Family Lessons: Raising a Polite Yet Assertive Child

By  0 Comments

Big, sad puppy eyes stare out from under a thick fringe of sandy-blonde bangs. As a tear falls from those sweet blue eyes, your child tells you the source of his sadness. His “friends” are teasing him and won’t give him a turn on the swings. Your instinct might be to tell him to play with something or someone else. You don’t want your child to be bold and aggressive, right? But you also don’t want your child to be a pushover. So what do you do? How do you teach your child to be polite and respectful while being assertive? You don’t want your son pushing his peers, but you also don’t want him being the one pushed.

The Montessori Method teaches children “grace and courtesies,” lessons through which children learn how to interact with others in an assertive yet civilized way. These civilities start by role modeling a situation to the child. If your son feels left out because his peers won’t allow him a turn, model the correct response by telling him to say something like, “I’d like a turn when you are finished.”

This applies to all rules and boundaries within a child’s life. If you are trying to teach your child not to run in the house, you would model the situation and then instruct the child to take a turn. So when your child does run in the house, say, “Please do not run in our house; go back and walk.” After the child goes back and walks, you would switch roles. You would run, and then have the child instruct you not to run in the house.

Montessori believes this method empowers children by letting them know that they can take ownership of their world, their house and their actions and deal with injustices without the interference of an adult. This way of teaching is in line with other experts who agree that children learn by example. As a parent, show your young one what it looks like to be polite yet assertive.

At the core of a well-mannered, assertive child is one who is self-confident yet sensitive. Building a child’s self-esteem will encourage assertiveness. A sensitive child will care about the feelings of others and therefore will practice good manners.

You as a parent, or even as another role model in a child’s life, such as an aunt or grandparent, can help build a child’s confidence by showering them with love and attention as infants, providing discipline and structure once they turn one year old, teaching them to speak up for themselves and then maintaining consistency.

When you are disciplining, criticize the behavior rather than the child. Briefly explaining your command rather than saying, “Because I said so,” will teach your child right from wrong as opposed to a long list of arbitrary rules.
When the child is old enough to play with peers, encourage her to express her desires and feelings instead of being pushed around or following a friend. Model this behavior. For example, if you notice the neighbor girl is consistently monopolizing all of the Polly Pockets, give her one and say, “This is for you to play with. The other girls will each have a doll to play with as well.”

Encourage your son or daughter to speak their mind rather than follow the crowd. Explain that the others will still like them, even if they have a different opinion, as long as they express it politely. For example, if you notice the neighbors have been playing soccer all day yet know your son prefers football, let him know that it’s OK to say, “I’ll play soccer for a while, but then I’d like us all to play football.”

Allow your child to make decisions for herself sometimes. For example, offer a choice of restaurants. Allow her to pick out her own clothes. This will build self-confidence and the appropriate assertiveness.

Acknowledge and include your children, even if you are in a conversation with mostly adults. Ignoring and tuning out your little ones is just asking for trouble. Without fail, when I am on the phone, my boys find any number of reasons they need me. I’ve learned that it’s better to briefly address them or they will incite World War III with each other! Of course, remind them to say, “Excuse me,” before addressing their concern.

Finally, if you want your child to be polite, then expect it. And use civility when you correct her. “Chewing out” your little spawn will not only damage her self-esteem but also will model an inappropriate way to address another person.
Our children are our greatest mirrors. What you see in them is most likely what they see in you. HLM

Sources:,, and