Teach your child to be assertive

How to teach your kids to be assertive

Children are taught to obey rules, be polite and not start trouble. But, they are not trained the correct way to assert and defend themselves. If they lack these skills, they can be prone to teasing, peer pressure and bullying. By Fundiswa Nkwanyana

Being assertive does not come naturally to many children, and they don’t know when and how to say no or how to stand up for themselves. Assertiveness is an important skill to teach them because they need to learn the correct way to communicate their feelings, thoughts, opinions and beliefs in a clear and respectful manner. Raising a self-assured child takes time, and here are a few guidelines to help you get started.


If you want your child to be authoritative you need to lead by example. Psychologist Tracy Smith, says: “Children raised by parents who are push-overs are likely to be the same because they look up to them.”  You need to be aware of how you assert yourself when you interact with others. Zama Zulu, mother to a five-year-old, says: “I was horrified when my daughter rudely shouted at a waitress. I reprimand her, only to later realise that she was mimicking my behaviour.” As a parent, you need to express your needs and feelings without hurting others or being passive-aggressive. “Zama needs to change her behaviour by talking about her feelings in a respectful way, project a positive body language and avoid judgmental statements and an aggressive tone,” advises Tracy.


“My parents used to punish me when I said no to them, saying I was disrespectful. I grew to become an adult that was afraid to turn people down. So, when my daughter was born, I made sure that I taught her the power of saying no,” says Vusi Mkhize. Most parents respond negatively when the child says no, and this makes the child uncomfortable with saying the word. “You can teach your kids to say no by respecting it and teach them the correct body language and tone to use when saying so,” explains Tracy. Your child needs to be able to disagree in uncomfortable situations and push back when they feel their boundaries have been crossed.  “You need to explain consent to your kids, and encourage them to trust their intuition,” adds Tracy


Talk to your child about setting emotional and physical boundaries. Most parents often talk on behalf of their child, and don’t give them a chance to express themselves. Your child has to be able to express their feelings in order for them to know which emotional boundaries cannot be crossed. “Kids need to see their limits respected at home in order for them to do the same for others,” says psychologist Nokukhanya Chonco. It’s important that a child sets their own boundaries in order to protect themselves. “My teenager restricts me from entering her room and going through her phone,” says Zack Naidoo. “Parents need to have an open and honest relationship with their children, so that they know what is going on in their lives without entering their room or going through their phone,” says Nokukhanya. She also adds that when a teenager feels that their voice is heard and feelings are respected, they are likely to be open and loosen up. “Children need love, guidance and structure. But, at the same time, they need to know that their feelings, personal space and opinions are respected even if someone disagrees with them, “says Nokukhanya.

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It’s important to use age appropriate and real-life situations when teaching your child about assertiveness. “With toddlers, I use hand puppets and I make the older children act out situations that will require them to be firm, and discuss what they did right or wrong afterwards,” says Nokukhanya.  When speaking up, use phrases such as “I think” or “I feel” so you don’t come across as hostile. Also, keep the conversation simple, direct and concise. “Role play remaining calm with your child because they have to be when standing up for themselves,” adds Nokukhanya.


Avoid shutting your child down when they are practicing what you have been teaching them, instead praise them for standing up for themselves. “It’ll improve their confidence, and they will have the courage to defend themselves in other situations,” says Nokukhanya.  As long as they are not ignoring or hurting the opinions, needs and feelings of others, their assertiveness should be acknowledged and celebrated.  There will be times when they don’t get it right, use this as a teachable moment so they do not become discouraged. “Teaching this skill is not easy because they often become authoritative towards you, and you have to continue encouraging them especially when you disagree with them, “cautions Nokukhanya. Considering that there is a fine line between being assertive and aggressive, your child will make many mistakes, throughout this time you have to remain patient and be understanding. We live in a dangerous world, and children need to be able to voice their opinions and thoughts and say no to situations they are uncomfortable with.


  • Agree to disagree.
  • Breathe normally, and make eye contact.
  • Don’t become angry or
  • State your needs and boundaries loud and clear.
  • Try to understand the other person’s point of view.
  • Don’t interrupt a person when they are asserting themselves.
  • Say no to an inappropriate or unreasonable request.
  • When feeling under pressure, ask for time to think about the request.
  • Walk away when you identify signs of aggression.

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