Supporting Assertiveness In Young Children: Helping Kids Learn to Stand up For Themselves

Supporting Assertiveness in Young Children: Helping Kids Stand Up For Themselves ~ Peaceful parents, Confident KidsSibling squabbles are a common occurrence in our house as I am sure they are in many other’s. I have posted relatively frequently on this topic in the past. You can read some of these posts here (Could NOT Forcing Toddlers to Share Help With Sharing Conflicts?) and here (7 Things I Should Know About Helping My Children to Share) and here (Why I Allow My Children to Struggle Over Toys).

There is a common theme amongst my previous posts and that is that my eldest daughter (3.5 years) is quite often the one inflicting pain and misery on her younger sister (2.5 years).

I have learned better than to label my children as bullies or victims, however, and I work hard not to so much as even perceive either of my children in these roles. Doing away with the bully label was quite easy once I started viewing my eldest as a victim of her own unregulated impulses and strong emotions as well as recognising the difficulty she has always had in accepting her younger sister into the household.  I have subsequently spent a great deal of time focused on helping her manage these emotions and ensuring she feels understood during her outbursts.

It has recently dawned on me, though, that my focus on this has limited my opportunities to help my youngest daughter develop the skills that could help her to stand up for herself during heated arguments and tussles.

Along with acknowledging my youngest daughter’s feelings when she ends up on the losing side of a battle with her sister, I have begun seizing upon moments to encourage her assertiveness in these interactions.

Today, I want to share a little story with you highlighting how, through effective sportscasting (a term coined by early childhood educator, Magda Gerber), children who are targeted by toy takers or those who always seem to find themselves on the losing end of a battle can be supported to stand up for themselves.

It all began with a toy squabble…

Penny (2.5) was riding around the house on her little motorbike, baby in one arm and expertly steering with the other. She was happy and content. She decided to ride outside where her older sister, Lucy (3.5) was playing.

I was tidying the house just inside the door so didn’t see what transpired over the next 30 seconds or so. I presume Penny had disembarked from her vehicle and left her baby with it to investigate something else.

Next thing I know, Penny is crying out for her motorbike and baby and Lucy is entering the house aboard said motorbike and carrying said baby. Penny raced in the door after Lucy crying out that she wants the motor bike and baby back. Lucy increased her speed and headed into the bedroom quarters of the house. I followed them, close behind Penny.

I sportscast and acknowledged…

Lucy became cornered in a bedroom which gave me the perfect opportunity to sportscast what I could see. I knelt down to their level and between shouts I stated: “Penny, You had the motorbike and baby and now Lucy has it. You seem very upset.”

She sobbed into my leg: “I want that motor!”

I empathised: “You want the motor bike. It’s hard when you want something you don’t have.”

I then gave her some time to process her thoughts and the opportunity to work through the problem and her feelings herself. This is important so she does not come to depend on me to rescue her or help her solve her problems straight up without trying for herself initially.

Lucy then tried to drive the motor bike into Penny’s legs which I gently blocked and reminded her she needed to go around us to get past. She did so and took off back into the living areas of the house. Penny followed but now complained of being thirsty instead so I said: “Ok, lets go and find your water bottle.” It seemed she had given up on getting her bike back.

She went to look in the kitchen and I headed to the play room where Lucy happened to be swinging in the hammock swing. As I neared, I noticed the motorbike abandoned at the front door and considered alerting Penny to this but as I was about to speak, Lucy raced from the play room, grabbed it and took it to hide it under the table before going back to her swing.

I said nothing about this and continued to look for the water bottle. Penny entered the playroom and saw the motor bike under the table. She excitedly said, “There it is!” but Lucy, who was still swinging nearby, quickly countered with, “No, no, no, you can’t have it!” Penny quickly backed away, seemingly unsure about taking the bike back.

I encouraged Penny to go after what she wanted…

I spoke: “Lucy, you don’t want Penny to have the bike. It is not being used right now so it looks like it is available for Penny to use if she would like to. Penny, what would you like to do?”

This was the first real interference from me up to this point. I wanted to help Penny grow her confidence and assertiveness by letting her know it was up to her whether she would like to use it or not. She did not have to give it up just because her older sister told her she had to. Lucy, quickly jumped off the swing and grabbed the bike exclaiming that she still wanted to use it.

