Raising Assertive Kids Part 2: Laying the Groundwork

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Image and capes by babypop via Etsy.

What I’ve mentioned so far about raising assertive kids is really helpful. Here’s a refresher course. To bully-proof your kid make sure they know how to: 1. state what they want and why while simultaneously 2. moving their body out of harm’s way. My girls are nearing expert status at this 2 step rule but it’s not just because I’ve drilled it into them.

What’s made them so successful at using the 2 step rule is the work I’ve put into laying a solid foundation for raising assertive kids.

I started this post on raising assertive kids a couple of weeks ago and couldn’t quite get past my writer’s block. Then, during a random Indian summer day, my daughters and I went to the beach. It was deserted aside for us and another mom and her two kids. What struck me most about this other mom was her way with words.

Her daughter was wading out into the ocean and she asked her mother how far she could go. Her mother responded by telling her to go as far as she felt comfortable. She told her to trust her body and when she felt unsafe, to move closer to shore (the mom was right in the water with her but she was giving her daughter the safe freedom to explore…none of this sitting on the beach chair while the kids play in the deep end crap I see all the time).

Later, the little girl told her mom she was cold but she wanted to use my daughters’ boogie board one last time. Her mom said ok but to remember she had mentioned she was cold and it was important to honor her body and the way it was feeling. Yes, she used the word “honor”. I’m kinda still in awe.

Why am I sharing this story of going to the beach in October? Because while I can tell my girls day and night to say what they want and why and move their bodies a safe distance, the first step of raising assertive kids is teaching them to listen and respect themselves. This is the groundwork parents start putting down from day one. How do you do this? By listening and responding to them. So much of who our children believe themselves to be is based on how we interact with our children.

If we want them to listen and respect themselves, then we, as parents, need to listen and respect them as well. They must believe and have experiences of being respected to believe others will treat them with respect.

A perfect example is when one of my daughters uses the bathroom and then two seconds later has to use it again. I’ve been guilty on more than one occasion of questioning them. It’s something I’ve had to learn not to do and just show them I trust what they’re telling me, that I trust what their bodies are communicating to them. Another great example is when my girls tell me they’re scared of a monster only they can see. I’ve learned not to wave it off as childish play; I respond by acknowledging their fear and exploring the best way to soothe them.

Creating this sense of self-confidence in your child starts on day one, when they’re infants and they’re wailing for something you can’t quite figure out. Instead of ignoring it, letting them cry it out or accuse them of trying to manipulate all the adults in the room, respond with love. Show them you believe in them so they can believe in themselves. How you respond to their needs, so will they respond to their own needs.

After you teach them to respond honorably to what they’re feeling, before introducing the 2 step rule, we as parents have to arm them with the vocabulary to state what they want and why. Like the two step rule, this is done simultaneously with honoring and listening to their feelings. Parents need to teach their children to label what they’re feeling – sad, angry, happy, tired, hungry, sleepy, achey, scared – and why.

It sounds like an overwhelming task but really it’s just about putting together little building blocks, using our daily interaction with our children to provide them with the vocabulary and thinking process they need. We must model it for them; when we’re tired, happy, curious, confused, excited – say it out loud. Tell them why you feel that why and what you’re going to do about it. We must also help them do it for themselves. If they’re getting cranky, ask them how they feel, why they might be feeling that way and what they might do to feel better.

Tip: It’s not easy to conjure up emotional vocabulary. To make it easier, create a feelings list you can keep handy and in sight for the whole family. Use it when someone’s feeling a certain way or just as a game. You can point to a word and act it out. Or when you read a book, see a movie or show or just experience a new feeling, discuss which feeling it might be. This is a project kids can get involved in. Let them know what the words mean and, if you’re feeling crafty, have them tear photos of faces out of a magazine to correspond with the feeling. Or: Buy some Kimochis, adorable plush toys designed to teach children emotional intelligence. Easy way or the crafty way, take your pick.

Let’s sum it up.

1. From the moment your child is born, listen and respond to your child’s needs with respect.
2. Give them an emotional vocabulary to be able to identify how they feel.

I began this post about a month ago aiming to help parents of children preschool age or younger raise assertive kids. I want my children and yours to be able to stand up to their peers who happen to be bullies. But with recent events at Penn State, I realize the assertive skills I’m instilling in my children are part of an arsenal that will prepare them for situations I hope they never have to face. Raising assertive kids is about raising human beings who trust their instincts. If their gut tells them something isn’t right about a situation they’re in or a situation they witness, then hopefully they’ve been taught to trust themselves and take action.

I want my kids to be able to stand up for themselves and stand up for others, now as young children and later as adults.

It’s Your Turn

The listening and responding respectfully of laying down a foundation for raising assertive kids isn’t always easy but it’s easier than conjuring up words to describe how we’re feeling. In the comments below, tell me how you help build your child’s emotional vocabulary. I’d love to read more about your favorite “feelings” word.

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  1. Love the education of using your feelings. Many adults don’t know how to teach feelings because they where never taught… Good read. A child will learn what the parents teach; they are sponges…

    1. I’m one of those adults. My parents never spent a breath on talking about feelings. They are great parents but it’s just not part of the culture they grew up with. I’m teaching them and learning myself along the way.

    1. Thank you, Marta! It’s a constant learning process. You are an inspiration as a parent =) The way you love your kids and how much they love you. Thank you.

  2. Great article!! I love your attitude in educating you children. I have used the emotional vocabulary and it worked really well on both my girls!!

    1. I’m totally a student during this whole process. I love my parents but because I’m trying to do things so differently from how they raised me, it’s about learning and fighting old habits. It can be done!

  3. whoa. this was the best thing i’ve read in a long time. going back and reading again. well done. i love it all.

    “honor your body” is such flipping genius.


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