I’m so proud of my girls – they’re well-mannered, say please and thank you, and know how to share (well, we’re teaching the eighteen month old 😉 ), my older daughter helps around the house, and is generally easygoing and laidback. She’s kind and friendly – It’s just in her nature, and that’s fantastic, BUT it’s not enough. Fact of the matter is – it’s a big world out there, and if she wants a turn at the merry-go-round she’s going to need to speak up for herself – she needs to be assertive.
Teaching a teen to be assertive means raising them to know that they have the right to express their wants, thoughts and feelings, be it positive or negative, at any given time, so long as they do so in a way that is not harmful or hurtful to themselves or anyone else. Teenagers NEED this skill! Dating, job hunting, choosing what to study – even just dealing with the ups and downs of daily, (almost adult) life. Having the confidence and the surety to face situations as they arise, head-on and honestly, gives your teen a better chance of developing into a happy, healthy adult.
Unfortunately, assertiveness is closely tied to self-esteem, and for teens, fear of rejection, fear of criticism, fear of failure and the desire to belong can sometimes be so powerful that they back down and stop practicing their own assertiveness. It’s not a skill that comes naturally to everyone, but it can (and should) be taught to our kids. Developing a sense of belonging and knowing that they are valued is crucial in the process of becoming assertive.
Assertive teens (and adults) are more likely to be able to
- say ‘no’ without feeling guilty
- stick to their ‘no’ after saying it
- not apologise for other people’s mistakes
- not make excuses for other people
- speak up for themselves (and others)
- identify their own feelings
- respond to bullying in a safe, productive manner
- negotiate with others
- build strong and honest relationships with others
- feel in control of themselves and their situation
Here are some tips to help your teen practice being assertive.
1. Encourage and support healthy risks – Kids dream big, and that’s fantastic! Whether it’s playing the drums, becoming a famous artist or starting their own yard-care business, give them a chance to try it out. Help where needed, if they ask, but more importantly, offer support, and encouragement, and a shoulder to cry on if there are any real moments of disappointment, BUT resist the urge to run in a save the day at the first sign of trouble. That will only make your teen think you don’t have any faith in them.
2. Praise your teen – Be sure to focus on the effort, and not only on the end result, and be sure to tell your teen himself! By focusing on the effort, instead of only the end result, we help our teens realise that taking a chance, and working hard is appreciated too. Generally kids tend to focus on the end goal (think: completely a task, or winning a race) and they lose sight of the fact that often the experience means just as much as the end result.
3. Allow for mistakes – The teen years are not the easiest, and our kids are bound to make some mistakes. It’s not that surprising really, everyone does! 🙂 Unfortunately, sometimes teens feel pressured to be ‘perfect’, to make no mistakes, and this can cause them to avoid taking even the smallest, ‘healthy’ risks. Sensitive teens may take criticism personally, and a comment about bad behavior may be internalised and personalised, so it is best just to avoid criticism. A different approach would be to discuss ways to problem solve for the next time the situation presents itself, or alternatively, to discuss a time from your past that you made a similar mistake, and how you solved the problem (or should have solved it). By dealing with your teen with compassion, you teach them that they’re valuable and worthwhile.
4. Teach your child about assertiveness – Not everyone knows what assertiveness is. Not everyone knows that there are two other types of personalities. Explain to your teen a little about each personality type using definitions or roleplaying. Personally, i like Dr Paterson’s explanation, “In the passive style, all the world is allowed on stage but for you — your role is to be the audience and supporter for everyone else. In the aggressive style, you’re allowed on stage but you spend most of your time shoving the others off, like in a lifelong sumo match. With the assertive style, everyone is welcome onstage. You are entitled to be a full person, including your uniqueness, and so are others.”. Discuss the importance of assertiveness, the pro’s and con’s of each personality style, and how each style affects the person and those around them.
5. Set a good example by modelling assertive behavior – While you’re out and about doing your daily tasks, be sure to show your child how the use of effective communication and honesty can benefit all parties in a natural and pleasing manner. Talk to your teen about what happened, and about how you felt, so that they learn to identify opportunities to be assertive in their own lives.
The dinner table is a great place to promote assertiveness. Invite your teen to engage in some thought-provoking conversation, and encourage them the share their opinions freely. What ways do you have to encourage assertiveness in your teens?