From the moment children learn to talk, we teach them how to listen. We want them to follow directions, listen to adults and adhere to the rules. But we don't always remember to teach them how to speak up.

Children who can assert their needs are more likely to have high self-esteem, better communication skills and are better able to resist peer pressure. They can ask for help when they need it, walk away from negative interactions and feel confident in their choices.

Assertiveness is closely tied to self-esteem, and children who fear rejection and criticism or have a need to belong often stop short of speaking up.

Assertiveness is closely tied to self-esteem, and children who fear rejection and criticism or have a need to belong often stop short of speaking up. For these kids, the safest choice is to remain quiet and deal with the consequences.

For many children, assertiveness is a learned behavior and it doesn't happen in an instant. It takes practice. The safest place to practice skills that are difficult to master in the outside world is in the safety of your own home.

Teach them

Believe it or not, the vast majority of kids simply don't know what it means to be assertive. Give your child a quick lesson in communication styles.

  • Passive: Passive people avoid saying what they think or feel because they are afraid of the consequences of speaking up, do not believe in their own rights or think the rights of other people are more important. They are afraid to say no.
  • Aggressive: Aggressive people say what they want, feel or believe using a loud voice and powerful language. They don't worry about the feelings of others.
  • Assertive: Assertive people make their needs and feelings known in a straightforward manner. They make eye contact, use a confident voice and listen to others.

Talk about rights

Children need to know that their opinions are valued and that they have the right to speak their mind. Visual cues are always useful when helping kids work on difficult social interaction skills. Sit with your child and create a list of rights for kids. Start with the basics: You have the right to say no and you have the right to feel and express anger. (These are a great place to start.) Encourage your child to add to the list and create a poster for his room.

Support healthy risks

It can be very difficult to sit back and watch when your child is about to jump from a swing or try rock climbing for the first time. But we have to give them breathing room. When kids begin to take healthy risks, it's a sign that they believe in themselves and want to follow through on their ideas. Let them. And, please, resist the urge to jump in at the first sign of distress. Working through challenges and learning to ask for help are essential to increasing assertiveness skills.

Model it

It's not enough to simply provide information. You have to be the person that you want your child to become. Teachable moments are everywhere when we are out in the world with kids. Stand up tall, use your confident voice, make eye contact and ask for help. It's crucial to show children that we all need to seek a little help from time to time.

More on social skills

The myth of self-esteem
Teach kids to give back
The right way to praise your children