Parents, Claim Your Assertive Rights for Your Children

As parents, how often do we tell ourselves we will not parent our children in the ways we were parented? Why do we believe making ourselves that promise will somehow prevent that from happening?

What makes us think we will remember a legacy parenting tactic in the heat of our parenting moment?

photo of diane wagenhalsYes, of course we want to embrace, repeat and pass on those parenting practices that promoted emotional health in us.

At the same time many parents know there were parenting practices in their childhoods that caused them to struggle, be fearful, feel angry, neglected or confused about how to behave or what to believe.

A friend recently shared a powerful blog from Psych Central, written by Jonice Webb, PhD entitled Childhood Emotional Neglect  that offers some important information for parents to consider that explains why it can be so hard for parents to parent in healthier ways than they were parented.

Author Jonice Webb begins by asking the question:

“Why is assertiveness so much more difficult for some people to learn and practice than others?” She answers, “Assertiveness is most difficult for those who grew up in households that either actively or passively discouraged emotional expression. Both are examples of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN).”

She continues, “Growing up in a household where your emotions are either actively discouraged or punished, or simply ignored takes a toll on you, a developing child. You internalize the message that your feelings, your needs, your views don’t matter. It’s a belief that’s rooted in childhood feelings. That belief / feeling is powerful, and it stays with you throughout your life.”

But there are other messages we grew up with, too.

Many of us grew up hearing messages Dr. Webb lists as based on another classic book, When I Say No I Feel Guilty, by Manuel Smith, PhD.

Dr. Smith invited her readers to learn more about the importance of healthy assertiveness—something quite difficult for many if they were repeatedly told: “Don’t make waves,” “Don’t talk about anything negative,” “Don’t let anyone else know what you are feeling, need or think.”  These messages basically discount a right to think, feel, and assert oneself as someone with rights to be an emotional being.

Dr. Webb shared the following beliefs that can be embraced by people who were not encouraged to own their rights to think, feel, and have their emotional needs met:

  1. You don’t have the right to judge your own behavior, thoughts and emotions, but you still must be responsible for them.
  2. You always must offer excuses or explanations for your decisions.
  3. You are responsible for solving other people’s problems.
  4. You don’t have the right to change your mind.
  5. You don’t have the right to make mistakes — but if you do, you are still responsible for them.
  6. You don’t have the right to say, “I don’t know.”
  7. You are dependent upon the goodwill of others.
  8. You don’t have the right to be illogical in making decisions.
  9. You don’t have the right to say, “I don’t understand.”
  10. You don’t have the right to say, “I don’t care.”

In our childhood, messages become part of our core belief system.

But, when messages like those above are imprinted in a person’s core belief system, the person becomes less capable of standing up for themselves, including when parenting. It can be hard to be assertive with children if you don’t believe you have the right to being treated fairly by others, including your children.

Notice the degrees to which you believe you have the right to each of the following core messages that Dr. Smith shares in her book:  

  1. You have the right to judge your own behavior, thoughts and emotions and to be responsible for them.
  2. You have the right to offer no excuses or explanations for your decisions.
  3. You have the right to judge whether you’re responsible for solving other people’s problems.
  4. You have the right to change your mind.
  5. You have the right to make mistakes — and be responsible for them.
  6. You have the right to say, “I don’t know.”
  7. You have the right to be independent of the goodwill of others.
  8. You have the right to be illogical in making decisions.
  9. You have the right to say, “I don’t understand.”
  10. You have the right to say, “I don’t care.”

Dr. Webb encourages us all to reflect on the messages we received as children and reevaluate their fairness in light of the right each of us has to be self-protective and able to stand up to others who attempt to infringe on our rights.

By claiming these rights and being assertive in healthy ways with our own children, we also become models to them so that they too can claim their rights to their thoughts, feelings and beliefs.

This doesn’t mean that parents ignore dangerous, unhealthy or immoral behaviors. It means that learning to own the rights to be a unique individual with a myriad of thoughts, feelings and beliefs is a gift we can pass on to our children that allows them to become appropriately assertive adults.

Invitation to Reflect

  1. Notice if any of the messages discounting a person’s right to thoughts, feelings and for caring assertively for yourself resonate with your core beliefs. Consider that these might be unfair and unhealthy for you because they are unhealthy messages for anyone to receive.
  2. Consider how hard it can be to be assertive as a parent if you do not own the beliefs that Dr. Smith lists as the critical rights a person has that allow him or her to be assertive.
  3. Consider how hard it can be to parent children if unable to claim the healthy messages of assertiveness.
  4. If you realize you struggle with the kinds of beliefs that do not allow you to be assertive with others, including with your children, think about ways to reclaim your assertiveness rights by mentally focusing on the ten rights Dr. Smith believes all people should claim.

Diane Wagenhals, Director of Institute for Professional Education and Development, Lakeside Educational Network


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