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There are three basic communication styles that people use to express themselves.

  1. Passive: Understand and respect others’ needs but at the expense of their own. Tend to agree and avoid making decisions, disagreements and confrontation. Don’t communicate thoughts, feelings, beliefs, wants or needs to others.
  2. Aggressive: May have difficulty expressing their underlying feelings and needs to others. Impose their thoughts, feelings, beliefs, wants and needs on other people. Tend to argue without compromising and might use verbal or physical threats.
  3. Assertive: Honestly and directly communicate their thoughts, feelings, beliefs, wants and needs to others. Understand and respect others’ needs. Do not intentionally hurt anyone’s feelings.

Teaching your child to be assertive

Children who use an assertive communication style are more likely to find that their thoughts, feelings and needs are understood. Being assertive also helps children to feel a sense of control over themselves, build confidence and self-esteem, reduce conflict with others and strengthen their relationships with others.

Some children are born with personalities that are more assertive than others. However, assertiveness is a communication style and host of behaviours that children can learn. Here are some hints to help your children to learn to be assertive:

  • Let your children make decisions. In the process they learn that their thoughts, feelings and needs are valid and they learn how to take initiative. 
  • Encourage your children to take healthy risks. Don’t join in at the first sign of distress. It’s important for children to believe in themselves and feel confident in their choices. It’s also important for them to experience working through challenges and to learn to ask for help.
  • Teach your children the value of making mistakes by modelling that it is okay to make mistakes and demonstrate how you resolve mistakes.
  • Listen to what your children have to say and encourage them to speak (even if you disagree).
  • Children need to know that they have rights (e.g., the right to feel safe, the right to express their thoughts, feelings and needs, and the right to say no).
  • Model assertive communication skills and behaviours, such as using eye contact, standing up tall, breathing normally, speaking at a normal volume, using a confident voice and asking for help when they need it.
  • Teach assertive communication skills and behaviours by:
    • Creating a situation at home so that you can model an assertiveness skill you want them to learn (e.g., show them how they could communicate and behave more appropriately).
    • Having your children role-play the skill with you. Act out the assertiveness skill. This gives your children the opportunity to practise the new skill that you want them to learn.
    • Helping your children to transfer their new skill in novel environments and with new children.
    • Praising them when they use the assertive skill appropriately.

Related concerns for children with passive and aggressive communication styles

Children who use the passive communication style don’t stand up for themselves and often their needs aren’t met. They can feel frustrated, helpless and powerless. Children who are passive are at risk of being bullied by other children. They are also at risk of emotional concerns, such as anxiety, depression and poor self esteem.

Children who use an aggressive communication style may have their needs met in the short term, but in the long-term their relationships suffer because they don’t consider or respect others’ needs. Children who are aggressive are at risk of bullying other children. They are also at risk of other concerns, such as problematic anger, intermittent explosive disorder, friendship concerns, poor self esteem and depression.


If you are concerned that your child is having difficulties communicating his/her thoughts, feelings and needs and you would like us to help, please contact us to schedule an appointment. During your first session we meet with you and your child to conduct a clinical interview to identify your child’s underlying concerns. If we believe that your child might have a diagnosable disorder, we will suggest that your child undertake an assessment. Following these investigations, we develop a personalised, evidence-based treatment plan to help your child and your family.


The nature of your child’s treatment will depend entirely on your child’s unique communication concerns. In most cases with communication concerns, your child will need assistance in developing assertiveness skills, social skills and/or skills in emotion understanding and regulation.

We use evidence-based cognitive behaviour therapy to treat these concerns. Depending on your child’s needs, we use a range of techniques such as:

  • Social skills training
  • Thought-challenging
  • Emotion regulation training
  • Problem solving training

We also use the following evidence-based therapy techniques:

  • Social skills group programs
  • Resilience group program

For more detailed information on what to expect in your sessions with us, please visit our Appointments page.

If you would like help in developing your child’s assertiveness skills, please contact us to schedule an appointment.