teaching a shy/sensitive 4 year old who isn't assertive

My 4 year old has always been gentle, mild mannered, meek and calm in nature. You could say he's also highly sensitive. In playgrounds, kids will take his toys from him and he would just stand there and let it happen (though visibly upset). Currently he attends a preschool and has been coming home with his friends scratching his face, grabbing his hair, drawing on his clothes, pushing him, etc. When incidents happen at school, I think he freezes and shuts down and just becomes quiet and stands there. He doesn't cry or tells the teacher and most of these incidents happen without any adult witnessing it.  He'll come home sometimes in a bad mood and act out. How do I teach him to stand up for himself? Any resources out there on how best to raise kids with a similar personality as mine? Along the same lines, I'd like to find resources to help raise a "shy/sensitive" child. He's very good at putting others first and bearing the brunt and I'm worried he'll continued to get picked on by others.

Parent Replies

Parents, want to reply to this question? Sign in to post.

This is a really hard question and I'm sure the answer depends on your kid/situation. But FWIW, I've noticed that when kids feel there is some accountability for other kids treating them this way they are more likely to raise the issue or stand up for themselves. They notice whether the adults in the room ignore this behavior or brush it off as normal when reported. They feel empowered to push back when adults around them recognize that they are right to do so.

It is really the responsibility of the people running the preschool to make sure this isn't happening. I infer that you don't expect to get any traction asking the responsible adults to pay extra attention to what is happening around your child and address the situation, but I think that's the best advice for this situation. The fact that this happens all the time without consequences sends your child the message that this behavior is normal and appropriate, so why should he resist?

I also think it helps to role model this behavior for your child. I remember once when my daughter was little how amazed she was when I explained to the cashier that it wasn't right to charge me extra for two small soups because the restaurant was out of large contains. She seemed to not realize that it was possible to politely ask for fair treatment, and apparently witnessing that happen was enlightening for her.

You could, for example, mention to your child that other kids should not be treating him this way, tell him that you are going to schedule a meeting with the caregivers to discuss the problem and look for solutions, and then the two of you can meet with them and he can see you role modeling the behavior you want him to adopt. Similarly, I don't think it's necessary or even helpful for a 4YO to snatch toys back if other kids are trying to take them on the playground. He just needs to know that he can tell you there is a problem, you will walk with him to confront the child, provide support while he asks them to return the toy, and intervene if the child doesn't respond appropriately to his efforts.

Also if his "friends" are engaging in questionable behaviors at the preschool, maybe talk to the parents of those children and ask them to talk to their kids. What you want to create are situations where your child is able to raise an issue, and then see that his raising the issue had the desired result. So I would look for those and then support him in working through them.

Hi, there- my son is just like this!

I have found role playing while he is home and playing with one of us parents has been helpful (eg- you tell him you are going to pretend to be a kid who takes his toy, pushes him, etc and help him practice appropriate responses to stand up for himself), also we have him in a very small montessori style preschool where the small number of kids and the structure and attention provided by the teachers has allowed him to grow his social skills/ assertiveness in a not-overwhelming environment.

I also like some of the resources on bullying/aggressiveness provided by Aha! parenting: https://www.ahaparenting.com/read/4-year-old-who-is-being-bullied-bossed  and https://www.ahaparenting.com/read/handling-aggression-from-kids-at-the-p...

but most of all, I just want to offer that I totally get how frustrating and anxiety provoking our sensitive children's lack of assertiveness can be... I am especially worried for the switch to public k-12, but try to remember as long as home is place he can feel safe, relaxed and heard, we can continue to work on assertiveness skills while celebrating his naturally sweet and sensitive personality :)

I was wondering if your preschool had enough supervision. The first preschool my child went to was a bit "Lord of the Flies" in the afternoon. We changed preschool after the first year, and then things were much better. Same child, better supervision.

I thought reading The highly sensitive child by elaine aron was super helpful for me to better understand my sensitive child.  I'm so sorry your kid is being picked on, that wasn't an issue I had to deal with, so I don't have any good advice. Good luck.