My mother is one of those women who is not rude or domineering, but when she decides that something important needs to happen, she makes it happen. She was known amongst my teenage friends as that mom who was a great cook and welcoming hostess, but you did not mess around on her watch. She would bust out her “teacher voice” that was frequently used on her unruly third graders and it could stop an 18-year-old boy dead in his tracks.
So back when my mother was busy raising three little girls, she realized that she didn’t have the time to cater to everyone’s needs ALL. THE. TIME. Once we reached an age where we were capable of handling simple problems for ourselves, she devised a brilliant strategy: “Assertiveness Training.”
Now, keep in mind that being assertive definitely does not mean being ugly or demanding of things that you are not entitled to. It does not mean running over other people just because it is more convenient for you. Assertiveness Training was simply my mother’s plan for teaching us how to solve issues on our own and feel empowered.
It started out small. It was our job to tell the server what we wanted to order. Say “please” and “thank you” at all times when it was appropriate. We were expected to greet friends and family members. Once we were a little older (say around five or six), we learned the basics of social interaction. Something wrong with the food you ordered? Take it back to the counter and graciously get it corrected. Is a friend being unkind, or did you have a disagreement? Don’t come to Mom with a problem; find a way to work it out on your own. By the time we were teenagers, we knew that some people might call us bossy but we were young women who got stuff done. My sisters and I held a myriad of responsibilities: Class President, Drum Major, Head Cheerleader, Valedictorian… We grew up in a small town, but we were learning big lessons about how to lead others.
Now that I have my own three kids, I plan on using these same lessons to teach them the importance of speaking up. Here is how and why I plan on implementing our own version of “Assertiveness Training”:
1. Speak up for yourself. Be able to make eye contact and introduce yourself. Be able to receive and give compliments, but also be able to share little details about what you like to do or are interested in. You are so much more interesting than what outfit you have on that day or what superhero is on your shoes.
2. Speak up when something is wrong. This can be as mild as a taco with tomatoes when you said none or it can be a friend who is being bullied. When you see a problem that needs an adult’s assistance, don’t be afraid to go right up the chain of command. I hope that my kids will be unafraid to step up when they can help someone or make a difference.
3. Speak up when something is right. I hope to teach them to be gracious to people when they do a good job. Tell your waitress that you had a great meal. Let a store manager know when their employee was helpful and kind. Learn the power of encouragement. Be a good teammate who recognizes others’ talents and doesn’t always have to be in the spotlight. They need to be on the lookout for reasons to be grateful and appreciative.
4. Speak up about your interests. Want to learn a musical instrument or how to cook? Obsessed with a new sport this year? I want my kids to have a variety of experiences and find what they are passionate about. There may be things that spark their interest that I would never have known about. We are not on an unlimited budget, but we can always learn from making a commitment and sticking to it, especially if the excitement wears off after the first month.
5. Speak up about your boundaries. Sadly, we must teach our kids about this one from a much younger age than we would prefer. We have to establish what behavior is acceptable and what is not. While my kids are young, Mom gets to say which TV shows, music, and maybe even certain acquaintances are not positive influences. When they are out of my care, I expect my kids to be able to tell others if they are uncomfortable or know that something is not permitted. This also goes for teaching about our physical boundaries. When they are little, clearly explain that we don’t inappropriately touch or talk about other people’s bodies. When they are big, clearly explain that we still don’t inappropriately touch or talk about other people’s bodies!
The next time you see an opportunity arise when you can give your child the power to make a decision and solve their own problem, give it a try. You are not being a lazy mom. Just call it “Assertiveness Training.”