Being assertive with your child

  • Talk in a calm environment

Talk with your children only when you are calm and collected. These conversations happen better in a calm environment and not in the heat of the moment. Give them room to contribute. You can tell them what is expected of them. For example, you can tell the child that it is his responsibility to keep his room clean. Then, you can discuss with him how to do that. Take his suggestion. Work out the details. In the previous example of cleaning their room, you can say that he can fold the blanket before he goes to school or to fix a place for everything in the room, so he knows where to keep it while tidying his room.

  • Stick to the issue in hand

If you find your child’s room to be messy, ask them to clean it. Do not say, “You never keep it clean” or “You always do this”. Reserve that conversation for a peaceful time.

  • Use ‘I’ statements

If you start with a ‘you’ statement, your child might feel attacked and become defensive. Instead of saying “You never clean your dishes. You have no respect for me”, try saying “When I see your dirty dishes, I feel disrespected”.

  • Don’t assume you already know your child’s motives

Don’t assume your child is sneaky, selfish, lazy when you see them doing or not doing something. You cannot know everything that is happening in their mind. Talk to them. Do not ask them when you are angry or stressed. Ask them during a time of connection and calm. You can say “I see you are not putting your clothes in the laundry bag. What happened?”. Make sure that your child feels safe enough to answer. Be open to listen to what they have to say.

  • Listen to understand

Instead of concentrating on how right you are, jumping into a lesson or offering a solution that makes sense to you, listen to your child’s point of view. Understand where your child is coming from, even if you disagree with what they are saying. They might say that they do not have time to do the chores. You may disagree with that thinking they spent too much time playing videogames. Do not judge your child’s point of view yet. Let them share. Ask clarifying questions to fully understand what your child is saying. See this as an opportunity to learn about your child’s point of view and build trust. You will need this information to solve any problems with your child’s help.

  • Problem-solving

Once you know your child’s concerns, tell them about your concerns. Work with your child to create mutually acceptable and doable solutions. The best solutions are the ones which address both of your concerns.

  • Evaluate the situation

Each situation is different. You might need to evaluate each situation to decide how much you would need to assert yourself and your viewpoints.

  • Evaluate and learn

When you are new to being assertive, it might not go well every time. When it does not go well, see what went wrong and what can be different next time. When you succeed, acknowledge it. It gives you confidence. When you are starting out, you might feel guilty for being assertive towards your child. Remember, you too deserve to be treated with respect. You are the one who can teach your child how to treat you.

Teaching your child to be assertive

Every child is different. Some children can easily tell others what they want. Some children might need some help in that area. When your child does not let another child take his toy away, he is being assertive. Do not discourage that. If you think your child is not assertive, it is okay. For most people, assertiveness is a skill that has be learned. You can help your child to be assertive. Some tips on helping your child to be assertive is given below:

  1. Be assertive with the child: Use assertive behaviour yourself so that your child can learn from example. This might require you to expand your vocabulary while communicating with your child. You need to go beyond ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘because I told you so’ or desperately giving into their tantrums. Explain them about the ‘why’. Why they can’t eat snacks for dinner, why they can’t beat other children, why they can’t be disrespectful to their mother, etc. The child should not feel threatened and should feel free to express what they feel. He should not feel that you are withholding your love to make him obey. You can say “Amma loves you but you can’t talk to Amma that way. It is not nice or kind and it makes Amma sad.” or “ You can’t beat him because it causes him pain.” The child should know that even though you love them, you can’t let them do anything that they please.
  • Explain to them about the various styles of communication: Explain the difference between passiveness, aggressiveness and assertiveness. Show how you can be assertive, aggressive or passive in any given situation. Ask them which one they liked better. Ask them ‘Do you like if I speak to you like this or the other way?’ Explain to them why being assertive is the best option. 
  • Role play: Role play typical scenarios with them so they can practice being assertive. These scenarios can be about anything. For example, you can take different roles to practice how to respond when your friend is rude to you.
  • Compliment: Compliment them when they are assertive. If the child says that she is unhappy with the way you are dealing with her, appreciate her for expressing her feelings even when you do not agree with her. Encourage them to use assertive language with you as well. Listen to them and respect them.
  • Teach them to say ‘No’: Teach them about boundaries – boundaries of self and boundaries of others. You should not cross others’ boundaries and must not let anyone cross yours. Teach your child to set boundaries. You cannot control other people’s behaviours. Boundaries are what we set for ourselves, in terms of our level of comfort around others. Communicate your boundaries to the other person. For example, a boundary can be ‘no stranger can touch my torso’. What if someone crosses that boundary? The child can decide what to do in that situation. He can decide to say ‘No’ and run from that place to safety and inform a trusted adult. In the same way, teach them to respect when somebody else says ‘No’. For example, tell your child to ask his friend for permission before taking his toy. If he is unwilling to give it to you, do not forcefully take it from him.
  • Use ‘I’ messages: A great way to be assertive is to use ‘I’. ‘I feel this way when you do this.’ ‘I’ messages are great tool as they are not judgmental or accusatory. It puts the focus on the speaker and communicates to the other person her feelings.
  • Choosing friends: When children are starting to make friends, talk to them about the qualities they want in a friend. See if the child is guided by blind admiration or her power to dominate. In a friendship, both parties should be able to let their feelings known to other person. It should be mutual and respectful.

