When I worked in a residential treatment facility many years ago, I helped my students understand the differences among the passive, assertive, and aggressive voice. I pulled this concept out again this week, but this time the lesson was geared towards parents.

At times we all feel a bit out of control. When this happens we often look to others for some source of external security. This is especially true of young children, teenagers, and unstable adults. This is why the assertive voice is so important in times of crisis. When using it in conjunction with proper and minimal wording, it sends the message “all will be well.”

Unfortunately, if parents don’t have this skill, they fall into taking either a passive or aggressive tone, neither of which is reassuring or healthy. A passive approach during chaos does not provide boundaries, which can easily escalate behavior. An aggressive approach can have the same effect, but the behaviors are more the result of a fear-based reaction. In both situations, individuals move toward survival mode, wondering, “Is anyone in control?”

I seem to pull out this lesson annually during our parent-teacher conferences. It is common for parents to default into one of the two modes of either passivity (run away) or aggression (run toward) when stressed. No matter our inclination, it serves adults well to strengthen our skills of assertion, as this voice is appropriate in many situations. I, for one, use it as much with adults as I do the children with whom I work.