Teach Your Child to Be Assertive

Teach Your Child to Be AssertiveAt the library, my toddler was playing with a block when a younger child walked over and happily took it away from his hand. The boy didn’t do so menacingly—like most kids his age, he probably just assumed that the toy was his for the taking, and take he did.

Meanwhile, my toddler didn’t attempt to get the block back. When kids take toys from him, he typically assumes a carefree attitude of, “Sure, go ahead,” or “Let me find another block.” (Where is this carefree attitude when he’s making demands at home? Hmm…) Other times he’s confused as to what just transpired. Whichever the case, I let him know that it’s perfectly fine for him to get the item back if he truly wants it.

In other words, I want him to be assertive and stand up for what’s important to him.

There have been times when he did just that. For instance, we were at the playground when he retrieved a pine cone that another little boy had grabbed from him. But he tends to simply move on and find something else to play with.

I’m grateful that he doesn’t immediately react aggressively when his playthings are taken from him. I’d like him to handle social conflicts in a calm way without resorting to whining, hitting or crying. But at the same time, it’s important to let him know we don’t always have to share our things, and that if we’re not done with something just yet, it’s fine to hold on to an item a bit longer until we’re ready to part with it.

So when another child takes a toy, I follow steps to teach him to be more assertive.

Here are ways to teach your child to be assertive:

  1. I ask him if he wanted to keep playing with the toy.
  2. I let him know that he can tell other kids, “I’m not done yet” when he doesn’t want to part with the toy.
  3. I say that if he really wants something, he can hold on to it and not have to give it away.
  4. If he could care less about the toy, I mention that too and say, “Looks like you’d rather play with another toy.”

At home and among adults, my toddler has zero problem with letting us know of his demands. And even then, we don’t downplay or dismiss his desires or emotions, and instead acknowledge them first. We want  him to voice what he wants and acknowledge and respect that he has wants, even if they’re not always met. We don’t encourage him to use force or aggression when expressing himself, but we do want him to know that he can stand up for what he wants.

This may be the reason I’m hardly a fan of stepping in and solving social conflicts among kids. While adults are more likely to oblige kids in what they want (“Oh, you want this ball? Sure, go ahead.”), other kids prove to be tougher play mates. Rather than simply forcing him to relinquish his beloved item, removing him even if he wanted to stay, or taking the item away, I much prefer to act like a moderator between the kids. Only in doing this can he identify his emotions, understand the proper ways to act and yes, perhaps learn to assert himself should he decide it appropriate.

In the end, I want him to grow up into an adult that won’t easily back down from something he loves and instead persevere and keep trying.

Do you teach your kids to be more assertive? Have you experienced a situation where your child could have been more assertive? Less aggressive? Let us know in the comments below!


Nina is a working mom to three boys—a five-year-old and toddler twins. She blogs about parenting at Sleeping Should Be Easy, where she writes everything she's learning about being mom and all its joys and challenges. She also covers topics like how kids learn and play, family life, being a working mom and life with twins. Download her free ebook, "Time Management Strategies for the Overwhelmed Mom" for more tips.


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  1. Steph says

    My daughter is already pretty assertive if someone dares to take one of her toys away. :) I don’t know that this is something we’ll have to work on, which some days I’m grateful for and other days…

  2. Lisa M. says

    My son is NOT assertive at all. If someone takes his toy he either moves on or gets upset if it’s one of his favorite toys. I’m not exactly sure how to handle it, since he isn’t old enough to really understand me reasoning with him yet, but I am happier he is more passive than aggressive. I definitely don’t want him being a bully!

  3. says

    I was just talking about this with Nother mother the other day! We both have sons and said how it seems that girls at this age are so much more assertive than boys. I too want Josh to learn to be assertive and admit that I have on several occasions, after another child took a toy he was playing with, intervened and tried to explain to Josh wasn’t done playing with the toy. Not sure how helpful this was but I’m sure he’ll get the idea some day! :)

  4. says

    Your son sounds a lot like my kids. I’ve taken the same approach you described, working with them to express themselves when they aren’t done with something that was taken from them.

  5. says

    You are describing my son to the T! Children always take things out of his hands at the library, in the classroom, playdates, etc. and he lets them. He just goes on merrily to another toy or book or whatever is around.

    I like your approach to ask your toddler if he’s done with it. Although, I think mine is too small to answer that question, I can still say these things so he’s used to hearing them.

    One of Oster’s friends is so assertive, so much so that if he even walks in her direction she begins whining and brings the toy closer to her. He’ll stop in his tracks as if to say, “Hey, what gives?”

    • says

      My LO has done this exact same thing! Another child starts clinging to his cars and trucks if LO even so much as makes a move, even if it’s not to take his cars at all. I’m guessing they are dealing with the idea of possession and realizing that not everything they see is actually theirs. Or that they really, really want to keep playing with their cars! :)

  6. One Mother's Notes says

    This is such a great read. I often feel the same way as it irritates me when this happens. I thiink it’s important to learn the concept of sharing but it’s also important to teach that his need to keep playing is just as important. Thanks for a great post.

  7. says

    Great advice. Livi is still a bit too young to “get it” but I’ll keep your tips in mind for when these issues will arise. :)

  8. says

    Ooh! There was this little (I say little, but more like 10 years old minimum) boy at the park who took my kids’ sand toys without asking. I encouraged them to use their words and ask the boy to give them back.
    Turns out the kid was a fart and I needed to *remove* the toys from his hands (yeah, I was shocked too) and we moved, but in most cases this strategy works!

    • says

      Thanks for the tip! It’s a bit nerve wrecking to “confront’ other kids because they really are so unpredictable, like that boy you dealt with. But I still want my kiddo to realize that others just can’t take toys away from him when he’s not ready to share just yet. Thanks for dropping by, coffeepoweredmom! Glad your browser is working again :)