blau ; Updated June 13, 2017

Assertiveness is the healthiest style of communication, according to Lisa M. Schab, LCSW, author of Cool, Calm, and Confident: A Workbook to Help Kids Learn Assertiveness Skills, as cited on the PsycheCentral website. Each day your child is faced with situations where assertiveness is vital for success, such as asking a question in class, making new friends or stopping a bully in his tracks. Speaking up might not come naturally to your child, however, and you might be concerned about her lack of backbone. Help her become more assertive and embrace her right to speak up.

Asserting Opinions

Some children don't believe their voice matters, leading them to become passive. To help your child learn that her opinions are valuable, ask for her input whenever possible, even on seemingly small matters. You might ask, "Which would you prefer for dinner -- chicken or meatloaf?" or "What color do you think I should I paint the living room?" Watch movies and TV together and ask for her opinion on the story, direction and characters. For an older child, watch political shows and the news together and ask for her input on world events. Avoid arguing or telling her that she's "wrong." Instead, you might say, "Very interesting point of view. Thank you for giving me food for thought."

Asserting Boundaries

Assertive children recognize their right to say "no" without feeling guilty. Learning to say "no" can teach your child to draw necessary boundaries such as when a friend asks to copy her homework or a sibling wants to play in her bedroom. Learning to say "no" can also protect her health and safety when she's being bullied or is offered drugs, alcohol or sex. Bullies stop being aggressive within 10 seconds after victims tells them to stop in a strong voice, according to Advise your child that it's always safe to say "no" and teach her the difference between aggression and assertiveness, recommends pediatrician Dr. William Sears.

Learning to Speak Up

To help your child become more assertive, go through a variety of common situations together and teach him how to appropriately assert himself. For example, if a classmate tells him that he's not allowed to wear the color red to school, instruct him to calmly answer "Yes, I am" and walk away. Or, if another child cuts in front of him in the cafeteria line, he might say, "I'm next in line. The end of the line is behind the girl wearing the yellow sweater." If his sister changes the television channel, he might say "Mom says it's my television night and I'm allowed to watch whatever I want. You can watch your show tomorrow night." Advise him not to become angry, but to speak up while remaining calm, clear and firm.

Respecting Defiance

Defiance is a normal part of your child's development as she strives to become more autonomous and form her own opinions. Being too strict a disciplinarian or becoming angry when your child resists following a rule can lead her to become passive to avoid your disapproval. Avoid becoming upset when she refuses to stop watching TV, do her homework or go to bed. Instead, support her developing autonomy by asking what her reasons are. Give her your full attention while she learns to assert herself. You might agree to a compromise and say "You can stay up for an additional hour, but then it's bedtime." Listening to and respecting her developing needs will lessen her fear of speaking up.

Modeling Assertiveness

Children often mirror their parents' behavior. If your child views you as a passive individual, he's more likely to follow your example and become passive himself. To become a positive role model, have your child watch as you assert yourself in different situations. It can be a small matter that leaves a big impression such as asking the restaurant host for a better table or returning an item to a department store. You might inform him how you successfully asked your boss for a raise or appealed an unfair parking ticket. Repeatedly watching how you stand up for yourself in a respectful manner will help him realize that assertiveness brings far greater rewards than passivity.

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