Keeping our Kids Safe by Teaching Assertiveness
- By Milanie Niemand
It was every parent’s worst nightmare: My family and I were shopping in a very big, particularly busy and noisy clothing store and our four-year-old daughter suddenly went missing. We were, of course, trying not to panic but we have all heard a story or seen a movie about an abducted or missing child. Fortunately, we found her fairly quickly, happily sitting with a shop assistant.
As a parent, you would have noticed the recent stories of missing children or attempted abductions which have caused a wave of fear to wash over our country. Whether these stories are all true or not, they remind us how vulnerable children are and of our responsibility to protect them. The fact, however, is that child abductions by strangers are an extremely rare occurrence.
Sadly, children mostly get hurt by someone they already know, they find themselves lured into unsafe situations or are the victims of bullying. It is therefore important to realise that children should not be taught to fear every person they do not know – they should in fact be able to trust that a stranger could help them when in an unsafe situation.
Things to do with Kids: Raising Assertive Children
Fear gets us nowhere and in order to empower our kids, they need to be taught to be assertive. Here are four important steps in achieving this:
We have a very high crime rate in South Africa, which has led us to adopt certain safety habits, but we cannot live in constant fear. Yes, we have to be vigilant, but fear steals our confidence, it makes us forget our own strengths and it takes away our control. As parents, we can control our own actions and we should teach our children these control skills, in order to empower them. Stick to the basics: Trust your gut instinct, act safely and set appropriate boundaries.
Affirm assertive behaviour
Assertive children can say NO when they need to. They can identify unsavoury situations where they are being mistreated, manipulated or placed under peer pressure. Assertiveness is a way of communicating feelings, thoughts, opinions and beliefs in a respectful, clear and honest manner. Although it doesn’t come naturally to all, assertiveness is a skill that can be taught to children – this will build their confidence, make them resilient and ultimately enable them to stand up for themselves. We as parents need to demonstrate that we respect and accept their choices, for example, in social situations where the child is “expected” to hug a relative but does not wish to do so. This affirms their own assertiveness and sense of control. Once kids have a sense of their own power they will be less likely to fall victim to bullying, peer pressure and adult manipulation. They will realize that it is their own voice and inner strength that will keep them safe.
Set appropriate boundaries
By setting appropriate disciplinary boundaries, you allow children a space where they feel safe. They learn their own boundaries which should be respected by others and which they have the right to assert. They also learn to give an appropriate no; without feeling guilty and an appropriate yes; without resentment.
“If your expectations are too high (tight boundaries), you take away a child’s sense of hope. If you have no boundaries, children feel entitled to everything. They feel the world owes them something. The opposite of entitlement is gratitude.”
- Boundaries with kids by Cloud and Townsend
Be a role model
In order to raise an assertive child, you need to have an assertive parenting style. According to South Africa’s Super Granny*, Andalene Salvesen, an assertive parenting attitude should be distinguished from an aggressive or an appeasing attitude: It is asserting your authority in a calm tone of voice, because you have permission to parent.
Recently, I had to tell a clearly intoxicated beggar off for bothering us at a parking bay. I needed to talk with an assertive attitude, an attitude that didn’t include anger and simultaneously would not evoke anger in the beggar. This small incident made a lasting impression on my daughter who had many questions for me afterwards. Not only did it give me the opportunity to explain the situation to her, but she could observe me setting my boundaries to an out-of-line stranger in a non-aggressive but fearless manner.
Not many people realise that using discipline is modelling assertiveness. Whether it is self-discipline or the discipline of a child. Every household has rules that need to be adhered to and these rules are a parent’s opportunity to demonstrate an assertive attitude. Embrace this opportunity to be a role model to your child.
Let’s raise confident, happy and safe children!
*Raising Happy, Healthy Children by Sally-Ann Creed and Andalene Salvesen. A Brand-new child in 5 easy steps by Andalene Salvesen.
Note: Article appeared in Things To Do With Kids Cape Town Magazine