Supporting Social Skill Development: Becoming more self confident
1) What is assertiveness?
When working with children I’d define assertive as: being able to stand up for yourself and asking for what you need.
2) How can we help our children become more assertive without being aggressive?
We need to use real life situations as they come up as teaching moments in genuine ways. We are teaching children to ASK for what they need, but we need to teach them HOW to ask in a way that is assertive and not demanding or unreasonable. We would do this by modelling a response, or giving feedback to the way we heard them express, or not express themselves.
We also need to clearly define the difference between assertive and aggressive, by showing that the aggressive part is the demanding and forceful way or getting what we want and assertive is the way we express ourselves in a respectful, yet firm way.
Part of the explanation is “It’s OK to ask for what you need, and ask for it in a clear and precise way. "
Then it is important to teach, that asking in this way does not guarantee you will get what you asked for. But.... if you don't, you need to accept that and then walk away, strong and confident.
3) How can we help our children to have empathy towards their friends while at the same time being assertive?
Skills such as empathy need to be modelled and directly taught. We cannot hope to have an empathetic child, we need to teach the skills of empathy as well as being assertive. The best way is by BEING empathetic to your own child. Stand in their shoes, and see a problem from their perspective. Share a time in your own childhood where you remember being in the same situation they find themselves in today.
Read books about characters displaying empathy, or books with an empathy theme. Several of my favorites are Wonder by RJ Palaico and The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
Encourage them when they are talking to share with you how they think their friend must have been feeling at the time.
Support and encourage any moments where you see them standing their own ground or standing up for themselves but yet also being able to see how their friend was feeling. Your child would need to have had a lot of practice of being both assertive and empathetic before they could practice both at once.
4) How can we teach our children to maintain and grow their assertiveness?
The point is to know your child, and learn how they are coping by observing them and keeping your communication open.
Create time and space for ‘safe talking’ about how they are coping with change and relationships. A safe talk is one where you feel your feelings will be validated and you are able to talk without fear of any, blame, shame, criticism or judgement. You are also able to talk without being interrupted.
5) What about the shy child? Is shyness linked to assertiveness and confidence as is traditionally thought?
To be shy is more of a personality disposition where as assertiveness is a skill that can be taught and developed. It is important not to label someone as ‘shy’ as this can become a self fulling prophecy, or interpreted as a negative label.
Instead it is essential that we help our children feel accepted for ‘who’ they are, ‘as’ they are and from this stand point learn ‘how’ to value what they need and be able to express it with confidence when needed.
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