Your child doesn't have to be the peer pressure pushover or the school bully target, but she also doesn't have to become a bully herself to be treated well and fairly by her peers. Help your child learn assertive behavior without becoming over-assertive; the point of assertiveness training is to help your teen stand up for herself, not become confrontational. Once it’s obvious she’s confident and won’t accept being treated poorly, she'll be able to use that training throughout life and never be a doormat for anyone.
Values and Consequences
The teenage years are fraught with a struggle for independence, but through this time kids have the opportunity to develop and employ their own morality system -- the values and beliefs they’ve internalized as a result of the examples they have been exposed to throughout childhood. In order for your teen to act assertively in the face of peer pressure, he has to first know what he believes and values and understand the consequences of acting contrarily. Talk to your teen about his limits and his beliefs about right and wrong and the short- and long-term consequences of violating those values.
Walk the Walk
Children and adults alike can send out a lot of information with body language. Even your teen’s stance and where she focuses her eyes can influence others' perception of her, conveying confidence and assertiveness or timidity and shyness. Help your child command respect from others by teaching her to present herself in an assertive manner. Practice walking confidently, with good posture, head up, hands out of her pockets and moving with a sense of purpose. When confronted by peers, show her how to assume a confident -- not aggressive -- stance, with her feet firmly on the ground and her hands clasped behind her back. Other stances, such as hands on hips or arms crossed in front of her chest, can appear as aggressive gestures, which can aggravate or escalate a tense situation. Have your teen practice making eye contact when interacting with others and avoid looking down or away because this movement can appear more passive and less assertive.
Talk the Talk
Teach your child to speak up and be heard without appearing angry or upset in the process. You can help him practice by working on a few presentations in front of you, focusing on making eye contact with his "audience," speaking with a calm and strong voice in your direction and avoiding mumbling. As he becomes more comfortable with confident speech, encourage him to apply it to his everyday conversations with you, other family members and friends. As he speaks, his facial expressions will also help to convey his assertiveness in a crowd or one on one. When confronted with a tough situation, encourage your child to smile or remain stoic, but never frown or flinch in response to cage-rattling banter and insults.
All about Respect
Walking and talking with assertiveness is important, but deep down your teen needs to know that she deserves to hold her head up high and look her peers in the eyes. In order for your teen to feel assertive, she has to understand that she deserves respect -- from her friends, classmates, teachers and even you. While it might seem simple enough, your teen might need some regular reminders if she has encountered difficulties with peers and bullies or other blows to her self-esteem. To get this message across, incorporate the message into your talk every day by reminding your teen why she is worthy of respect; she's a caring and compassionate person, she's intelligent and hardworking, she never sinks to a bully's level, and she treats others with respect and therefore should expect that respect to be reciprocated.
Put It Together
Once your teen has become more comfortable walking and talking assertively, and he understands that he is worthy of respect from others, it’s time to help him put it all together with some practice. Help your teen get familiar with acting assertively by role playing a variety of scenarios he might encounter in everyday life. For example, if your teen is having trouble with a name-calling bully in science class, have him role play his next encounter with the classmate. Remind him about the importance of stance and eye contact -- assertive not aggressive -- and help him figure out what to say to disarm an uncomfortable situation. Role play assertive behavior in peer pressure situations; refusing to be intimidated, making eye contact, unequivocally saying no and ending the conversation. Assertiveness can also be important even in close friendships. Help your teen practice responding to a friend who doesn’t bother showing up when she says or who borrows your teen's belongings and then carelessly destroys them, thinking it's no big deal.
- Advocates for Youth: Assertiveness Techniques
- Child Safety and Abuse Prevention Programs: Teaching Children to be Assertive
- Advocates for Youth: Assertiveness Role-Plays for Adolescents 15 to 18 Years Old
- Advocates for Youth: Assertiveness Role-Plays for Adolescents 12 to 14 Years Old
- "Think Confident, Be Confident for Teens"; Marci Fox, et al.; November 2011
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