Passive Mouse, Assertive Dog, Aggressive Alligator: Exploring Communication Styles for Kids

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Positive and effective communication with others is critical to professional and personal success in life, and allows space for others to feel heard and work together to find compromises that result in everyone feeling like their needs are being met.

There are 3 basic styles of communication: passive, assertive and aggressive. Passive communicators avoid confrontation and will often not have their needs met. An aggressive communication style may disregard others' needs while aiming to get what one wants. Assertive communicators are open and confident; they know how to ask for help when they need it, which allows them to learn and grow from their experiences. They often strive for win-win outcomes, keeping in mind their own needs while also considering others needs. Assertiveness teaches children that they can speak up for themselves and be kind at the same time by demonstrating positive ways of solving problems. Check out our infographic for some kid-friendly ways to discuss communication styles:

Communication is also a full-body experience. It includes paying attention to non-verbal cues such as body language and posture. Research demonstrates how powerfully posture can affect our emotions and expression.

How do we as parents and caregivers honor children’s self-expression and tune into their non-verbal languages? Here are some ways you can explore communication styles with the children in your life:

Tin-foil posture activity this fun and simple activity can help you and children you care for explore passive, assertive and aggressive postures, with a focus on body language and posture.  Download the PDF for a short tutorial on how to create your tin-foil character, and shape their limbs to express different kinds of feelings and emotions. Try to guess which communication style each other’s character is portraying. This activity can also be done in groups!

Practice tuning into our own bodies try a simple body mapping exercise together. This can be adapted for children of different ages, but encourage children to name their present emotions and describe how and where they feel them in their body. 

Recognizing and naming our own and others’ emotions Once you have practiced noticing and naming your own emotions, let’s think about how we notice emotions in other people. Feelings flashcards can be used for younger children - hold up images of children who are expressing their emotions (start simple - i.e. angry, sad, happy, worried) and ask children to name what they see. This can also be practiced ‘live’ with groups of older children - ask one child to make a face and let the others guess what emotion they are feeling. Books are also powerful tools for evaluating emotional cues. Read your favourite picture books together and discuss how the characters might be feeling. How do we know how our favourite characters feel? Have we ever experienced anything that made us feel that way? What did we do about it?

‘What does it look/sound like when…’? Demonstrating the language and behaviours that go with certain types of communication styles can help children understand what we mean when we use words like ‘passive’, ‘assertive’ or ‘aggressive’. Try exploring some of the verbal and non-verbal markers of each communication style below, and explore together how it feels when you do each one.

  • Passive: Looking down at the floor, appearing uncomfortable, slouchy or drooping, low energy. Saying things such as “I’m okay with whatever you want”, “it’s fine, I don’t want anyone to get into trouble”.
  • Assertive: open expression, greeting / welcoming when they meet people, straight posture, using a calm but firm voice, looking at the person you are speaking to. Using sentences such as: “After we have watched this TV show, let’s watch ______.”, “I feel sad when you say I can’t play.”
  • Aggressive: eye-rolling, finger-pointing, pushing their body too close to yours, make you feel like you need to back away, angry and forceful words. Statements such as “You can’t play with me if you don’t play this game.”, “This is what we are doing.”

What makes a good friend? Discuss friendship with children and ask them what they look for in a good friend. What qualities do good friends have? How do they act and behave? You could explore this together using a mind map or create a visual friend profile for the ideal best friend.

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  • Secure and Calm

    Secure and calm describes the ability to take part in daily activities and approach new situations without being overwhelmed with worries, sadness or anxiety. To be secure and calm also means being able to cope with stress and pressure, and to bounce back from difficulties.
  • Gets Along with Others

    Getting along with others is the ability to form positive and healthy relationships with peers and adults. Children with better abilities to regulate their emotions and behaviours have more friends and experience more positive playtime with their peers.
  • Alert and Engaged

    Being alert and engaged is the ability to manage and direct one's own feelings, thoughts and emotions. In general, the ability to be 'present' and to exercise self-control.
  • Compassionate and Kind

    Being compassionate and kind is closely related to empathy. While empathy refers more generally to the ability to take the perspective of and to feel the emotions of another person, compassion goes one step further.
  • Solves Problems Peacefully

    Managing conflict effectively is about creating an atmosphere where violence and aggression are not likely. To resolve conflict means using empathy, problem-solving skills, understanding other points of view and coming up with ways to make things right in a fair way.