How Teaching Assertiveness Can Prevent Bullying

Ideas on how to teach assertiveness skills to your kids

Teen girl talk to a boy

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 alright to ask for what they want. Likewise, they need to know that it is acceptable to say no to things they do not like or that make them uncomfortable.

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

Highlight the difference between assertiveness and aggressiveness. Explain 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. Be sure your kids know that using a strong and confident voice is important, but that there is no need to yell. Assertive people also respect the needs and wishes of other people.


Allow them to make choices. Empower your children by letting them make their own choices about things they are asked to do. Assure your child that she can say no to any request that makes her uncomfortable. For example, if she doesn’t want to go to the movies with a friend, it is acceptable to say: "maybe next time." Or, if she doesn’t want to ride home with someone from a party, it is acceptable to say: "no thank you." Be sure your child knows that she has the freedom to  make choices.

To practice making choices at home, try giving your child options at home as well. If you constantly make choices for your child, she will be more likely to allow her friends to make choices for her as well.

Stress that they have 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 her feelings, to state her needs and to be proud of who she is. If a friend, a bully or even a boyfriend does not respect her rights, then she needs to question her 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 they know how to defend themselves when they need to.

Foster self-esteem. Building self-esteem is a crucial component of bullying prevention. It is also is essential for assertiveness. You cannot expect your child to stand up for herself or what she believes in, if she does not first have self-esteem. To build self-esteem in your child, listen to what she has to say.

Encourage her to think for herself. Doing so will demonstrate that her thoughts, feelings and opinions matter. She will be more comfortable asserting herself if she is confident in who she is. Encourage self expression at home where it is safe to be authentic. This helps build confidence and allows your child to practice being true real with others.

Practice being assertive at home. Role play 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 herself. Practicing assertiveness will help your child get used to expressing her needs in a safe environment. It also gives her experience in being assertive so that when the time comes to assert herself, it does not feel awkward or foreign to her.

Be aware of how you respond to their 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 her down. If you get aggravated every time she makes a request, or if you reply with a sharp “no,” this feeds into your child’s belief that her 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 reminded that it is acceptable to ask, even if the answer is sometimes “no.”

Communicate that assertive people still 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 she is being wise in addressing a difficult issue.

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