At the library, my toddler was playing with a block when a younger child walked over and happily took it away from LO’s hand. The boy didn’t do so menacingly; in fact, like most kids his age, he probably just assumed that the toy was his for the taking, and take he did.
Meanwhile, my toddler didn’t attempt to get the block back. When kids take toys from him, he typically assumes a carefree attitude of, “Sure, go ahead,” or “Let me find another block.” (Where is this carefree attitude when he’s making demands at home? Hmm…) Other times he’s confused as to what just transpired. Whichever the case, I try to let him know that it’s perfectly fine for him to get the item back if he truly wants it.
In other words, I want him to be assertive and stand up for what’s important to him.
There have been times when he did just that. For instance, we were at the playground when he retrieved a pine cone that another little boy had grabbed from him. But for the most part, he tends to simply move on and find something else to play with.
I’m grateful that he doesn’t immediately react aggressively when his playthings are taken from him. I’d like him to handle social conflicts in a calm way without resorting to whining, hitting or crying. But at the same time, I find it important to let him know that we don’t always have to share our things, and that if we’re not done with something just yet, it’s fine to hold on to an item a bit longer until we’re ready to part with it.
So when another child takes a toy, I follow these steps to teach him to be more assertive:
- I ask him if he wanted to keep playing with the toy.
- I let him know that he can tell other kids, “I’m not done yet” when he doesn’t want to part with the toy.
- I point out that if he really wants something, he can hold on to it and not have to give it away.
- If he could care less about the toy, I mention that too and say, “Looks like you’d rather play with another toy.”
At home and among adults, my toddler has zero problem with letting us know of his demands. And even then, we don’t downplay or dismiss his desires or emotions, and instead acknowledge them first. We want him to voice what he wants and acknowledge and respect that he has wants, even if they’re not always met. We don’t encourage him to use force or aggression when expressing himself, but we do want him to know that he can stand up for what he wants.
This may be the reason why I’m hardly a fan of stepping in and solving social conflicts among kids. While adults are more likely to oblige kids in what they want (“Oh, you want this ball? Sure, go ahead.”), other kids prove to be tougher play mates. Rather than simply forcing him to relinquish his beloved item, removing him even if he wanted to stay, or taking the item away, I much prefer to act like a moderator between the kids. Only in doing this can he identify his emotions, understand the proper ways to act and yes, perhaps learn to assert himself should he decide it appropriate.
In the end, I want him to grow up into an adult that won’t easily back down from something he loves and instead persevere and keep trying.
Do you teach your kids to be more assertive? Have you experienced a situation where your child could have been more assertive? Less aggressive?
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