Dear Dr. Robyn,

I am so frustrated…My children are agreeable to a fault. Yesterday they both had friends over and I could
overhear them talking about what they were going to do. Everything they said, my children did…even
though I know my children don’t like the games they wanted to play. How can I get my kids to speak up?
–Kristine S, Seattle, WA

Dear Kristine,

It can be both a blessing and a curse to be so agreeable. It’s a blessing because it can keep the peace between friends and certainly make your children popular choices for playmates. But it can be a curse because when children cow tow to every whim, they don’t exercise their negotiation and assertiveness skills nor do they get to play what they want to play! A mix of abilities– to agree at times and to speak up for what your children want– is a necessary balance.

How can you help your children speak up? Here are some ideas that you can start with:

(1) Ask your children what they want: This is important for recognition and for practice. Give them choices and allow them to select. Do you want to wear the red shirt or the blue one? Do you want chocolate or vanilla? The more they can work on assertiveness and decision-making, the more likely they are to employ these skills with friends.

(2) Model decisiveness: Speak out loud and say things like; “When Aunt Mary asked me whether I wanted to go to the park or go to the movies, I told her ‘let’s go to the park! I love to be outside! What do you think you would say?”

(3) Put them in leadership positions: Sometimes, have your children play with children who are younger than they are. Older children tend to be more likely leaders. If they can make decisions in the moment with younger children, they can develop the skills to use when they are with same-age peers.

(4) Keep them in activities that build leadership: The program you are in right now certainly helps children build character and leadership skills as we both discuss Powerful Words and put them into action! Seek out and help your children stay committed to activities that allow them to speak up, demonstrate, observe and attempt different leadership skills.

(5) Point it out: When your child helps a group of children work as a team, speaks up, listens well, or shows decision-making skills, recognize them! Let them know that you appreciate their opinions as well as their ability to keep an open mind. When they hear what you value, they will seek it out and want to do it more.

(6) Ask for help: When parents ask for help, it allows the children to step up. Once they get into the habit of helping, you can move to the next step. Tell them, for example; “I need to bake something for the volunteer bake sale. What do you think we should do? What do we need in order to do it?”

Here’s to your success!

Dr. Robyn Silverman

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