Most of us are familiar with terms assertive, passive, and aggressive, as adjectives that describe the different ways in which we choose to respond to others, within various contexts and interactions.
Responding assertively means making a choice to respond in a way that includes caring for ourselves, by endeavoring to honestly communicate what we think and feel-while caring for other people’s experience and well-being, and showing sensitivity to the context we find ourselves in.
A passive response is one where a person doesn’t directly communicate what he or she is thinking and feeling; while an aggressive response is one where a person chooses to not consider the experience of another.
"It is naive to think that self-assertiveness is easy. To live self-assertively--which means to live authentically--is an act of high courage."
Below I'd like to share simple strategies, and examples of visual stories, that can assist children to develop an awareness of the different ways in which they can respond to people (and the skills to do so); these can be modified to suit children that fall within a wide range of developmental abilities.
Practicing being assertive may support children in being less affected by/worry about what others think and say, balancing their sensitivity to others’ opinions with practicing to communicate what they themselves think, feel, and would like.
This may particularly benefit those children who have a tendency to be easily hurt/affected by what others think and say about them.
Exercise 1. Raising awareness of the different ways of responding, through a social story.
Social stories with simple clip-art images can be a great way to help children raise awareness of the different ways in which people can respond to one another. Instead of using unfamiliar words: passive, assertive, or aggressive; consider substitutes: behaving shyly, nicely, or bossily. These may help a child to understand that how people respond is their responsibility/choice vs a reflection of them…
a) Briefly explaining some defining characteristics of the various ways in which people can respond…
E.g. When we feel shy and quiet we may forget to say how we think and feel, and may worry what someone else is thinking...
E.g. When we feel kind and nice, we remember to say how we think and feel, and we care about another person’s feelings and what they think...
b) Asking for a personal example of a time a child felt: shy and quiet, was able to tell their friends what they thought or wanted, or behaved in a way that “bossy,” may help them notice the different choices they can make around how to respond to other people…
Exercise 2. Sorting clip-art images.
A simple way of helping children raise awareness of the various ways they can respond to others is through sorting clip-art images and simple social scenarios into the “shy and quiet,” “kind and nice,” or “mean and bossy” categories:… Below are some examples of simple social scenarios that can be sorted.
Exercise 3: Nourishing a positive self-esteem and practicing a variety of responses to challenging interactions.
A great starting point for teaching children about things they can do in response to someone who appears "mean"/"bossy" is to support them in tapping into their uniqueness and sense of value, independent of what others may say or do in a given moment; for example by making a vision board of their strengths and abilities.
Finally, children will benefit from practicing what they can do and say in a situation when someone is behaving towards them in a less than considerate manner. The best responses are those which, like a mirror, reflect the behavior of the person making the inappropriate comment back to them, metaphorically bouncing back their comments away from the recipient...
"The way we communicate with others and with ourselves ultimately determines the quality of our lives."