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How NOT to Raise a People-Pleaser: Foster Healthy Assertiveness with Kindness

How often do we confuse assertiveness and disrespect? Often, when children are assertive, adults mistake the behavior for disrespect. Assertiveness is expressing needs, thoughts, and feelings without steamrolling over others and allowing others to assert themselves as well. Research has found a link between a lack of assertiveness in adolescence and increased social anxiety and low self-esteem. Additionally, research has linked higher levels of assertiveness to reduced tendencies toward depressive symptoms. While counseling can help, you can foster healthy assertiveness in your children. Here’s how.

Understanding Assertiveness: Balancing Respect and Authenticity

How often do we confuse niceness and kindness? Many women, when asked, “What core value can you recall your family emphasizing growing up?” are likely to respond: “Be nice.” This message is conveyed to many children growing up, though it is especially conveyed to females. Children interpret “be nice” as not making others uncomfortable. Others might not like what they hear when you share your needs, thoughts, and feelings with them – that leads to discomfort.

“Be nice” shapes individuals into people-pleasers. Chronic people-pleasers prioritize the needs of others while minimizing their own needs. They learn to be reluctant to express their thoughts and feelings, creating a mask of agreeableness while suppressing their authenticity. Setting healthy boundaries becomes difficult for people-pleasers due to their fear of disappointing and angering others and, ultimately, their fear of appearing “selfish.” People-pleasers frequently find themselves in problematic relationships, particularly attracting narcissists who thrive on being the recipient of most of the attention.

Children should be encouraged to assert with kindness, not niceness. Kindness rarely requires sacrificing your own needs and wants or your authentic voice. Kindness is about respecting and being sensitive towards others. Ways to assert yourself and foster your child’s assertiveness with kindness include:

  • Encouraging to seek ways to identify and respectfully express feelings, thoughts, and preferences.
  • Allowing for age-appropriate choices and decision-making processes to build a sense of autonomy and confidence.
  • Modeling appropriate assertiveness and boundary-setting in and out of the home. Respectfully and sensitively express your needs, feelings, and opinions while saying “no” in a firm, nonaggressive manner.
  • Staying open when your child respectfully challenges you and appreciating them for their growth.

Understanding the distinction between assertiveness, disrespect, niceness, and kindness fosters healthy relationships and self-esteem. Encouraging assertiveness with kindness empowers children and adolescents to express themselves authentically while respecting others.

At Pinnacle Counseling in Arkansas, we promote this approach through our individual, family, and child counseling services, helping clients build resilience and confidence in navigating life’s challenges with grace and authenticity.

If you or your child is suffering from low self-esteem, depression, or social anxiety, contact Pinnacle Counseling today.

 

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