How Teaching Assertiveness Can Prevent Bullying

Teen girl talk to a boy
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For some kids, being assertive comes naturally. They easily express their thoughts and feelings and have no problem standing up for what they believe in.

Meanwhile, other kids struggle to express themselves, especially about things that bother them. But they need to learn that it is OK to ask for what they want. Likewise, they need to know that it is acceptable to say no to things they don't like or that make them uncomfortable.

Teach Children to Be More Assertive for Bullying Prevention

These skills are especially important when it comes to dealing with bullying, cyberbullying, sexting and other offensive behaviors. If your child needs to bolster their assertiveness skills, here are seven ways you can get them started on the right path.

Assertiveness vs. Aggressiveness

Explain to your child that aggressive people attempt to force other people to do what they want. Mean girls are one example of aggressive people. They manipulate and intimidate people to get what they want.

Meanwhile, assertive people are comfortable sharing their feelings. They also will defend themselves or others against unfairness and ask for what they need.

They calmly state their thoughts and opinions using a respectful voice and respectful language. Assertive people also respect the needs and wishes of other people. 

Be sure your kids know that using a strong and confident voice is important, but there is no need to yell.

Allow Choices

Empower your child by letting them make their own choices about things they are asked to do. Assure your child that they can say no to any request that makes her uncomfortable.

For example, if they don’t want to go to the movies with a friend, it's fine to say, "Maybe next time." Or, if they don’t want to ride home with someone from a party, it's OK to decline the offer.

Be sure your child knows that they have the freedom to make choices. To practice making choices at home, try giving your child options there as well. If you constantly make choices for your child, they will be more likely to allow friends to make choices for them as well.

Your Child Has Rights

Be sure your children know they have the right to say “no.” Your child also has the right to be treated with respect, to express their feelings, to state their needs, and to be proud of who they are.

If a friend, a bully or a romantic partner does not respect their rights, it may be time to question their relationship with that person.

Assertive people do not let others trample on their rights. They learn how to stand up to bullies and other disrespectful people and how to defend themselves when necessary.

Foster Self-Esteem

Building self-esteem is a crucial component of bullying prevention. It is also is essential for assertiveness.

It will be hard for your child to stand up for themselves and what they believe in if they do not first have self-esteem. To build self-esteem in your child, listen to what they have to say. Encourage them to think for themselves.

Doing so will demonstrate that her thoughts, feelings and opinions matter. They will be more comfortable asserting themself if they are confident in who they are.

Encourage self-expression at home where it is safe to be authentic. This helps build confidence and allows your child to practice being real with others.

Practice Assertiveness at Home

Roleplay everyday situations that your child faces at school. For instance, pretend to be a teacher and have your child ask for help. Or pretend to be a bully and have your child practice defending themselves.

Practicing assertiveness will help your child get used to expressing their needs in a safe environment. It also gives them experience being assertive so that when the time comes to assert themselves, it does not feel awkward or foreign.

Be Aware of How You Respond to Requests

As a parent, it is very easy to say no without even thinking. But when you are teaching your child assertiveness skills, you want to avoid shutting them down.

If you get aggravated every time they make a request, or if you reply with a sharp “no,” this feeds into your child’s belief that their thoughts, desires, and ideas are not important.

Instead, try to offer a brief explanation for your answer, especially if you are saying “no.” Sometimes kids need to be reminded that it is acceptable to ask, even if the answer is sometimes “no.”

Teach That Assertive People Ask for Help

Finally, let your kids know that being assertive does not mean they cannot ask others for help, especially if they are in a situation that is unfamiliar or scary. Be sure they know that when it comes to bullying, sexual bullying and cyberbullying everyone needs a little assistance.

Also, assure your child that asking for help is nothing to be ashamed of. Instead, it shows they are being wise in addressing a difficult issue.

1 Source
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  1. Choi B, Park S. Bullying perpetration, victimization, and low self-esteem: Examining their relationship over timeJ Youth Adolescence 2021;50:739–752. doi:10.1007/s10964-020-01379-8

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon is a published author and a bullying prevention expert.