Teaching toddlers to be assertive and stand up for themselves

Does assertiveness come naturally to children or do we have to teach it to them? Nancy Doyon offers a few thoughts that will help your children better face adversity.

In the kid’s section of a restaurant, I see a three-year-old girl go up to her father, crying “Daddy!!! The older kids hit us and won’t let us go down the slide!” Without flinching, her dad replies: “Why don’t you go play in the little house instead?”

Back at the playground, two boys, aged seven or eight, are running around being bossy. They pick on the smaller kids, act tough, and decide who goes down the slide and who doesn’t. One of them even spits on a four-year-old girl, laughing hysterically. Her father gives the two bullies a piece of his mind and leaves with his daughter.

Can you spot the problem in these scenarios?

In both cases, a child was being intimidated.

But that’s not the complete answer we’re looking for. The correct response is: neither parent encouraged standing up to the aggressor.

The first father told his daughter to simply let it go and the second one showed that all a child needs is an adult to take care of the situation. When these children’s parents aren’t around, though, they’ll be left high and dry in the midst of conflict. Both of these situations would’ve been great opportunities to teach assertiveness.

Assertiveness is essential in every child’s present and future relationships. Their capacity to express thoughts and opinions remains one of the most important aspects of strong social skills—ones that will allow them to better handle any difficult situation, whether at school or, someday, at work.

In general, confident people tend to have more friends, find better jobs and are more respected by the people around them.

Examples of assertive behavior



  • Giving your opinion, even if it goes against the majority, without fear of ridicule.

  • Approaching others with suggestions for games or activities without fear of rejection.

  • Not being bossy, but not settling to be a follower.

  • Standing up for your beliefs and not being easily influenced by others.

  • Voicing what bothers you, without sounding like you’re always complaining.

  • Taking care of others and respecting them, but also accepting that not everyone will like you for who you are.

  • Speaking up when someone attacks you, without using violence or insults.




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