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Oregon Family Magazine

Assertiveness Training – Build Confidence, Self Esteem, and Success!

09/29/2010 ● By Anonymous
by Kim Green-Spangler

Assertiveness builds character, self esteem and a healthier you. Those people who get the promotions at work, are the leaders in school, and know how to work a room, typically share the assertiveness ‘gene.’ They are the movers and shakers of the world, because they have learned how to accomplish their goals, whatever they are, in a diplomatic manner. These days, assertiveness seems to be a lost art.

Bullying in schools, on playgrounds, in day care etc., is on the rise and children and parents are struggling to find solutions. According to a 2007 survey compiled by The National Crime Victimization Survey, from information provided by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Center for Education Statistics found that nearly 33% of all public and private school children between the ages of 12-18 had reported being victims of bullying, either before, during or after school. This figure merely represents a six month period and roughly translates into 11,000,000 students, according to middle and high school data from the 2000 U.S. Census.

A couple of generations ago, bullying occurred, but not to the magnitude that is today’s norm. Back then, children learned that being shy and quiet was typically the easiest way to get picked on, and to learn to speak up if they wanted something. They learned that bullies were not nice, had few if any friends, and eventually were ganged up on, or usurped by another bigger bully down the road. Today with less opportunity for children to play together in groups without organized adult supervision, they are typically lacking in the social skills necessary to learn how to stick up for themselves. Thus, bullying grows and more and more children are being walked on.

Ryanne and her friends go to a playground their parents are seated a few yards away. They approach the main play area and notice boy sitting on top of the slide. As they draw nearer, he tells them it is his playground and they are not welcome. A few of her friends start turning away, while a couple of others are ready to shove the boy down the slide. The boy is clearly being a bully. How would you handle the situation, without involving the parents?

There are three possibilities. The girls could come on strong like the boy, but that could possibly escalate into an argument, or something physical, and may not result in them being able to play anyway. They could be simply walk away and find something else to do somewhere else, though he might follow them and continue to harass them wherever they end up. They could point out the vastness of the play area, ask him if he wants to join them, and proceed to do their own thing if he decides to continue his behavior.

What’s the Difference? There are three types of behaviors, aggressive, passive and assertive. A classic example of an aggressive personality is a bully. It is important to the bully to get his or her way, at all costs. The bully does not care about hurt feelings, being ostracized, or being feared. In fact, in most cases, these are the pay-off. The bully typically feels superior and revered when others avoid him, or get nervous when she approaches.

The passive person is often the bully’s victim. He or she tends to avoid confrontation and is accepting of whatever is thrown their way. The goal of the passive personality is to ‘keep the peace’, and/or to draw as little attention to oneself as possible. He is typically shy and not part of the ‘popular’ group. She hopes that by going along with whatever is asked of her, her peers will like her. However, she fails to realize that this typically makes her seem like a pushover, and over time can diminish her sense of self.

The assertive personality is the balance between the aggressive and the passive ones. She is not afraid to go after what she wants, but does so in a polite, respectful manner, being careful not to bully. He knows that keeping quiet and allowing others to determine his fate will not produce positive, desired results. Most importantly, she knows that being aggressive and being positive does not feel good.

Why it Matters Children who are assertive grow up with a healthier self-esteem. They do not feel like doormats, learn that their thoughts, opinions and feelings matter, and are more apt to verbally communicate their feelings to others. Bullies seem like they have all the power, but they don’t. As they grow up, fewer and fewer people will respect them, and the manner in which they attempt to control others. They typically have trouble developing long-term friendships, and tend to lack true confidence in their own abilities. Bullies are lacking in people skills and because they are not “team players”, tend to have a more difficult time in the workplace.

Children with passive tendencies are often quite shy, and have difficulty speaking up regarding their thoughts or opinions. They typically live their lives below everyone’s radar, trying not to draw unwanted attention. This can result in them becoming lost in the crowd of their more aggressive and assertive peers. Passive children often lack enough tallies in the accomplishment column because they do not put themselves out there to rack up “wins.” This can result in poor self-esteem.

Children with bully and passive personalities are at high risk for developing alcohol and drug dependencies. The commonality is that both groups demonstrate an inability to effectively deal with their peers, and may harbor feelings of inadequacy. However, many bullies may turn to chemical dependency to help cope with the lack of friends and/or career opportunities. While passive personalities may tend to fall into drug use due to an unwillingness to go against the tide of peer pressure.

Developing Assertiveness Some people are born with it and some people have to learn it, but everyone can eventually learn to be assertive, if they want to. Parents and educators can help children best, by modeling assertive behavior in daily situations. Whether a child has passive or aggressive tendencies, he or she can be taught to look for the middle ground. Parents can point out situations where other adults have behaved in less than exemplary manners and ask how they could have better handles a situation. They can point out how their children have felt when they were bullied, or when their feelings were not considered. Here are some tips:

  1. Try to model assertive behavior. If children see parents and teachers being disrespectful, forgetting manners, being less than honest, and being unable to share one’s feeling and emotions, that is what they will learn. Demonstrate being fair, speaking up about one’s opinions, and not stepping on the opinions and feelings of others. Remember to practice it even with them – don’t let them be the aggressors in the parent/child relationship either.
  2. Blame is typically a large factor in bullying. Children are made to feel inferior because they are told all of the things they are not. Those negative comments are typically made with plenty of “you” statements. “You’re not” smart, funny, etc. If parents can teach children to communicate without placing blame on others, more self-esteems would stay intact. Instill the concept of a problem being your problem with an “I” statement. “I” statements are all about ownership. Accept the things you like, don’t like, etc. It’s about your opinion regarding a topic situation etc. Just because you have that opinion does not mean it’s the only correct opinion, it’s simply your opinion.
  3. Practice assertiveness. While modeling is a healthy tool, it helps if children are prepared for various scenarios. Ask them what they would do if they are accused of something they did not do. How would they react? What would they say? Ask them how they could diffuse a situation between two warring friends. Would they bother? Ask them to demonstrate ways to find the compromise in situations.
  4. Teach them to communicate verbally. All children must learn how to use their words instead of crying and having angry tantrums. In some situations children merely are unable to formulate their thoughts into words that will result in positive action. Help children build on their communication skills so that they have a clear head, calm demeanor, and rational thought process when needed.
Assertiveness is a skill that can be used for an entire lifetime. Although there are less opportunities for children to develop these skills on their own, parents and educators should make every effort to school children on the benefits of practicing assertiveness. Each child has a voice and should feel comfortable being able to express a thought, opinion, or feeling. It is every child’s right to be heard.

By the way, Ryanne and her friends played on every part of the playground around the boy. After a while they invited him to play with them. They all had a great time. Upon leaving, their former bully thanked them for letting him play with them. This was all done without adult interference.

Kim Green-Spangler is a freelance writer, columnist, blogger, budding author, wife and mother. She has written hundreds of articles for various websites on topics specific to women and moms, exercise enthusiasts, small and home-based business owners and homeschoolers. She can be contacted at www.