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“So you don’t feel safe leaving my grandson alone with me?” my mother-in-law spat after I had been forced to deny her weekend sleepover request. Under normal circumstances the offer would have been accepted with excitement but my mother-in-law, who is just approaching 40, gulps gallons of Ray & Nephew’s red wine for breakfast, lunch and dinner. With my son’s hyperactive personality it would take Jesus himself to prevent little AJ from eluding her and pretending to “fly like Batman” off her second floor balcony.

Though words like “irresponsible” and “dangerous” can be used to describe the erratic lifestyle in which my mother-in-law lives, using those words as justification for my unwillingness to leave my son in her care would have been like pulling the trigger on a loaded gun. Hanging in the balance of this potentially explosive confrontation was my son’s safety and the usually amiable relationship I had built with my mother-in-law.

Knowing how to be assertive is necessary when dealing with irresponsible behavior that compromise the safety of your children, or even setting boundaries with family members who offer unsolicited advice.

Here are a few short and simple yet effective tips that will help you with being assertive when setting expectations and boundaries in regards to the safety and rearing of your child.

1. Change your mind about assertion, not your entire personality.
It felt unusual for me not to be my normally blunt self when approaching the sticky situation with my mother in law. It was also important to me not to sever the relationship. Assertion is the gray area between aggression and passivity, if you are either of those things, becoming assertive allows you to be compassionate yet have your needs met.

2. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.
Taking action against a sister who refuses to listen when you tell her she “shouldn’t give the kids candy before breakfast” could be more effective if assertive language was used. Words like “should” and “ought to” sound open ended and leave room for unwanted debate. “I” language allows you to be direct with your needs, “I do not want my children having candy before breakfast.” Avoid using statements that begin with “you” which cause people to become defensive and commit to expressing “I” statements that represent your feelings.

3. Stay persistent.
If all else fails and family members still do not take your requests/statements seriously, stay calm and repeat your point. Assertive people know that they are in control of their feelings and believe that they have the right to feel them. Shorten your response so that only your main point is voiced but be sure to never waiver in your stance. “No. I am not comfortable leaving him here alone” shorten it to “I am not comfortable” and continuously repeat that point.
4. Know what’s in your control.
Even after you’ve explained your point in the most assertive manner possible it is still important to keep in mind that you can only control your behavior. Do not expect an immediate change and/or desired response. As long as you’ve made your point clear, be persistent and follow through.

My individual response to my mother in law’s request was void of all attacks on her character and focused solely on my own concern for my son. Prior to taking an assertive stance during discussions with family members, my aggressive behavior was ineffective at communicating my feelings and did little to obtain the needed response from family members.

Though assertive behavior takes practice it is highly effective and becomes natural with repetition.

Assertive behavior is a breeding ground for self confidence. Assertive people are confident in their beliefs especially concerning their children. An assertive persons main priority is their child’s safety and exposure to harmful outside influences. Assertive people are adept at making those positions clear and understood without the guilt from aggression and worry from passivity.

Word: Opal Stacie

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