According to the American Psychological Association, approximately 90% of all sexual abuse occurs not between a child and a stranger but between a child and someone the child knows: a neighbor, teacher, uncle, grandparent, or even a parent or stepparent. To help our kids protect themselves from the dangers that do exist, we need to teach them that you can respect someone older and still stand up for yourself. Here are four things you can do to raise an assertive child:
1. Allow the child to say “no” to you.
While we shouldn’t stop teaching our kids about stranger danger, we need to also help them understand that they alone have control over their bodies. This means even allowing your child to say “no” to you, because it empowers him to be safely in control and teaches him to be an assertive child. Allowing your child to say no to you doesn’t mean it’s okay for him to say “no” when you tell him to clean his room. It’s about personal space and the right to privacy: when he doesn’t feel comfortable having you in the bathroom with him or being present when he gets dressed, respect that personal space. As he gets older and is forming his own ideas, allow him to have opinions and perspectives that differ from yours.
2. Model assertive behavior.
Children who see their parents model assertive behavior will learn to stand up for themselves. If your child sees you making decisions and choices that reflect a sense of respect for yourself, a willingness to draw a firm line, and an ability to say “no” to the people who have power in your life (such as a boss, spouse, or parent), it helps him understand that saying “no” is okay. When you see him modeling this behavior and saying “no” — even if it is to Aunt Mildred’s annual kiss on the cheek — respect and support him.
3. Teach him to trust his instincts.
Whether you talk to a younger kid about recognizing that funny feeling he gets in their tummy when something doesn’t seem right or talk to an older kid about trusting himself when he feels the urge to run, teaching our kids to trust their gut is a crucial component in empowering kids to say “no.” Instead of dismissing a child who has a bad feeling about something, encourage him to understand and recognize the feeling and rely on it.
4. Build his confidence.
By supporting and encouraging your child’s individuality, you build self-esteem. Be careful to parent according to your child’s ages and stages. As your child gets more mature, give him more responsibility, and praise him when he does a job well. Show that you notice when he tries hard. The confident child is more likely to be an assertive child without being aggressive and rude.