Kids live in this weird state these days. They are encouraged to speak exactly how they feel about someone while at the same time being told that they can never be “mean” to another child. I suspect this is very confusing. After all, many of us don’t like some of the people we meet. How would we know how to express this dislike if we’d never been taught? The result of this conflicting message seems to be manifesting itself as some highly passive aggressive behaviors between children.

Passive aggressive behavior is problematic at all ages. It can be hard even for adults to interpret, and it rarely achieves the desired result. With children, it is even less effective, yet many of the children Castle and I encounter on the playground or at the park seem to not have any other social tools at their disposal.


Castle playing at the park (successfully) with a different little girl.

For example, at the park one day my son started following and imitating another little girl. As an adult, I could clearly tell the little girl didn’t want him there, but my son, who was not yet three, couldn’t. He thought the two of them were just playing some sort of Follow the Leader. Even without the ASD, I’m not sure he would have interpreted her incredibly subtle social cueing. Not once did she use a single verbal cue. The most overt thing she did was shove him with her shoulder when she passed him once. He thought she had merely bumped into him.

It would have been nice if at some point, she had asked him to go away. I’m not saying she needed to scream at him or call him names like some little boys on the beach did once. That was going too far to the other extreme. However, teaching our kids to say things like “Please stop” and “I don’t want to play” would go a long way in fostering open communication in later years.

It’s something we strive to teach with Castle – not to just use your words, but to use them in the least harmful way possible.

What are some ideas or recommendations you have for helping children be assertive yet not hurtful?

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