In relationships

  • Sexual acts: Sexual acts should be consensual. There must be consent for each step of the act. Consensual sexual acts provide safety, intimacy and pleasure for all parties involved. Be honest with yourself. How do you feel about the sexual act? If you are not comfortable, communicate it to your partner. Oftentimes, we explore and find facets of our sexuality in the process. If you encounter some discomfort during the act, communicate it to your partner. When you are agreeing to a sexual activity, think about why you are agreeing to it. Are you doing it out of guilt or obligation? If you are not comfortable with sex at any point of time, inform your partner. A good partner would want you to be comfortable during intimacy. If your comfort is not his/her concern, it may be time to rethink about your relationship. If you are planning to engage in a sexual act, as far as possible, talk to him/her before the act. Talk about your boundaries, what you are comfortable with, what is not okay with you, etc. Also, talk about how to communicate discomfort in the middle of the act. Listen to your partner. Respect their boundaries.
  • Controlling behaviour: If your partner is controlling, you can talk to them about that if they are not abusive. Tell them if you are feeling hurt, scared or disrespected. Talk about the instances when it happened. Offer solutions. If you think your partner is always making plans for both of you, tell him/her that you also want to take part and both of you can make plans together. If after communicating it to them, they are not making amends, you need to start distancing yourself from them. Set boundaries. You cannot control the other person’s feelings or behaviour. However, you can decide what you are willing to tolerate. Communicate your boundaries and say ‘no’ when they cross it. Choose a response for when they cross your boundaries. This, you should decide after considering your own safety and your partner’s temperament. Seek outside help if it is needed.

In the Workplace

Naturally, we may feel fearful towards figures of authority and hence, may find it difficult to say ‘no’ to them. However, being assertive in the workplace is necessary for setting boundaries and for your well-being. An assertive workplace is ideal for working efficiently. It aids in finding better solutions to problems. If you are passive in your workplace, it can lead to frustration, anxiety or even burnout and can affect your personal life.

