8 Little Ways to Encourage Your Child to Speak Their Mind

Hoping to raise an assertive kid who isn't shy to use their voice? Experts offer small ways to help build your child's confidence so they feel empowered to speak their mind.

Teaching your child to use their voice and be assertive is an important life skill that may benefit their future.

"Ultimately, this will help your child in every area of their life," says Mia Rosenberg, LCSW, a psychotherapist and owner of Upsider Therapy in New York. "Whether it is saying no when they do not want to do something or speaking up when they feel they have something important to share, building assertiveness skills will allow your child the strength to be able to feel heard and build confidence as they do so."

Ways to Empower Your Child to Speak Their Mind

Knowing when and how to use your voice empowers anyone—including kids—to navigate the world confidently. Read on for expert tips on simple ways parents can go about helping their kids pick up these skills and feel empowered to share their voices as they grow.

Girl dressed as a superhero
Illustration by Francesca Spatola; Getty Images (1)

Let your child answer for themselves

You may not even realize you're doing it, but when other adults address your child, like when a friend asks them how they're doing, or when a server in a restaurant asks them what they'd like to order, let your child speak for themselves.

"Parents want to make life easy for their children, especially when they are shy, so they answer for them," says Marcie Beigel, BCBA-D, behavior specialist and founder of Behavior and Beyond in New York, where she provides individual therapy, parenting classes, and training. "Stopping this habit from the parent brings forward power and importance of the child's voice and encourages them to use it in new and varied situations."

Practice Small Talk

Small talk isn't always easy, but you can teach your child how to do it even when they don't think they have anything to say. Check out these practical tips for how to get your child to open up and learn more about the fine art of conversation, even if your kid is the quiet type.

Carve out time for thoughtful discussions

Create time each day to have thoughtful conversations with your kids. "Perhaps during meals or on a family walk, talk to your kids about topics that matter to your family and ask them what they think and wait for them to answer," says Dr. Beigel. Be curious about their thoughts. She suggests asking questions like: "Where did you learn that?" and "How did you come up with that thought?" or saying, "Interesting, tell me more."

Rosenberg agrees, adding that it's important to ask your child open-ended questions about the topics they bring up, even if they show resistance. Rather than just saying something along the lines of, "Wow, that's cool," try to dig a little deeper and ask them a question about what they are saying. You can use statements like, "I wonder why..." or "I have noticed that..." This allows your kid to think and begin to open up a bit more, advises Rosenberg.

Try not to judge them

It's critical to leave judgment behind as much as possible. Rosenberg says children carefully decide when they will bring up hard topics, and when they feel they are being judged, they may shut down.

"It is important that when children do try to bring up a topic, parents are able to listen without being judgmental," says Rosenberg. "This means not asking questions that may provoke the child to be on the defense or say, 'Never mind.'"

If there is a moment in which your child does redact their statement, give it a moment and then acknowledge that you understand it can be hard to talk about certain things. "Children will feel validated and may then feel like they can share what is on their mind," she adds.

Give your child choices early on

Strawberries or blueberries? Which book before bed? What color winter coat to wear? These may seem like simple choices, but they can make a big impact.

"Even these types of choices will help young children get used to choosing and speaking up for what they want," says Kathryn Ely, J.D., a certified counselor and founder of Empower Counseling & Coaching in Birmingham, Alabama.

Choices about what your child wants (or doesn't want) are a great start to helping them voice their feelings. You can extend your child's comfort with asserting their ideas by giving them choices that impact your daily life too.

Try some of these ideas to help your child make more choices at home:

  • Invite your child to choose the family dinner one or two nights a week.
  • Let your child choose a family activity during the weekend.
  • Involve your child in how your family chooses to spend time volunteering in the community.

Avoid labeling your child

Labeling kids or placing them into specific categories can greatly hinder their confidence. "Children easily adapt the identity handed down to them by their parents, which can make it more difficult for a child or adolescent to find their voice and use it," says Ely.

Be supportive as they try and find their way and avoid comparing siblings. "Children really hang on to comments that parents think nothing of making, like calling one of your children 'the smart one' and the other child 'the funny one,'" explains Ely. "Instead, it would be much more helpful if the parent just complimented the child as doing something that was smart or saying something that was funny." That leaves each child open to growth and change instead of living up to and identifying with a label, she adds.

Model by example

Use spontaneous moments with your child to model assertiveness with others. This could be trying to get someone's attention politely, changing your mind, admitting you are wrong about something and apologizing, or even showing your child how to disagree respectfully and diplomatically.

"Modeling by example is a great wat to help show your child that it is OK to speak up and be assertive without feeling like you are leaving with hurt feelings," says Rosenberg.

How can you do this? "Take an opportunity to tell someone—in front of your child—that you are having a different opinion while still respecting theirs," advises Rosenberg.

Another impactful way to model by example is to share your past experiences with your kid, especially when you notice they are going through something similar. "This can be a validating exercise for children to hear that their parent went through something very similar," says Rosenberg. Parents can lead with a statement such as, "Did I ever tell you about the time that I went through something really similar?" or "I actually totally get what you are going through because something very similar happened to me."

It can be helpful to discuss how you handled a particular situation and anything you could have done differently, suggests Rosenberg. "This allows your child to see that you are someone who was able to overcome that obstacle, and it can give them the confidence that they will get through it, too."

Help your child strengthen their opinions

Using trusted resources, teach your child how to research any opinions they may have. "If your kiddo expresses that they think a vegetarian diet is the best way to go, you can research trusted websites together about vegetarian diets for kids," says Anamara Ritt-Olson, Ph.D., a clinical assistant professor in the online master of the public health program at the University of Southern California. Then, opt to discuss different diets and get a doctor's opinion. "This way, you thought about their opinion, your opinion, and got an expert opinion to discuss," adds Dr. Ritt-Olson.

Having information to back up an opinion takes a feeling and transforms it into an informed thought, helping kids to become more assertive. "Evidence, proof, and facts are often more persuasive," says Dr. Ritt-Olson. "Looking at feelings and thinking critically to develop your opinion can help with the development of executive cognitive functioningthe ability to make reasoned decisions."

Research shows good executive functioning has many benefits, including lifelong achievement, quality of life, and health.

Encourage change through actions

Discuss how actions like volunteering and neighborhood cleanups can affect the community and the world—and then find ways to participate actively. When your child participates in a cause they are interested in or supports, they understand the power of action and taking a stand. "Opinions count," says Dr. Ritt-Olson, "and when you act on them, they can have a real effect."

Kids of all ages can volunteer to help their communities be strong places to live, work, and play. To get your family started, check out this list of 20 volunteerism ideas that are perfect for kids.

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