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How to Help a Sensitive Child to Stand Up for Himself

by Tiffany Raiford

It’s never easy to witness your sensitive child’s inability to stand up for himself. Whether he says nothing to the child who takes a toy right out of his hand or he won’t defend himself against kids who are picking on him, his lack of confidence might cause him to become an easy target for bullies in the future. As his parent, your job is to teach him to stand up for himself when the situation warrants it without losing the sensitivity that makes him special.

Teach your child to act confident even if she doesn't feel it, advises Cory Woosley, program manager for Eager to Learn at the Minnesota Child Care Resource and Referral Network. This helps your daughter appear confident and in control of the situation when she stands up straight, maintains eye contact and keeps her head up. If someone cuts in front of her in the lunch line, encourage her to politely inform the other student that the line starts in the back while holding her head high, keeping her shoulders back and looking the other kid in the eye.

Encourage your child to be assertive but not aggressive, advises Stuart Fishoff Ph.D., professor of psychology at California State University in Los Angeles. Teaching him to be assertive means teaching him to let people know what he wants, whereas being aggressive means shoving his opinions and wants on others. If someone takes his ball from him at the park and won’t give it back, encourage him to stand up for himself by telling the other child he wants his ball back with assertiveness. Make sure he knows not to become aggressive or he might make the situation worse.

Help her understand that it’s okay to stand up for herself when something is wrong or someone does something inappropriate. Once she learns that standing up for herself is the middle ground between being pushy and being a pushover, it can help her learn to stand up for herself, according to Dr. Graeme Hanson, M.D. clinical professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of California San Francisco. You can help her understand this by modeling it at home. Say your nephew is visiting and he always bosses your daughter around. When you serve cookies, he takes several off the plate. It may help her to see that she can stand up for herself if she witnesses you telling this bossy child that he cannot have all the cookies and limiting him to one or two.

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