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Self-Esteem and Assertiveness

— U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Updated on Dec 8, 2010

Bethany is playing on a playground. She wants to play on the tire swing, but another child is already using the tire swing. What does Bethany do?

A) Pushes the other child off the swing and takes it

B) Says, "I'd like to play on the swing when you're done" to the other child

C) Waits quietly, hoping the other child will get off the swing soon.

If Bethany's parents have taught her assertiveness, she will be able to talk about what she wants in a respectful way, without upsetting anyone. When a child is assertive, she can confidently say what she wants or feels without imposing her will on other people. An assertive child isn't aggressive—she wouldn't take the swing away from another child by force—nor is she passive, or afraid to speak up for what she wants.

What To Know

A child can learn assertiveness no matter what his personality is like. Outgoing children may have an easier time being assertive than shy children, but all children can and should learn to speak up for themselves. Assertive children are more likely to resist negative peer pressure—for example, offers of alcohol, tobacco, or illegal drugs. They also are more likely to have high self-esteem and self-confidence and to develop good communication skills.1

What To Do

One of the most important things a parent or caring adult can do is model good behavior. Don't expect your child to learn assertiveness if you haven't learned it yet! Look for opportunities to show your child what to do. For example, if you're sitting in a restaurant with your child and the service has been bad, you can express your feelings to the manager and allow your child to watch assertiveness in action.

Here are some other teaching tips:

  • Foster self-esteem in your child. Listen to what she has to say, and encourage her to think for herself. Doing so will teach her that her opinions and feelings are important.2
  • Talk to your child about his relationships with other kids. Is he being pushed around? Is he bullying others? Try to observe your child spending time with peers to find out if your child needs help being assertive.
  • Practice assertiveness. Role play everyday situations your child faces at school or in other situations. For example, you can pretend to be a bully and have your child practice standing up for herself.
  • Give your child examples of assertive responses. Teach him to use "I" statements—for example, "I don't like it when you borrow my things and don't give them back." Encourage him to make eye contact and to speak in a clear voice. Also, teach him to just walk away from schoolyard teasing.
  • Talk to your child about especially risky situations. For example, make sure she can say "no" to a friend offering her alcohol, tobacco, or illegal drugs. Teach her to assertively resist physical, sexual, or other types of abuse from both children and adults. She also should learn to tell a trusted adult about these kinds of incidents.3

Sources

1 University of Buffalo, State University of New York. Assertiveness: Counseling Services, last referenced 4/24/2003.

2 Pediatric Services. How To Raise A Child Who'll Stand Up For Herself, last referenced 4/24/2003.

3 Focus Adolescent Services. Teaching Children Not To Be--Or Be Victims Of-Bullies, last referenced 4/24/2003.

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