Coaching Assertiveness in Kids

If your child doesn't stand up for himself, here's help for teaching him how.

Q. My 1-year-old lets other kids take toys from him without protesting at all. Does this mean he is too docile? If so, what can I do about it?

A. Your son is so young right now that we can't make too many assumptions about his reactions. By nature he may be a laid-back, low-intensity kid and simply may not mind when other children "share" his toys. This doesn't mean that he won't become more assertive as he gets older.

If you are concerned that his lack of assertiveness reflects a lack of confidence that will limit him as he grows, look for ways to be his coach.

Helping Kids Stand Up for Themselves

  • When you see that he wants something, encourage him to go for it. For example, if he is waiting patiently for a turn on the slide but is letting kids cut him, stand beside him and say, "Do you want a turn? Go ahead," while guiding him to the stairs.
  • When a child takes his toy, you might say, "Oh no! Jim took the train. But it was your turn to play with it. Let's go ask for it back."
  • The idea is to help him out with the words before he is able to say them himself.

It's important to find that delicate balance between being an advocate and fighting your child's battles for him, which is likely to lead to less self-confidence, not more. Beginning when he's around age 2, you can also role-play situations with him. Let him play the part of both the child whose toy is taken and the one who takes the toy so he can see how both roles feel. With your encouragement, he will begin to develop the skills and strategies that he can use to stand up for himself.

Claire Lerner, LCSW, is a child development specialist at Zero to Three, a national nonprofit promoting the healthy development of babies and toddlers (

Originally published in American Baby magazine, May 2005.

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