Confident little girl at table with peers.

Ways to be Assertive with your Kids

In my last three blogs I’ve invited my readers to explore the subject of insecurity and one of the antidotes: assertiveness. We learned we can be assertive even if we’re not feeling particularly secure in our abilities to be calm, clear, confident, and firm.

An excellent resource is the classic parenting book Kids Are Worth It by Barabara Coloroso. In it, she shares her wisdom and skills that help parents be what she calls Backbone parents – able to be strong and supportive while also flexible. 

When a situation arises that seems to require a disciplinary response, she says you quickly make an assessment based on these three questions: is it life-threatening, morally wrong, or unhealthy?  If the answers are yes to one or more of these, you must immediately take charge to ensure the child and others are kept safe. If the answers are no, you have time to decide how to respond in ways that help the child learn to take responsibility for their choices.

She describes how important it is to have a plan when a child asks and even begs for something, like having cookies for breakfast.

Her three suggestions:

  • Say, “Yes, later.”  You can agree to cookies but at a healthier time.
  • Say, “Give me a minute.”  It shows respect for the child and your willingness to consider the request.  If begging continues a parent can say, “If you pester me, the answer is automatically No.”  After a few minutes you can announce, “I have thought it over and the answer is no, not now but it will be okay after lunch.”
  • Say, “Convince me.”  This gives the child the opportunity to argue their case. You can listen respectfully and if their reasoning makes sense to you, you can go ahead and agree from a position of strength. If it clearly still compromises your values or suggests something that is unsafe, you can say, “I’m not convinced. Come back and try again if you want to convince me.”

A friend once used this “Convince me” response when her 16-year-old who had just gotten his driver’s license asked if he could take his friends to the Poconos to go skiing since it had just snowed. Clearly she knew this was a dangerous request but rather than just put him down, she told him he needed to convince her it was a good idea. He tried multiple times to explain why he thought it would be okay and she was able to calmly tell him she was not convinced and then gave him the safety reasons behind her response. Eventually he gave in, but there was no big fight over it and later he acknowledged he was just wanting to be with his friends, but could see why she had to say no. The “Convince me” response also gives kids the opportunity to learn about being respectfully assertive – a win-win situation for all concerned!

Assertive parenting requires having specific attitudes and skills that allow you to grow in your confidence. It is helpful to keep in mind you have the power to establish and set limits, to be clear with your family about the values that guide you and that you hope your children will embrace over time.

Any of us who struggle with insecurities can learn the approaches and skills of assertiveness and can learn to be clear in our own minds we have the right to not be bombarded by negative, shaming thoughts and beliefs. Barbara Coloroso says, “Kids Are Worth It.” Please know you are worth it as well!

Invitation for Reflection

  1. When you were growing up, did your parents model healthy parenting by being calm, clear, confident and respectful towards you? If not, how did they parent you? What do you think the impact was on your belief in yourself?
  2. How do you respond to some of the suggestions Barbara Coloroso gives in her book? Can you picture yourself embracing the information about the three questions you need to immediately ask to determine if you must take action? How do you think using her three suggestions might empower you and help you become a more secure and assertive parent?
  3. How would the power of becoming more assertive help you be less insecure and more self-confident?