I stepped back and allowed the squabble to play out…

What happened next pleasantly surprised me. Penny picked up a lizard figurine from the table and offered it to Lucy who was still sitting on the bike. Lucy took it, also a bit surprised. Penny then proceeded to hand Lucy a number of small items from around the room and with each offering, Lucy’s face lit up. I took a big step back at this point and just observed as I let them conclude their argument.

After recieving about 3 or 4 gifts from Penny, Lucy stood up and said, ‘Here you go, Penny, you can have it back now.”

Penny walked towards the swing and said: “I want to swing now.” I cringed a little inside as I thought this might escalate the fight once more but it didn’t. No sooner did Penny reach the swing, it was as though the realisation had hit her that her sister was offering her the bike and she went straight to it and rode away. Lucy followed her and a long period of cooperative role-playing ensued.

The aftermath…

In fact, there were absolutely no disagreements for the rest of the day which is truly astounding. I know without a doubt, that had I interfered in there scuffle and insisted the bike and baby be returned when they were first taken, the atmosphere here this afternoon would have been much more highly charged. Further, I would have robbed Penny of the opportunity to develop her assertiveness skills.

Supporting Assertiveness in Young Children: Helping Kids Stand Up For Themselves ~ Peaceful parents, Confident Kids

You might also enjoy reading:

What To Do About a Toddler Toy Taker ~ Janet Lansbury (Janet Lansbury- Elevating Childcare)

We Can Work It Out: Kids And Conflict Management (Sportscasting Video) – Kelly Meier (Respectful parent)


6 thoughts on “Supporting Assertiveness In Young Children: Helping Kids Learn to Stand up For Themselves

  1. Celine

    Very important subject indeed. I’m glad you are talking about it, because as much as we don’t want kids to be labelled bullies or victims, we have to admit that some kids are dominant and some need to be more assertive. I have noticed that my own DD is ok defending herself with other girls, but she’s more easily intimidated by boys, and I believe she’s not the only one. However, I don’t want her to remain that way, obviously, especially not at her age (nearly 3). When she gets overtaken or on the receiving end of toy grabbing, I tell her it is ok to say no to that (“I was next” or “I am not done yet”). It’s not as simple as that, but I’m sure we can help children who are often in that situation.

    1. peacefulparentsconfidentkids Post author

      Yes, Celine, I totally agree! I think that with their own developing confidence as well as our gentle guidance and helpful hints for them to use to stand up for themselves, they will indeed be able to do this when they need to in the future. Thank you for sharing your thoughts 🙂

      1. Celine

        Hi Kate, Dr Laura from Aha!Parenting has just written a post about the subject. It was not in the context of siblings, but when it comes to your own child versus someone else’s. Have you seen it? I really liked it.

  2. Chelsea

    I love your stories, and I love the idea of sportscasting (forget where I read about it first, but I find it is a very helpful strategy!). Children learn so much through sibling relationships, it’s always helpful to consider how we as parents are interacting and influencing them. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  3. Kelly @ Happy Whimsical Hearts

    I am trying more and more to leave my kids to work it out too. And often they surprise me by doing so, and well. Sometimes I find I might need to help mediate, but more often I can say to them that they need to work it out. Mine are good little friends, and I am thankful.

  4. Danya Banya

    This is similar to something that I encourage my kids to do a lot, but I encourage this as a secondary technique.

    In our house, usually it’s the 2 year old that takes things (or ruins the game) of my 4 year old but sometimes it’s the other way around as well. I usually tell the person who took the thing to give it back, and instead “use their words” to ask for a turn when the other person’s finished. Then I tell the person who has the toy to “finish their turn” and say that the person who wants the toy has to “do waiting”. But sometimes the person doesn’t want to give the toy up at all, or the other person doesn’t want to wait, so I’ve taught the kids to find something that the other person would find more valuable and offer to do a swap.

    The idea is that the kids should be able to have these discussions without me being involved, and yes it’s getting to the point where I hear them using these words with each other independently… But not always of course. 🙂


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