Assertiveness Training for Children

Educators want children to be able to stand up for themselves and learn to interact well with their peers. Teaching them to be assertive and self-confident, as opposed to being aggressive or submission, contributes to their social and emotional development.

Children who are aggressive blame, name call, threaten or fight with their peers. They are combative because they often lack social skills. These children need to learn better ways to interact with others or they will continually have difficulty developing positive relationships (see Educator's Guide to Bullying).

If children are submissive, they may become targets for bullies. These children need to be taught that it is okay to say "no" if a child or adult attempts to harm them with words or deeds. They need to be able to identify their feelings, learn how to express themselves, and believe that they have rights. The more children trust and value themselves, the more likely they will be able to avoid bullying.

How can educators help children learn to be assertive?

1. Teach the difference among aggressive, submissive and assertive remarks. For example:

  • Aggressive (being mean): "Give me that book or you're going to get it!"
  • Submissive (being weak): "You can have my book. I don't need it."
  • Assertive (being strong): "I'm reading this book now. You may have it when I'm finished."

2. Have them practice looking a bully in the eye and saying "No!" with a strong voice (see Teaching Children Refusal Skills). They could also state what they want. For example, "No, I want you to leave me alone," or "No, I need to do my work."

3. Explain that they have a choice of how to respond to another person's comments or to situations (see Making Choices Activity).

4. Teach children how to ask for something (see 24 Ideas for Instilling Manners in Children). For example, "May I have that book when you're finished?" and how to respond to requests in a polite manner, "You may have it after me."

"I"" Messages

Teach children that if they are physically threatened or feel afraid they need to tell an adult (see Tattling Versus Reporting). However, encourage them to work out other relationship problems themselves. Explain that the use of "I messages" helps children deal with their difficulties in an assertive way. It may be necessary to provide a lesson on identifying feelings (see Kelly Bear Feelings book) prior to teaching the following "I message" format:

  • I feel ... (state the feeling)
  • when you ... (describe the action)
  • because I ... (say why)

Leah Davies received her Master's Degree from the Department of Counseling and Counseling Psychology, Auburn University. She has been dedicated to the well-being of children for over 44 years as a certified teacher, counselor, prevention specialist, parent, and grandparent. Her professional experience includes teaching, counseling, consulting, instructing at Auburn University, and directing educational and prevention services at a mental health agency.

Besides the Kelly Bear resources, Leah has written articles that have appeared in The American School Counseling Association Counselor, The School Counselor, Elementary School Guidance and Counseling Journal, Early Childhood News, and National Head Start Association Journal. She has presented workshops at the following national professional meetings: American School Counselor Association; Association for Childhood Education International; National Association for the Education of Young Children; National Child Care Association; National Head Start Association; National School-Age Child Care Alliance Conference.

We are sure you will benefit by reading her blog.