assertiveness skillsMy baby is the most decisive person I know.  She’ll grab the book out of your hand, turn it over for one final moment of contemplation, and toss it high in the air.  Done.  Decision made.  No regrets.

A minute later, I might reintroduce the book.  She’ll consider, but as if she’s never seen it before.  It may receive attention, or a lob. What’s notable is that it seems to be an entirely new decision for her, and one that she’ll make easily.

Babies are entirely in the moment.  My daughter never steps back and wonders what’ll happen if she’s  wrong.  She’s got no past and no future, no to-do lists, no reprisals or reflection.  She feels her feelings with abandon.  They gust through her, and then pass like a storm.  She communicates like no other.  She doesn’t say, “Maybe I need to sleep now,” or, “Perhaps I’m hungry.”  No, she knows exactly what she needs.

I envy her.

I’m a fairly assertive person myself, but I’ve got nothing on her.  I tell my clients that assertiveness is a skill, and they’ll get better with practice.  Then I help them develop their own style of how to ask for what they want, or explain their feelings.

But watching my daughter, I realize how innate of a skill it actually is. We’re born knowing what we want.  Somewhere along the way, a lot of us begin to lose that ability.  We second-guess; we have too many competing needs and desires; we decide that we should only speak up when we’re 100% sure and right now, we’re only at 90; other people are more important than we are, we reason.

There’s a type of therapy based on the work of Carl Rogers that’s all about activating our innate capacity to know what’s best for ourselves.  The therapist provides the right facilitative conditions (the most significant being unconditional positive regard) and the client can then reconnect to his or her basic self-actualizing tendencies.  We can get back to what we once knew, before we learned too much.

My daughter’s got this new trick. As I carry her, she reaches out in the direction she wants to go, and I take her there.  In this way, she steers me.  She trusts me to listen to her; I trust her to know where she wants to be and to tell me when she’s done there.  Oh, yes, she’ll definitely let me know.

In fact, she’s asserting herself right now.  This blog post, she tells me in her inimitable way, has gone on long enough.

Baby with book photo available from Shutterstock