Raising Assertive Kids Part 1: The Two Step Rule

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After our incident on the playground with the bullying preschooler, I’ve been really focused on doing what I can to raise assertive kids. Prior to the bully incident, I hadn’t given the thought of raising assertive kids much thought. So, I’ve kicked my efforts into high gear. And, I should disclose, high gear for us isn’t overdrive because before the punk on the playground, we weren’t doing much of anything to teach our kids to be assertive. We weren’t neglecting the importance of assertiveness; we had just never encountered a situation requiring my daughter to stand up for her physical safety.

I ended up using a few of the suggestions from the links I shared in the preschool bully post. I didn’t write out any of the suggestions before because I hadn’t tried them. I didn’t want to give out tips about raising assertive kids, if I couldn’t see for myself if they were effective. So, as soon as I posted the links, I got to work applying them to see which ones would “stick” for my daughters.

First, I have to start off by saying I’m not very good at role playing. I know, I know. Kids learn best through play and we should be role playing situations where someone’s getting bullied and then practice our assertive kid skills. Yeah, well I suck at role playing. Just the thought of it makes me want to throw up a little in my mouth. So, while I know it’s supposed to work wonders, I’m holding out on assertive role playing until we’ve exhausted all other options.

Right now, we’re using a simple 2 step formula for teaching our kids to be assertive in situations with their peers:

  1. State what you want and why. I told my daughters if anyone is ever touching them or doing something they don’t like, they need to let that person know. The first word they should say is “stop” in a firm, strong voice so the other person can hear them and understand they are no longer playing. And then proceed to tell them why they want them to stop. Reasons often heard around this neck of the woods: I’m tired, that hurts, I don’t want to play anymore – to name a few.
  2. Remove their body from harm’s way. I list this second but it’s really done almost simultaneously with number one. We’ve talked about making sure to move far enough away so the other person can’t touch them. And if the other party involved doesn’t seem to get it, just leave the space entirely and find an adult.

I talked to them about the two steps to use which wasn’t enough to really get the message across. So over the course of a few days, whenever my daughters got into a disagreement while playing, usually because one or the other couldn’t clearly communicate they didn’t want to play anymore or they didn’t like the kind of play that was happening, I’d remind them of the two step rule.

Here’s an example:

One day the girls were chasing each other around the house, one was a dragon and the other herself. They were going from one end of the living room to the other and falling into heaps of laughter after every run. After about ten minutes, big sister was done with the dragon chase but baby sister was too busy laughing and having fun to hear her. Big sister also made the mistake of continuing to run back and forth while asking little sister to stop, and sprinkling her pleas with laughter. Finally, big sister got fed up and told me her sister wouldn’t stop.

I asked her what we’re supposed to do when we don’t like what someone’s doing. She turned to her sister and firmly said, “Stop. I don’t want you to chase me anymore. I’m tired.” Baby sister wasn’t so happy to hear this but she understood and the dragon play stopped. A few hours later something similar happened and big sister remembered exactly what she had to do. She got herself up from her sister’s grip, moved a safe distance away and said, “Stop that. I don’t want to be tickled anymore.”

I’ve also found the girls respond really well when I use the same tactics on them. One day we were rolling around on the floor in a little tickling pile and I had to get up to get dinner ready. I asked a few times but without success so I took my own advice. I got up off the ground and asked them to stop because I had to make dinner.

We haven’t encountered anymore bullies, thankfully. Right now, my girls are focused on being assertive kids at home which I have to say is very empowering for them. I can tell by how readily my daughters remember to tell each other to stop that this little method for raising assertive kids is firmly planted in their toolbox for handling tough situations.

A bonus tip worth mentioning: I praise my girls when they exhibit assertive skills like the 2 step rule. I make sure to tell them they did a great job communicating and how important it is to be able to tell other people what you want. I don’t just say “good job” and move on. I make sure they understand what they’re doing is something valuable and serious. As with any praise, they are flattered and the message of what you’re drawing attention to sinks in a little deeper.

These two little steps are a great way to arm your kids for fending for themselves but there also needs to be a basic foundation of emotional understanding and communication skills. In a few days, I’ll be sharing a little bit more about the very primary work of raising assertive kids. For now, go tell your kids to tell it and move it and when they do jump for joy.

I love to learn from other parents. How do you teach your children to stand up for themselves?


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  1. Thanks Carla!! I find that my kids do step 1 but do not respect the “stop that”. I will definitely talk with them & encourage step 2 to see if that helps.

  2. Great post! This is really hard for me, as it’s my son who may be considered a “bully.” He doesn’t mean to push or to shove other children in the playground, he just doesn’t always notice them. We are also working on body awareness and personal space. Sometimes my son will want to engage with another child but he doesn’t know how so he’ll get all up in their face, instead of saying hello. But I also know, that he is an easy target for bullying. I’ve already seen children take toys away from him because they think he’s not paying attention. So I need to step in because he is not able to articulate what he wants.

    1. Lisa, thank you for sharing! I think you make an excellent post. I’m a bit of a helicopter parent on the playground because my oldest is still working on being more assertive and because my youngest might be a little too assertive. There have been incidents where I have to explain to my daughters that somethings happen by accident. It’s the times when it’s done on purpose that really confuse them and throw them.

      We’ve encountered children who seem to respond like your son, stepping into our daughter’s personal space. She got a bit frightened and hid behind me. I knew it was just the little girl’s way but my daughter didn’t understand. Do you have any advice on how to handle that?

  3. i’m forwarding this to a friend who has two kids that’s going through a similar situation… I wish you parent’s well in dealing with bullying and all the mess going on with kids these days that I really don’t feel we experienced growing up!

  4. I love your tips! Can you make tips on how Parents can model positive assertiveness to their children to gain a voice in the school systems to make PTA meetings, crate school education to help parents be more aware of their own children’s mistakes, and work with Psychotherapist to help with the children who are being bullied (in more sever) or the Bullies as the children may be going through something in the home and or school?


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