When is Nice Too Nice? Teaching Your Child to be Assertive

I recently chaperoned my daughter’s class field trip. I always enjoy participating in these activities because it gives me an opportunity to see my daughter with her peers and provides me with some perspective of who she is becoming as an individual. As we entered the classroom that morning, one of her friends ran up to her and attempted to wrap her arms around her to give a big hug. My first inclination was to stop the other child in her tracks but I controlled myself and allowed my daughter to handle it herself. Historically, my daughter would have stood there cringing, but accept the monstrous grip until released. However, to my great surprise, my daughter outstretched her arm upon her peers approach and stated firmly, but not angrily, “No,_____no hugs.” My daughter remained calm and persistent in her request, though she had to repeat this action 3 times before her peer listened and stopped. I was so proud of her. I didn’t need to help her and she accomplished her goal in an appropriate manner. I gave her a smile and a thumbs up. She smiled back and went off to start her day.

Witnessing my daughter in action took me back to several months ago when this type of event would have played out very differently. I had taught my daughter from an early age to respect others feelings, wait her turn, not to be bossy or rude, to be kind and compassionate. She had become very good at doing these things. Maybe too good, as a friend had pointed out to me one day last summer. There were two comments from my friend. First, that I had an amazingly kind and thoughtful child who put everyone’s needs before her own. Second, if I didn’t teach her to be more assertive, she was going to get stepped all over the rest of her life. The second comment threw me. I didn’t know what to say. I thought about what she said throughout the day and began to wonder if I had made my daughter a pushover. These comments made me question my teachings and whether I had taught her only half the lesson. I decided then that I needed to help my daughter find a way to balance between being a kind and thoughtful person, and being an assertive (not aggressive) and strong person. In this process, I learned how difficult it is to strike this balance but I also learned that it is possible to accomplish. Here are some thoughts for executing this task.

Educate your child on the difference between being assertive and aggressive. Children need to have a clear understanding of each in order to be able to perform the appropriate behavior. Provide your child with the tools to become a strong, confident person by teaching her to be kind and empathic but not at the expense of her own needs.

Use role plays to practice assertive behavior. This will provide your child the opportunity to practice being assertive in a safe place, with positive feedback and build confidence for real life situations. To do this create or modify scenarios from your own experiences. Work with your child on using an effective tone which is firm but not threatening and help her understand that she does not need to sound angry to be assertive. Instead, that being firm with a friendly tone can be much more effective in resolving the situation.

Allow your child to handle situations that require her to use assertive behavior without your intervention. The inclination is to jump in and save your child but by doing this she never learns to do it herself. Instead, she learns to rely solely on you to handle these matters and not to stand up for herself.

Help your child learn how to work out a compromise. Everyone wants to feel that they have won something and working out a compromise ensures that each party gains something. If your child can learn to be assertive without denying her rights or the rights of others there can be a peaceful ending.

Most importantly, model for your child how to be assertive. Remember, children learn best by example. If you respond to confrontation with anger and frustration, your child will do the same. Observing you remaining calm, controlled and using confident body language will be the best learning experience of all.

Everyday I look at my daughter and think about how amazing it is that she has found a way to hold on to her empathic, caring personality and yet stand up for herself without being hurtful or critical. I can only hope that with my ongoing support she can continue to find a balance between the two throughout her journey through life.


Danette Palomar, M.A, CDS

Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor


  • Pri says:

    Today I went to My 3 yr old’s class for observation by Parents. I noticed that she just walked around the classroom asking everybody if they were interested in playing with her. Instead of jumping in and sharing their toys or activities she sought permission and got a No for an answer. She would then step back and look around for someoe else. Howver, during that 1 hour of observation I noticed, she ended up being alone, walking around the classroom yet costantly trying to engage herself in something. I almost broke down and walked out at that time and am now thinking I made my duaghter a total pushover and its all my mistake making her too disciplined to ask for everything even amongst her peers. I need help parenting my daughter and making her a strong person and be able to play with her peers, get involved with everyone.

    Help please!

  • Cudie says:

    Thank you for this. I wish you had given specific examples of what to say to child to assist with assertiveness. My child is too friendly, talks up to and hugs on everyone esp if she sees me being polite to the person (some of these people gives me the creeps but are unavoidable eg a teacher at school that I have no evidence against but my warning bells go off). When other kids hit her she doesn’t tell the teacher or defend herself. She says they did not know not to hit so she forgives them, Sigh. You have encouraged me to spend more time training her on how to behave appropriately.