“Assertiveness is a way to communicate feelings, thoughts, opinions and beliefs in a respectful, clear and honest manner,” according to Melbourne Child Psychology & School Psychology Services. “Although it doesn’t come naturally to all, assertiveness is a skill that can (and should!) be taught to children — this will enable them to stand up for themselves and build resilience.”

Elementary school teachers have a unique opportunity to help foster positive interaction, confidence and relationship-building by teaching assertive communication. The following sections explore strategies for teaching assertiveness to elementary students and examine the associated benefits.

Teaching Assertive Communication

An article from PBS Parents looks at ways to build assertiveness in children.

1.    Discuss Different Communication Styles

Using characters from books, TV and movies to illustrate positives and negatives, cover the three types of communication styles with children.

  • Passive: Passive communicators have difficulty making eye contact, they use a quiet voice and tend to act like others’ rights are more important than their own rights.
  • Aggressive: Passive communicators are loud and imposing, and act like their rights are more important than others’ rights.
  • Assertive: Assertive communicators make eye contact, use a calm, firm voice and respect their own rights and the rights of others equally.

2.    Model Assertive Communication Skills

Be a good model of the skills you want to develop in children. When asserting views, remain calm, make eye contact, use a clear and confident voice and listen. Display what it means to disagree with someone in a respectful way.

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3.    Use the Mirror

Have children make assertive statements in the mirror, so they can practice an assertive voice tone and body posturing.

  • Make eye contact
  • Stand tall
  • Hold your shoulders back
  • Keep your arms at your sides
  • Have three to five assertive statements prepared to practice in the mirror (e.g., “I don’t want to play football. Are you interested in tag instead?”)

The mirror provides a visual for children, enabling them to see what works and what doesn’t work.

4.    Try Realistic Role-Playing

Games that don’t integrate real-life situations aren’t going to help children with the skills they need to develop. One idea is to have children come up with realistic scenarios that require assertive communication, write each scenario on a slip of paper and put slips into a hat. Then, one by one, draw scenarios from the hat and then act out at least two solutions to each problem. Having children play each role (the bully/aggressive communicator or victim/passive communicator) can be an eye-opening experience.

5.    Play Detective

Another way to build assertiveness is to have children examine people in the real world. You could make a game out of it by having them find one of each communicator — passive, aggressive and assertive. They can then describe what behaviors led them to identify the communication style.

Positive Outcomes from Teaching Assertive Communication

Assertive children are more likely to do the following, according to Melbourne Child Psychology & School Psychology Services:

  • Identify their feelings
  • Speak up for themselves and others
  • Avoid and respond to bullying
  • Disagree respectfully
  • Negotiate with others
  • Say “no” without feeling guilty
  • Build stronger relationships
  • Build confidence and self-esteem
  • Feel in control

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