Plays Well With Others, Part 2

Teaching our kids assertiveness and changing our own patterns in the process.

Posted Oct 21, 2013

At the beginning of every school year, the internet buzzes with bullying conversations—how to identify and prevent it; how to help our kids through it. One such article appeared here at Psychology Today, on Signe Whitson’s “Passive Aggressive Diaries.” In Giving Kids a Voice to Stop Bullying, Whitson explains that aggression in the face of bullying only escalates the situation while passivity invites further bullying. With several great tips for parents, she shows how to teach children to be assertive to diffuse bullying.

In my last post I contended that— because our society has such a “play well with others” focus—our children might choose to be passive in situations calling for assertiveness.  I agree with Whitson, about the need for teaching assertiveness. But for some parents, this might be difficult, especially if asserting our own rights remains a daily struggle. For ACOA-moms in particular teaching assertiveness can be very challenging.

 According to the Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization“laundry list” of patterns, ACOAs can often be approval seekers, people pleasers, and confrontation avoiders. Because of our pasts, we tend to be frightened by angry people to the point of giving in to them—and guilty when we stand up for ourselves. When these characteristics are discovered during our personal recovery process, we can stop the patterns from recurring. But we all relapse into our ACOA patterns from time to time, especially in new situations like becoming mothers. 

If we agree that it’s important to teach our kids how to assert their needs and rights, how do we do this when our own default response might be passivity?  I’ve discovered that when my immediate impulse contains extremes, it’s time to slow down. For example, if I tell my child not to make waves—or worse, to be overly aggressive (the “punch him right back” attitude) —then I’m operating from a place of that old wounded child who I need to nurture yet again. 


At times such as these it helps to take a step back and to try to figure out if your reaction matches the current parenting situation. It’s not always easy, since old memories can resurface, reminding you of the negative factors that led you to become a passive responder. Think of parenting as a big do-over: teaching your child to assert their rights is an opportunity for you to develop this characteristic yourself.

About the Author

Andrea Fox

Andrea Fox is a stay-at-home mother and widely published author of personal essays concerning the challenges and humor of parenting.

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