Coaching Assertiveness To The Overly Passive Child

Compliant, approval-seeking children tend not to pose behavior problems for parents but may mask a different obstacle in life: unassertiveness. Lacking the necessary skills to stand up for themselves, personality barriers hinder their efforts to achieve goals outside the safety of the family. Unassertive children struggle mightily when contending with the inevitable adversities of peer relations or when required to self-advocate in their school life. Excessive dependence upon parents to intervene on their behalf, self-esteem injuries, and sacrificed opportunities are some of the common costs of passivity in childhood.

If you are a parent who once smiled with pride at your child's unquestioning adherence to the rules but now find yourself worried about their lack of backbone, read on for coaching tips:

 Build a dialogue blending praise for all their good choices and concern about the circumstances that reveal their passivity. Highlight situations when they took the correct action since the line between right and wrong was morally clear and familiar to them. Explain how there are times when the lines are blurrier and the choice is between taking an assertive stand or falling back upon a passive position. Describe some of the times when they were confronted by this option and chose to remain silent, follow the path of an unwise peer, or could not muster the mental muscle to effectively handle a challenge. Label this behavior as passive while expressing confidence that they can learn how to become a more assertive person.

 Delineate the building blocks that underlay assertiveness: words, actions, and delivery. "Your words tell people how you view and think about things, your actions show how much you will back them up, and your delivery suggests to people if they should take you seriously or not.," is one way to get the point across. Stress the importance of tone of voice, verbal volume and clarity, eye contact, body posture and facial expression when reviewing how an assertive message is delivered. Offer examples of how a weak delivery sounds and looks as opposed to one with power and persuasiveness. Encourage them to role play assertive deliveries and offer ratings until their "strong assertive signal" come in loud and clear.

 Encourage and elicit assertive responses in the home environment. Sometimes childhood passivity is related to a parent's intolerance for defiance or intimidating style of discipline. In this case it is especially important for the "passivity inducing parent" to tone down their authoritarian approach and allow the child to speak their mind with respectful resolve and reasonable disagreement. If the child's assertive will has been particularly squashed by the "power parent" this task will be daunting. The parent can make it easier by offering the following admission: "Maybe you think its not safe to be assertive and maybe I have taught you that by accident. Let's try to replace that with another lesson: it's safe to be assertive if it's done with respect - even at home."

 Review some of the benefits of assertion and costs of passivity in childhood and adulthood. Help them understand how people who balance good decisions with self assertion demonstrate leadership and earn respect and admiration among their peers. Conversely, passive people invite bullying, suffer exclusion, and pass up various opportunities in life. If past history has borne this out in your child's life, emphasize how passivity was directly connected to these unfortunate outcomes. Challenge your child to pursue a path that balances "personal might with decisions that are right."

APA Reference
Richfield, S. (2019, August 19). Coaching Assertiveness To The Overly Passive Child, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, February 27 from

Last Updated: August 19, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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