Assertiveness with your boss

  • Start as early as possible: It is better to set boundaries from the beginning itself. Be assertive from the interview itself. It will help in setting the tone for future interactions, relationship and boundaries. Discuss your pay, your workload and your overtime. Don’t passively give into their demands. Tell them how far you are willing to go. Contrary to popular belief, people don’t always reward passive people. If you are assertive in your interview, you will seem confident and will be taken seriously. If things don’t work out, you can start looking for other opportunities that will suit you.
  • Analyse the risk: One should know the type of company they are working for. Assess the risk and strike a balance. Think about what you are ready to accept.
  • Get the timing right: If possible, schedule a meeting with the boss. If there is any protocol for having one, follow that. If you can, finalise the details over email. Do not talk to them informally in the corridor or after a company meeting. 
  • Use professional language: If you want to point out a mistake of your boss, be professional in your approach. Double check any information that you receive. Make sure that you have done your part correctly without mistakes. Analyse and define the objective of your conversation. What do you want to talk about? Why are you asking about it? What are you expecting out of this conversation? You should inform it to the boss calmly with reasons and information in private. If you are pointing out the mistake to gloat or ridicule them, you are not being assertive, you are being aggressive. Listen to what they have to say calmly. If you want, you can take time to understand and come back and say why it would not work for you.
  • Use reasoning: Back up your arguments with reasons. You should state facts and must not rely on your personal opinions alone. Avoid making unfounded criticisms and attacks. Justify with reason why you are saying yes to some projects and no to others. Be proactive and show that you are dedicated to the company. If you do this, your boss would not feel attacked and see that you want to find solutions together. 
  • Formulate an action plan: Your conversation should end with plans for the future – the changes that are expected going forward. It should not be abstract, but actionable with specific steps. If there is no action plan at the end, there would be no use in the difficult conversation you had. If you see that your boss is not honouring his commitments, start the process again. Talk with him again in a calm and assertive manner.
  • Deal with bullies: If you think your boss finds happiness in abusing you and his power, he/she is a bully. Stand up to him/her. Tell him/her that this is unprofessional behaviour. If he/she does not stop, document all instances of bullying and inform the HR department.
  • Refusing to work outside normal working hours: Many jobs do not require you to be in the office. Due to this, many at times, bosses assign urgent work during the weekends or after normal working hours. This can affect your personal life. It is best to limit your off-hour interaction with your boss. Tell them that you are unavailable and maintain your position.
  • Informing that you are being overworked: When we are overworked, many of us first feel self-critical. We feel like we are not up to the mark or not doing enough. However, most companies are trying to do with less. If you feel overworked, tell your boss. He might even appreciate it. Bosses want their employees to be at peak performance. If you overcommit and cannot perform, you will be seen as unreliable. Take an outsider’s perspective if you want, a trusted friend or colleague. Outline your work to them and ask for their opinion on whether you are being overworked. Talk to your manager about what is hindering you from working for long periods. Say “This project requires more time” or “Since I have added responsibilities now, I can’t focus on my day-to-day work.” Come up with solutions. Prioritise tasks and identify the works that can be delayed, delegated, diminished or deleted. If you are assigned with multiple tasks, ask your boss what tasks he wants completed first, which one does he expect you to work the most on, etc. Do not agree to new tasks if you are unsure if you can complete it. If you feel like you cannot fully do justice to some of the work, instead of taking it up, offer to help and provide guidance. Tell your boss that, “Even if I can’t put my full attention to it right now, I can guide the person doing it.” If you are feeling overextended due to something at your home, be honest about it with your boss. Tell him, “My mother has been diagnosed with cancer, so I might take time to finish this.” 

Online interactions 

  • Unsolicited communication: Unsolicited messages can be a nuisance. It can be from someone we know or sometimes, from a stranger. If you don’t enjoy these messages but you do not want to deal with it yet, you can just let it be. Ignore the messages and they might stop on their own. If the other side is not stopping, it might be time to gently let them know that you do not enjoy these messages. If they do not take you seriously, tell once again in a stern way. If that is not enough, tell them how you feel. Tell them that you do not like it when they send you a message. If it is from a friend who is calling/texting you constantly, be nice, but tell them that you do not have the time to talk/text. It would be much better if you can call them and tell them how you feel and explain why you do not appreciate these constant calls. If you think someone is texting you because they like you, tell them how you feel about them. Be gentle but be clear. You can block their number, if they continue to be a nuisance. If you think, they are dangerous, you might want to seek help from others.
  • Asking for pictures and details: Scammers can use the information you give to hack into your account, take money from your account, find your address, etc. Our personal data is very vulnerable and a person might need only one more piece of the puzzle to hack into our account. If someone is asking for your personal details, say NO. You can go ahead and block the person if you feel that the person is making you feel unsafe. 
  • Online threats: The first thing about dealing with online threats is to not give into it. They are counting on you being afraid so that you would give into their subsequent demands. Assess the threat and the person. This will give you an idea about how soon you should act before they escalate. Do not delete any evidence. You might be tempted to delete the chats wishing to make it go away but these messages are the weapon you can use against them. Check with yourself. Are you doing everything you need in this stressful situation? Are you eating enough, sleeping well? If you need help, reach out to someone you trust.

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Article by: Manju Elsa Issac