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Words to Use to Teach Your Child to be Assertive Rather than Aggressive


Quick Tips from Mary's books "Raising Your Spirited Child", and "Kids, Parents and Power Struggles" 
Developed by: Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, Ed.D and Lynn Jessen, MA.

“I hate you!”  “You can’t make me.” “You are stupid!” “No, I won’t!”  When your child stomps his feet and declares you are the worst parent in the world, it is not easy to keep your cool. That’s when it’s important to realize your child is attempting to assert himself, an essential life skill, but he doesn’t know how to do so tactfully. You can teach him. 



  1. Let your child know you hear her and realize she has something important to say. 
  2. Seek understanding. What is she feeling and needing? 
  3. Teach more appropriate words or actions to use. 
  4. Practice. 

“I can tell you are really frustrated about something, what is it?” Pause and listen. If your child cannot tell you, try drawing pictures of what you think it could be. Point to each one as you ask, “Are you mad because your friend could not come over?” “Are you angry because it was time to put away the Legos?” “Are you mad because it’s not raining outside today.” A little humor can ease the situation and as a result your child may then say, “No it’s this!”  When she does, reply, “Oh, I understand, but it’s not okay to talk like that. “In our family we don’t say hate, but you can say, I’m angry at you, or I don’t like that rule."  "Let’s try that."  

Role play the situation to practice the more appropriate words. If your child resists say to him, “Do you want to say these words, or listen while I say them?”  If he wants you to say the words do so then gently nudge forward. “Okay, I will say them, and you can listen. Next time that’s what I expect you to say.” 

If your child is unwilling or unable to work with you, insist he take a break until he is calm enough to do so. He can read, draw, or do some other calming activity, but do not allow your child to go onto something entirely different, until he is willing to complete this “re-do,” with you. The more consistent you are about following through, the faster your child will be willing to work with you. 

Later, if he forgets the more appropriate words you have practiced together, you can say. “I know you are mad I said you couldn’t have that toy.” (Pause and listen.) Then add, “Try again. Remember the words we practiced? Say it that way and I will help you.” 

Initially, to reinforce that your child has used the more appropriate words, if you are able, give him what he wants.  This is temporary. Once, he is more proficient, then work with him on delayed gratification and problem-solving skills. We will talk about words to use for problem solving next time.

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