How an Assertive Parenting Style Helps Mom Keep her Calm
As a mom of a rambunctious baby and a high energy preschooler, I can get pretty overstimulated and overwhelmed. Sometimes my nerves are completely fried by the end of the day. This is when I start to feel angry, resentful and burnt out. The constant motion, noise, and general chaos of raising two young children is just a lot for this mama to handle.
So I have been trying to figure out how to prevent reaching this point of exhaustion, while simultaneously keeping my kids happy and healthy.
One solution that has been incredibly helpful has been adopting an assertive parenting style. This parenting style is all about setting clear boundaries with children AND building a warm and loving parent-child relationship.
The term boundaries with children is often associated with an authoritarian parenting style; however assertive parenting teaches us that strong boundaries and mutual respect and warmth are not exclusive of one another. Parents can be authority figures who lead by example and a fair and assertive approach; not through fear of punishment and intimidation.
Key Benefits of Assertive Parenting
As a mom, I am attracted to two underlying themes of an assertive approach to parenting;
- Both child’s and parent’s needs are met through cooperation, compromise and assertive communication, resulting in happy family members and a harmonious family unit.
- Warmth, trust and respect form the foundation of the parent-child relationship, also resulting in a peaceful happy home.
1. Assertive Parenting Meets Child’s Needs AND Parent’s Needs
One of the primary benefits of an assertive parenting style is that both my needs and my child’s needs get met. I am able to maintain my sanity, while my children still get the love and attention they need from me.
But how can this be? As moms, we often receive the message that we are supposed to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of our children’s wellbeing. I do not buy into this message.
I know that I can be a better, happier, healthier mama when I am considering my children’s needs AND my needs. And there is almost always a way for everyone to get their needs met one way or another. Maybe not immediately or perfectly, but sufficiently.
For example, my 4 year old wants me to play with him all of the time. If I want to get anything done around the house or simply eat some food though, I am learning to clearly and calmly tell him that I need to do x, y and z, and then I can play.
By meeting our needs as mothers and individuals, we do not let resentment build up inside of us or let exhaustion drain us. When we have honored our needs, we can be our best selves and be fully present parents.
Making sure our needs are met also models healthy self-care practices to our children as well as important assertiveness skills. This will help them become confident and assertive adults who know how to take care of themselves. As a mother, this is one of my greatest hopes for my children; that when I am no longer around, they know how to take care of themselves and are leading happy and healthy lives.
2. Assertive Parenting Establishes a Healthy Parent-Child Relationship
The type of relationship a child has with a parent has an enormous impact on both a child’s and a parent’s emotional health. A warm and loving emotional bond where there is mutual respect between parent and child creates the foundation for a cooperative and confident child, and a confident parent.
Conversely, cold and uninvolved parenting styles can lead to children feeling insecure and anxious about where they stand and what they can expect in their relationship.
An authoritarian parenting style for example, relies on punitive measures to try and control children. In contrast, assertive parenting elicits positive behaviors through kids’ genuine desire to cooperate rather than through fear of punishment.
Additional Benefits of Adopting an Assertive Parenting Style
Positive Behavior Changes
When the parent-child relationship is built on a foundation of mutual respect and trust, children experience the benefits of a positive relationship. This feels good for them and so they start acting in ways that maintain that positive feel good relationship.
Power Struggles Become Less Frequent
Power struggles between parents and children are normal to some degree, but they do not have to be a way of life. Assertive parenting aims to transform combativeness during power struggles into opportunities for cooperation and compromise.
Open Communication Between Parent and Child
When parents model clear, respectful and open communication, children also learn this style of communication. They trust that they have a safe space with their parent to ask for what they need, and work out a positive way to meet that need.
Healthy Relationships Become the Norm
Children grow up knowing what healthy relationships looks like and how to maintain them through assertive communication. This serves as a model that they can use as they develop other relationships as they get older.
If parents did not have a model of healthy relationships themselves growing up, this is their opportunity to break harmful intergenerational parenting patterns and offer their children a new approach.
Assertive Parents Raise Assertive Kids
There is a wonderful kind of confidence that comes with being assertive. And when we model assertiveness to our children and teach them assertiveness skills, they learn how to be assertive themselves. They learn how to ask for what they need as well as respect other’s boundaries.
I was well into adulthood before I understood the concept of assertiveness. This led to many uncomfortable situations where I remained silent while letting others cross my personal boundaries. This contributed to low self-esteem and conflict in my life. By embracing assertiveness now, I am hoping that my kids are better able than I was to confidently ask for what they need and uphold their personal boundaries.
Assertive Parenting Skills to Develop
It’s all well and good to talk about the benefits of assertive parenting, but how does a frazzled mama or papa BE an assertive parent? Here are some essential assertiveness skills to practice. I am in the process of developing these skills myself, and while a slow process, I am seeing the benefits everyday, slowly but surely.
Clear and respectful communication
Speaking assertively means being clear on what you want to communicate and using respectful words and a calm voice to convey your message. Accusatory and unkind words are not productive and not a part of assertive communication.
