Do you know a child who is a little on the timid side when it comes to asking for what he needs? Does the word “pushover” come to mind when you think of how he is treated by his friends? While most kids are unreservedly bold in making and refusing requests from parents and siblings, it is quite common for youth to have difficulty asserting themselves with non-family members. Adults can help kids develop skills to assert important needs and refuse unreasonable requests by teaching fundamental assertiveness skills.
In teaching kids and teens to make assertive requests, use these two simple rules:
1. Come right to the point and state the request.
(Student to Teacher): Can you help me understand the directions for the math homework?
2. If the request is being put off or ignored, be persistent in asking for an answer.
(Child to Friend): I need to know if you can pick me up by 7 pm.
Common missteps in making requests include being too passive:
(Student to Teacher): If it’s not too much trouble, would you help me with my math homework? But if you’re busy, it’s really okay. I can ask someone else or just figure it out on my own.
Or too indirect:
(Child to Friend): I was really hoping to go to the football game tonight. My parents won’t be able to drive me. I wish it wasn’t so far or I’d just walk.
Learning how to assertively communicate a request does not guarantee that a person will always get exactly what he wants, when he wants it, but this is not the goal of assertive communication. Rather, the goal is to teach a young person to be able to express himself in an emotionally honest, direct way and to build meaningful relationships with others.
It is equally important that kids know how to refuse unreasonable requests from others. This skill is the heart of resisting negative peer pressure. What’s more, young people should be taught that they have the right to say “no” without feeling guilty.
Use these four basic guidelines to teach a young person how to assertively refuse a request:
1. Be direct, firm, and honest when refusing a request:
I prefer not to do that.
2. Ask for more information if you are not sure what the request involves:
Can you tell me exactly how much this will cost?
3. Postpone giving an answer if you need more time to consider the request:
I need to talk this over with my Mom. I will let you know by tomorrow morning.
4. Use I-Messages to express your feelings assertively if the other person tries to force you into granting their request.
I get frustrated when you keep asking me to go with you. I want you to take “no” for an answer and not ask me to go with you anymore.
While making requests and saying “no” to a parent may seem like second nature to a young person, it is likely that the same child finds assertiveness much more challenging when it comes to his friends. By teaching kids and teens basic skills for assertively making and refusing requests, adults can give young people a set of lifelong skills for engaging in emotionally honest, direct communication and for resisting negative peer pressure.
For additional strategies for teaching young people assertive anger skills, check out
How to Be Angry: An Assertive Anger Expression Group Guide for Kids and Teens.
Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2011.