Building assertiveness and confidence through play


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If you’ve ever sat and watched children play, there will come a time when you may witness a potential conflict between two individuals. It could be a discussion about who plays with the scooter next or whose turn it is on the swing, but sure enough, these incidents happen. When they do, you may see:

  • A child who is submissive and gives up on what they really want when confronted
  • A child who is confident and assertive and able to stand up for what they want
  • A child who becomes aggressive and/or bossy who gets what they want through bullying or aggression/violence

Clearly, we strive to encourage our young people to learn to be confident and assertive since these are positive values, whereas being submissive or aggressive are not traits to encourage because they will lead to problems for the child later on. But where is the line between being mindful of other people’s feelings and submission? When does assertiveness tip over into being aggressive? And how do we promote confidence and assertiveness anyway?

Why these things are important?

One of the prime areas of learning in the EYFS is “personal, social and emotional development”. The EYFS states:

“Children’s personal, social and emotional development (PSED) is crucial for children to lead healthy and happy lives, and is fundamental to their cognitive development… Children should be supported to manage emotions, develop a positive sense of self, set themselves simple goals, have confidence in their own abilities, to persist and wait for what they want and direct attention as necessary…. Through supported interaction with other children, they learn how to make good friendships, co-operate and resolve conflicts peaceably. These attributes will provide a secure platform from which children can achieve at school and in later life.”

We want our children to be able to get the things they want in life, mindful of the needs of others, but also understanding the importance of respecting their own wants, needs and desires. It is the path to happiness and can result in children fulfilling their true potential for the benefit of themselves and those around them. The Hungarian Holocaust-survivor, turned psychologist, Dr Edith Eger said:

“To be passive is to let others decide for you. To be aggressive is to decide for others. To be assertive is to decide for yourself. And to trust that there is enough, that you are enough.” The benefits of being confident and assertive are that children can:

  • Speak up for themselves and their peers
  • Learn to say “no” when needed
  • Treat others with respect
  • Take constructive criticism
  • Deal with bullying instances more effectively

Communication styles

There are a number of communication styles which psychologists have identified, but 3 of the main styles are passive, aggressive and assertive. To understand these, you must first understand that it is not just the words that people use that indicate meaning or status – body language, use of space/proxemics, gesture and eye contact all play a part. The table below shows some of the ways that these three styles play out in practice.

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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