Use “I” statements and set clear limits. “I” statements help children know exactly where you stand, what you are feeling and what you expect.
While assertive communication is important, knowing how to genuinely listen to children is also an essential skill. Listen to their words as well as taking notice of their body language and behaviors. Younger children often do not know how to verbally tell us what is going on, but they show us through their bodies and behaviors.
When we truly listen, we can often identify what’s behind frustration and bad behavior. And we realize that it is usually an unmet need or an uncomfortable feeling that kids are trying to deal with, but do not have the right coping skills to deal with in a productive way. So it is our job to help teach them more effective coping strategies and communication methods.
Children also feel seen and heard when we let them know that we are listening through our body language and words. To let them know we are listening, we can maintain eye contact, put a hand on their shoulder, or get down on their level. We can also summarize back to them what they have said, or use words or sounds of acknowledgment (eg “uh-huh”) as they are talking to us.
We have to remember that children are so new to this world and that their brains are still developing. If we can remember to see from a child’s perspective from time to time, we realize that they are usually not trying to terrorize us as parents. Usually they are just trying to connect and feel seen and heard.
We expect our kids to manage their emotions and resulting behaviors, but we often neglect to acknowledge that we are not managing our own very well. We also forget that children are still developing neurologically and need our help developing emotional regulation skills.
It’s perfectly okay and normal to feel exasperated and frazzled as a parent (it would be weird if we didn’t from time to time), but it is important to be mindful of how we are expressing those feelings. Do our children see us acting out aggressively when we are upset or frustrated with them? We don’t have to hide our feelings, but we do have to know how to express them appropriately and in a healthy way.
For example, sometimes we just need to take a step back from a stressful situation (as long as everyone is safe) and gather some self awareness. Then we can put a hand on our chest or belly and take some deep breaths. This is one way to regulate overwhelming stressful emotions.
When you expand your belly as you inhale, and deflate it as you exhale, this is called deep diaphragmatic breathing. It activates the vagus nerve and your body’s rest and relaxation response. This is the state we want to be in when we are dealing with troublesome and frustrating behaviors from our children.
Once our bodies and minds have calmed, we can speak to our children about what has happened and what needs to change. This is very different than screaming and yelling in frustration, which can be scary to children and exacerbate bad behavior.
Clear communication and decision-making go hand-in-hand. In order to clearly communicate with our children, we have to make clear decisions about what we want to communicate.
Rather than brushing off undesirable behavior because we don’t know how we want to deal with it, we have to stop and consider the best course of action. We may not always know if we are making the best decision, but we almost always have the opportunity to repair any damage we have done if we realize we have made the wrong decision.
Setting Appropriate Boundaries
Setting and honoring appropriate boundaries is a essential part of assertive parenting. Boundaries let children know what is and is not okay. They also exist to help parents maintain their sanity!
Appropriate boundaries need to make sense and have a good reason for existing. Sometimes after asking myself why I have created a certain boundary with my child, I realize that there’s actually not a very good reason for it.
Good reasons for boundaries include boundaries that are made in order to keep kid’s and parents safe and healthy (emotionally and physically).
Even when parents practice respectful communication with their kids and are calm and loving, there are bound to be situations where kids ignore set boundaries or parental requests. And oftentimes, they don’t even care about consequences. Even with natural consequences and logical consequences (vs threatening and punitive consequences), a child still may not give a hoot. In these cases, we need to consider if our child is feeling a lack of emotional connection with us.
Reconnecting with a child can often give them the intrinsic motivation they need to jump on board with our requests (verses using bribes, threats and punishment to try and elicit cooperation).
For example, it’s common for young children to act out when a new baby enters the family. From their perspective, they feel like they are losing attention and therefore connection with their parents. My 3 year old started acting out after his baby sister came into the picture and started taking a lot of the time and attention that he was used to having from us. Slowly but surely and with lots of hug and acknowledgment of big feelings, those initial behaviors subsided.
A more common example many parents can relate to is the power struggle that brushing teeth can be with young children. Historically, I have used threats and bribery to try and get my son to brush his teeth. Those tactics have rarely worked. He couldn’t care less. What I do know though, is that when I ask if he wants me to tell him a story while he’s brushing, he agrees 9 out of 10 times. And while this may be considered bribery, it is actually about taking the time to connect and be present with him.
Assertive Parenting Makes Us Stronger
I am so thankful for my children. They teach me everyday how to be more assertive, strong and flexible as a parent and a person. And as I learn about healthy boundaries, respectful communication, emotional regulation and self awareness, I hope to teach my children these skills as well so they feel confident and capable.
Parenting is certainly exhausting, but also the best thing that I know I will ever do in this life. If I can form a foundation of love, safety and happiness with them in our home, I know they will be better prepared for this world.
Related parenting posts:
Intergenerational Family Patterns and How We Parent
Preventing 3 Year Old Behavior Problems After New Baby
When Should Family Visit Newborn Baby
Helping Toddlers Deal with Big Feelings