Kids can be put in situations where they are emotionally stifled, intimidated or bullied. It can happen at their school, their neighborhood or in their homes. These kids may not be able to assert themselves because it is not safe to share their feelings but they need to learn assertiveness so they can share their feelings with people who are safe and who can validate their experiences with them.
I was recently working with 2 kids who are going back and forth from mom and dad's house and unfortunately, they are witnessing a lot of abuse at dad's house. The abuse involves watching their dad fight with their stepmother both verbally and physically. It also spills over to their relationship with dad because if they don't agree with him, he verbally attacks them and intimidates them into agreeing with him. Although the situation has been investigated it has not resulted in any actions that would improve the situation and reduce the put downs. The children complain that when they share their feelings with their father he teases and belittles them.
As a counselor, what I know to be true is that when kids are in psychologically unhealthy situations it may not be safe to express themselves because it will increase the psychological harassment. Because these kids still need the skills to share their thoughts, feelings and beliefs, we spend time talking about how important assertiveness is in daily functioning. Even if they can't do this at home, we talk about the need for assertiveness with other people who want to know how the boys feel.
In our session, I have taught them to use an assertiveness statement that describes the behavior, their feelings, and the message it conveys.
When kids use assertiveness, it does not ensure that they will get what they want but it does clarify how one feels and what one would like.
The assertiveness statement goes like this:
(Name)_____________,when you _____________(Describe the behavior,
I feel ________________(the feeling)
A child who can use assertiveness with a healthy person may say:
Mom, when you ask me to go my brother’s soccer game and to do my homework at the same time, I feel frustrated because it is hard to concentrate when I am at a game.
Dad, when you don't trust me to hang out with my friends, I feel angry because I have never done anything to make you not trust me.
Mrs. Silvers, when you want me to tell you who was talking, I feel scared, because I don't want the other kids to be mad at me.
Tommy, when you tease me about my hair, I feel upset, because it makes me feel ugly and stupid.
Now this formula will not necessarily work with abusive people but it makes it even more important to know how to use it in normal everyday life.
If your child is in an unsafe environment, it is important that he/she know that the child should express his/her feelings to an adult that is safe. In the case of the boys, they were able to assert themselves with their mother who called the attorney to find out what she could do to keep the boys safe. I validate their feelings and praised them on their resiliency skills. I taught them how not to take the criticism personally so that they would not think badly about themselves. They are two amazing kids who are thriving despite their family difficulties.