by Lisa McKenzie

A focus of when considering Assertiveness is the Power of Attention.  The Power of Attention says that “what you focus on, you get more of.  The value that is related to practicing assertiveness is respect.  When working with children to be brain smart, communicating to children what they need to do aligns their physiology with their willpower.  Emotional development that is the outcome of the use of assertiveness creates healthy boundaries that are essential to healthy relationships. 

Principles of Assertiveness:

1.    What you focus on, you get more of
2.    When you are upset, your focus is always on what you don’t want
3.    Passivity invites aggression, aggression leads to more aggression and assertiveness dissipates aggression
4.    Children as well as adults must learn that they teach others how to treat them.  They must learn to assertively deal with the intrusive behaviors of others.

Statement 1:  What you focus on, you get more of. 

As you reflect on your own life, where do you focus your attention?  Do you focus on the positive or worry and focus on the negative, such as how little time you have to get all the many things done?  Do you get frustrated in heavy traffic, or do you patiently use the time to listen to audio books, meditate, or look at the clouds?

When comparing two teachers:  One focuses on how children can be successful.  She asks the students to focus and she will watch.  The teacher encourages them.  The other teacher focuses on what is wrong or not good enough. 

We focus on what we don’t want instead of on what we do want.  Focusing on what you do want is probably the most important practice you can learn if you want to create success and joy in your life.  A focus on what you want is the foundation for all of the other skills that are components of this program.    When focusing on what you don’t want, you prevent permanent change in behavior. Only when adults are willing and capable of permanently changing their own behavior can they begin to teach children change their behavior.  First focus on what you want in any interaction. 

Instead of focusing on what you don’t want, redirect the child.  As you practice redirecting, show enthusiasm.
As an adult, you probably make the connection between a negative command and a positive request.  To successfully cut back on sweets, instead of saying “I can’t have sweets,” you must tell your brain passionately, “I love fruits and vegetables.  I want more fruits and vegetables in my life.”  After doing this for 21 days it will become natural.

Focus on what you are doing and what you do want in every area of your life. 

Statement 2:  When upset, you are always focused on what you don’t want.

What you wanted was for someone to stop doing something.  To focus on what you do want, you must be calm and have self-control.  What practice do you want your students to use in place of hitting someone?  You must focus on the specific action you want children to take instead of focusing on actions you want them to stop.

You must be aware of yourself first and then focus on directing children second.  Use of pivoting: do an about face during which you shift your focus from what you don’t want to what you do want. Walk three steps forward, rotate on your feet so you are facing in the opposite direction, and take steps forward.  When we have experiences that enter our body when we are moving, we are more likely to remember them. 

Dead Person Assessment:  If a dead person can do something, you have not been successful at stating what to do.  Can a dead person sit quietly, crossing his legs with his hands in his lap and listen?  The answer is no, and this is focusing on what you do want.

When assertiveness is practiced, adults are setting limits respectfully.  Assertiveness is a communication skill.   When you focus on what you want, assertiveness is being practiced.  Without focusing on what you want, you may be passive or aggressive in when you set limits.  If you are passive in setting limits you teach children and adults to allow others to intrude upon them.  What you are doing is creating a victim mentality (learned helplessness).  If you are aggressive in setting limits, you teach others to be hurtful to those that intrude upon them.  You are acting as a bully and modeling bullying tactics to children.  How you choose to set limits with your children defines the psychological boundaries that they learn.

In all your relationships, you actually teach others how you want to be treated.  Assertiveness allows you set boundaries on the behaviors that are considered safe, appropriate, and permissible.  Assertiveness allows you to say no to children while teaching them how to say no to others when this is the appropriate response.  Assertiveness also allows you to say yes to interactions that meet your needs, and to teach children to know when the appropriate response to be used is yes. In essence, assertiveness is the way in which you can teach anyone the value of respect.

The end result with children is to teach them that speaking is more peaceful and powerful than attacking verbally, hitting or kicking.  You cannot teach children the power of words until you have learned it yourself.  Everyone has a choice and a responsibility to say “no”.  Being assertive involves expressing your thoughts, feelings, and wishes without diminishing these qualities of other people.  It’s mandatory that you value yourself.  We learn assertiveness from others.  Learning assertiveness involves: 

Achieving self-awareness
Monitoring your own thought patterns
Teaching and utilizing assertiveness in all your relationships

Statement 3:  Being Passive invites Aggression, Aggression invites Aggression, and Assertiveness Dissipates Aggression

When being assertive, there is clarity of communication.  When communication is passive, the goal is to please others.  A passive person gives her power to those she is trying to please.  The power of someone is their way to have an effect or make a difference in the world.  Passive people allow other people to make decisions because they relinquish their power.  When the passive person puts someone else in charge, if something goes wrong the person who is passive avoids any blame. 

People who are passive attempt to be perfect so they will be liked by everyone.  When they communicate, they very rarely express any desires in a direct way. So many times people who are passive are always asking questions.

When dealing with children, if you surrender your power to them the hope is that the children will use power to make the right decision.  If the right decision isn’t made, the adult becomes upset and possibly resorts to aggression.  Once you give your power away and made someone else in charge of you, it’s hard to get your own power back. 

The purpose of aggression is to overpower someone.  Winning involves getting someone to do what you want them to do.  You-me statements are used by someone who is aggressive.  An example is: “You always interrupt me.”  These statements focus on blaming the other person instead of stating any feelings or thoughts that the held by the aggressive person.  This situation usually ends up in an argument because the person being blamed becomes defensive because they feel attacked. 

Clear communication is the goal of assertiveness.  When communicating from a place of assertiveness the communication includes the expression of thoughts, feelings, and wishes.  It’s not possible to be assertive if care about what others think about you.  You also can’t be assertive if you get upset about what someone else will possibly do or say.  Being assertive means concentrating on you instead of being concerned about what others may think.

To be assertive, it’s important to do the following:
1.    Be clear and direct.
2.    Give information that is usable.
3.    Own your feelings and express them directly.
4.    Communicate in concrete terms.
5.    Be conscious of the intention for the communication.
6.    Express your needs, wants and expectations simply and very clearly. 
7.    Match your verbal and nonverbal communication.

Be aware of your own communication style. 
Lisa McKenzie is a teacher with an Arizona state certification for Kindergarten through 8th grade.  Lisa has many years of experience teaching many different ages and grades, from toddlers through high school.  She enjoys working and interacting with children of all age groups.  Lisa believes that building a foundation of values from an early age and continuing an ongoing practice of these values improves the ability to learn as well as creating a strong basis in which to live a fulfilling and enriched life.  Lisa also teaches skills for parents and adults in order to positively respond to children instead of reacting.